How Long Can a Cine Film Reel Last Before Deteriorating?
As we look over the history of motion picture, there are so many films that make this magnificent industry what it is today. Without these films, it is hard to appreciate how the art of filmmaking has evolved over the years. We have been both unfortunate and fortunate in the ever changing ways in which we can store film footage.
We are unfortunate in the aspect that some of the earliest means of storing film footage can cause deterioration over time; this includes 8mm, Super 8, Pathe 9.5mm, and 16mm Cine film. The factors which attribute to cine film deterioration can sometimes be hard to avoid, they include extremes of temperature, film being stored in a damp room or being contaminated by pollutants in the air.
Cine film, in its various forms, is made up of chemical dyes such as polymer, nitrate, or acetate, which are then coated in gelatine. Light and sunlight breaks down these chemicals causing fading and eventually the film can become completely transparent and the images lost.
Ideally precious archive film reels should be stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. However, this is not practical for home cine film collections. In this instance it is advisable to avoid storing film in locations that are exposed to extremes in temperature such as garages or lofts. Exposure to extreme temperatures or high humidity will cause mold or fungi to grow on the film.
High temperatures and humidity cause decomposing in acetate film. This is apparent because the film will take on an odour of vinegar. Film that is made up of nitrate will also decompose and take on an unpleasant odor. Film that is sealed, ie in cannisters will deteriorate quicker because the chemical gases are trapped within the container.
The natural process of aging causes cine film to become brittle. This can create problems with breakage, and tearing shown as small flecks in the film when it is viewed on a projector.
Many will try to clean their old film stock, but this can also cause deterioration! There are several ways in which film can be cleaned; however, each has their issues. Pressure transfer rollers are usually an ineffective way of cleaning and can cause damage to the actual film. Some use a distilled water cleaner, but this can increase the odds of Vinegar Syndrome, which is a process that eats away the film. Airbrush cleaning is sometimes used to try to remove mold, but it is usually ineffective. Solvent cleaners are often used, but this can soften the emulsion of the film, eventually causing damage.
It is hard to give an exact time frame in which film will begin to deteriorate, but given the storage conditions, the film could have a life span of a few decades. Some of the signs that deterioration has begun or has already destroyed the film are: shrinking, warped or brittle film, cupped film, there are gas bubbles in the film emulsion, speckling, or powderisation of the film.
The best way to preserve irreplaceable cine film is by transferring to DVD and digital formats. At TVV Productions, this process includes cleaning the film to remove any dust or dirt; splicing; colour correcting; flicker free transferring; and editing. There are several formats that transferred film can be delivered in, including DVD, Blu-ray, or digital files.