Film restorers are not about to give up on celluloid

Kate Taylor

4/7/2016 12:00:00 AM

There is a sign on the door of my local video store that says: “This store is not closing.”

It’s not actually a statement of existential defiance; Toronto’s Queen Video has just closed its flagship downtown location, but its Bloor Street store where I rent remains open. That’s a relief because my professional and personal needs are eclectic to say the least and no, not everything is on Netflix, iTunes or YouTube.

As the physical distribution of discs is gradually replaced by online streaming, we find ourselves in an odd transitional moment where everybody seems to believe they can – and should be able to – get everything everywhere any time, but the reality is rather different. I turned to Queen Video for The Avengers recently; not the superhero movie franchise but the 1960s British TV show, a cult classic in the detective genre.

There it was, a title you can’t find on Netflix or iTunes. (Nor are there complete episodes on YouTube, to which I will sometimes resort in moments of desperation.) After all, Queen Video on Bloor still has a library of 60,000 titles; Netflix Canada won’t discuss how many it might have at any given time, but outside estimates put it around 4,000.

We think we are drowning in content, yet often the wonders of instantaneous global distribution seem to be narrowing our choices rather than expanding them. Marvel’s Avengers? Netflix is all over it. But as we chase after those shiny new releases, we risk losing our taste for the old stuff.

Meanwhile, the digital technology that was supposed to rescue the back catalogue from oblivion, restoring and preserving fragile celluloid for future generations, poses as many problems as it solves. The digital age is full of false assumptions about access and availability, and film is a fleeting medium, its materiality under more direct assault than ever before.

I did a mini accessibility audit this week on another title, The Manchurian Candidate, a classic political thriller from 1962, because a digital restoration will be screening in Toronto next week at TIFF Cinematheque as part of its Restored! series. It’s a well-known film, directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh, and there was a remake in 2004 which you can get on iTunes, but neither that service nor Netflix has the original. Of course, you can find both at Queen Video on Bloor – as long as that location stays open.

If we are now losing the full range of content that a really good video store can deliver on demand, we have always been at risk of losing the films themselves. When Howard Levman, the owner of Queen Video, has to replace a lost or damaged disc, he often finds the old movies that his customers used to love just aren’t available any more. While archives established in North America and Europe as far back as the 1930s have long worked to preserve film, the truth is that celluloid is fragile and, if you can clean, repair and digitize old film prints, you can’t do it if nobody saved them in the first place. The Film Foundation, the U.S. film preservation and restoration organization founded by director Martin Scorsese in 1990, estimates we have lost half of all movies made before 1950 and more than 80 per cent of those made before 1929.

For example, TIFF’s Restored! series includes Insiang, a 1976 family drama by the Filipino director Lino Brocka. It’s the second instance where the Film Foundation and the Film Development Council of the Philippines have funded a restoration of a film by Brocka who, despite the difficulties of working under the censorship of the Marcos regime, created about 60 films before his death in 1991.

“No more than five or six survive,” says Cecilia Cenciarelli, the Italian restoration expert from Cineteca di Bologna who oversaw work on Insiang, repairing a broken and glue-stained master print. “[For most] there’s no element to start a restoration. This is obviously tragic since Lino Brocka is considered the most influential filmmaker of the Philippines, the most popular and the most militant.”

Master prints may be destroyed by improper storage or lost when private film labs close down; if they do still exist, restoration is expensive work as every frame needs to be cleaned up and repaired. In theory, digitization should simplify this process, but restorers say you can’t really automate their work: For example, you can run a film through a digital process that removes all the scratches on every frame but you risk removing material from the film itself.

“When digital came along, it was going to be the solution; it was going to be cheaper, it was going to be faster. None of that is true,” says Margaret Bodde, executive director at the Film Foundation. The film restoration community continues debating whether old films should be restored to the original celluloid format or simply digitized. Restoring celluloid to celluloid is actually cheaper, but producing a new digital master is often a film’s best hope for the future, ensuring it can be screened and distributed.

