The Passion of Joan of Arc debuted on 21 April 1928 at the Palads Teatret cinema in Copenhagen. After a few private screenings, it finally premiered in Paris on 25 October 1928 at the Cinema Marivaux. The film’s release was delayed due to the persistent efforts of many French nationalists. Before its French premiere, several cuts were made by order of the Archbishop of Paris and by government censors. Carl Dreyer, the director, was angered by these cuts, as he had no control over them. Later that year on 6 December, a fire at UFA studios in Berlin destroyed the film’s original negative; only a few copies of Dreyer’s original cut of the film existed. Dreyer was able to patch together a new version of the original cut using alternate and initially unused takes. This version was also destroyed in a 1929 lab fire. Over the next four decades, it became difficult to find copies of Dreyer’s second version, and copies of the original were thought to be even scarcer.
The film was re-released in 1933 in a 61-minute cut which included a new narration by radio star David Ross, but no intertitles (dialogue cards in silent films). In 1951, Joseph-Marie Lo Duca found a copy of the negative of Dreyer’s second version in the Gaumont Studios vaults. Lo Duca then made several significant changes, including the addition of a Baroque score and the replacing of many intertitles with subtitles. For many years, Lo Duca’s version was the only one available. Dreyer himself objected to this cut, however. The next version of the film was produced by Arnie Krogh of the Danish Film Institute. Krogh cut together scenes and sequences from several different available prints to attempt to create a cut that was as true to Dreyer’s original vision as possible.
The original version was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative and only variations of Dreyer’s second version were available. In 1981, an employee of the Dikemark Hospital mental institution in Oslo found several film canisters in a janitor’s closet that were labeled as being The Passion of Joan of Arc. The canisters were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they were first stored for three years until finally being examined. It was then discovered that they were Dreyer’s original cut prior to government or church censorship.