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The First 3 Things You Should Do if You Find Old Film in Your Loft

Many people find old film when cleaning out a loft or an older relative’s home. Naturally, our first instinct is to find a projector and play it; however, there are other things you should do first when you find old film. After all, you want to do whatever you can to protect the memories that are stored on the old film. Be wise! The following are some suggested things you should do when you find old film in your loft:

1. Make sure the film is being stored in good conditions

Good conditions include storing old film reels in containers that are moisture proof, away from direct sunlight, and somewhere where curious minds won’t grab and play with the film. You must also be cautious of the temperature where the film is being stored. Moisture can cause eroding of the film and heat can cause the film to decompose at a faster pace. Because old film has a chemical base, such as acetate, nitrate, and polyester, it should not be stored near other chemicals, gas, oils, or in places like a garage where exhaust fumes are present. The fumes and other chemicals are another cause of an increased rate of decomposition. The chemicals that old film is made from can cause what is called, vinegar syndrome. The chemicals react with each other and this can cause a vinegar odor. If you notice this, the film needs to be moved to a cooler area in the home.

2. Try to figure out when it was recorded

Sometimes trying to figure out when the film was recorded or what the old film reel contains can be a mystery. The first thing to look for is any type of document inside the film canister; this might help with dating the film. Documents stored with the film might have a narrative on when and where the recording took place. In this case, you found an easy fix to your problem; however, sometimes it’s not that easy and other methods of retrieving the date have to be used. You might also look for any envelopes that might be stored with the old film; stamps on the envelope could reveal a date. We’ve written a whole article on finding the date of a cine reel here.

3. Most importantly – do not watch the film!

Doing so could permanently damage the old film if you are unsure of the state of the projector and you will never know what was on it. Old film can become cracked and brittle and when put through a projector, it can crack, break, and even crumble the film. It is best to take your found treasure to a professional who can safely transfer your old film from its current format to a DVD or digital format. When transferring, remember that someday DVDs may become obsolete so a digital format might be a better option.

Finding old film can be so exciting. You can view old family memories or even see relatives whom you were never able to meet but have heard so much about. Don’t take the risk of ruining these memories by trying to watch them at home on an old projector; rather, store them in a dark, cool place in a moisture proof container until you can get them to someone that can professionally transfer the old film for you. Once that is done, you can have the family over and watch and enjoy the old home movies.