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The Treasure Hunt for Cine Film

Cine film, or specifically movies made on cine film, seems more powerful than other art forms (especially theatre) in that they can be distributed easily and they last longer. But while these observations maybe true, it should be noted that the durability aspect may not be as far reaching as most people think. Cine film is fragile, and if it is not preserved properly, we might as well lose out all of our history and entertainment captured on it.

What is Film Preservation?
Film preservation seeks to:
• Using scientific methods to counter the deterioration of film, such as the use of chemicals and storage facilities with controlled temperature
• Copying the decaying film onto new, more stable film stock
• Using other video formats to publicise cine film videos
• Increasing the availability of films for education and exhibition
• Creating national and global interest in preserving history on reel

So why preserve cine film? It should be noted that fragile nature of film has been noted since its inception. For instance, nitrate film stock developed in the late 1800’s had the inherent danger of inflammation. Safety film, which came out as a replacement for the dangerous nitrate stock also suffered from degradation which involved the release of acetic acid, the “vinegar syndrome”. And even Eastman Colour film fades with time. The bottom line is that film shot on perishable plastic cannot last forever.

The statistics are staggering. 90% of all American silent films made before 1929 and 50% of American sound films made before 1950 are lost films. Meanwhile, the British Film Institute (BFI) has its own list of missing films called the “BFI 75 Most Wanted”. The London’s Screen Archive has preserved and digitised over a thousand films dating back to 1912. The total running time of these movies is over 350 hours, and they also include the footage of celebrations at the Queen’s Coronation in the 50’s.

Before moving on, it should also be mentioned that film preservation is not a novelty. Efforts have been made as early as the 1930’s, and the subject received worldwide attention in 1980 when UNESCO recognised ‘moving images’ as an integral part of the world’s cultural heritage.

The challenges to film preservation are one too many. To begin with, more films are being lost than preserved. This is happening across the world due to the lack of technical expertise in this field. Students of archiving and preservation maybe numerous, but not all are well versed in the science of preserving digital prints of films.

Luckily, companies, local authorities, and museums in the UK and the rest of the world are making efforts to preserve cine film. BFI has already created a £12m film storage facility to preserve Britain’s reel history in 2011, and the London’s Screen Archive readily accepts cine film footages from the general public.

In a recent event, Martin Scorsese and David Hockney were applauded for saving LACMA’s film programme and working to restore old films. Scorsese has been running The Film Foundation since 1990 which has been successful in preserving films by the likes of Agnes Varda.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has developed an international outreach program and has been promoting film preservation efforts in countries like India.

Finally, the European Commission has recently recognised the importance of film heritage and is now working towards developing the collection, preservation, and accessibility of European films. Member States are advised to encourage and support producers to deposit a copy of aided works for preservation and specified non-commercial use.