Still, restorers are not about to give up on the celluloid experience. “My heart lies in analog,” reflects Nicola Mazzanti, director of the Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, whose restoration of the 1975 feminist masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is also included in the TIFF series. Indeed, he once caused a furor by proclaiming that the Technicolor of 1955 was like God – it could not be copied. But “the idea we would work hard with a filmmaker on restoration that can only be shown in a handful of places [that still have analog projectors] gives me pause.” In the end, he has to opt for digital restorations.

The film preservationists also worry that, as a generation grows up that has never seen celluloid, we will lose the credentials to restore old films.

“A previous generation knew film as light-projected; we had an aesthetic knowledge of what film looked like, what colours were appropriate,” says Bodde. “New generations … today they are looking at Internet data.”

Film archives tend to view all films as social documents and while high-profile classics may get priority for restoration because they can be released on DVD and screened at festivals, the goal is to save everything. In Brussels, for example, Mazzanti just received 2,000 film prints from the Belgian army that he will add to the 1.2 million canisters of film that are already stored in his institution. “It’s very unglamorous,” he says. “There is a huge amount of material that needs to be preserved so that some day it can be seen.”

And even the famous stuff may have increasing problems finding its audience. Part of the challenge for the back catalogue of old movies is that, outside of the specialized cinémathèque circuit where restored films are much sought after, the general public may be less interested in classic films than they used to be. Queen Video’s business used to be 80 per cent back catalogue and 20 per cent new releases; today those ratios are reversed.

“Public tastes have changed,” Levman says. “Young people aren’t interested in watching a Godard, a Kurosawa, a Sam Peckinpah from the 1970s.” He used to rent out Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai several times a week; now, it goes out a few times a year.

Rents on Bloor Street storefronts are high; inevitably the day will come when Levman’s Annex location also has to shut. He figures that the DVD and Blu-ray discs are the last formats we will hold in our hands; no one will bother setting up physical distribution for the fancy new 4K formats coming down the pipe. The economics won’t justify it.

Plus, the digital formats are continually changing. One looming issue for preservationists is that films that were born digital may become impenetrable to future generations.

“The formats change so radically. You have a problem with not being able to play back something that was made 10 years ago,” said Bodde. “A film you can always pull it out and hold it up to the light to see what is there; I don’t know what we’ll have in 10 years, but I wager you won’t be able to do that.”

Indeed, if we have a film preservation problem now, we may have a worse one in the future.

Editor's note: An earlier digital version of this story incorrectly stated that TIFF is showing a restored print of The Manchurian Candidate; however, it is actually a digital restoration. This version has been updated.


Cracking the Code

Nick Pinkerton

3/29/2016 12:00:00 AM

IF YOU WERE TO DEVISE the platonic ideal of a pre-Code movie it would probably look quite a bit like Tay Garnett’s 1930 barrelhouse melodrama Her Man, which transposes the “Frankie and Johnnie” story—then recently recorded to great acclaim by musician Jimmie Rodgers—to a blind tiger in Havana, where the dregs of all nations congregate and copulate.

While Film Forum programmer Bruce Goldstein has made pre-Code his bailiwick for years, the Museum of Modern Art gets to plant their flag on Her Man, which will be playing at Fifty-Third Street along with four other Garnett films and Chester Erskine and John H. Auer’s 1936 Frankie and Johnnie, one of the last screen appearances of the troubled, wrenchingly emotive torch singer Helen Morgan.

Her Man establishes itself as something special from the opening credits—written in wet sand on the beach, with each “card” washed away by the surf—and within the first reel vaults into the sublime. After being turned away from US soil and hopes for a new life, tattered and used-up b-girl Annie (Marjorie Rambeau, in a performance that anticipates Susan Tyrell’s Fat City souse) heads back to Havana. Her walk to her accustomed haunt, the Thalia, is recorded in a tracking shot which follows her down the teeming main drag of the pleasure district, ducking heedless horse carts and familiarly making her way through the rowdy, brawling polyglot masses literally tumbling out of every saloon door. The concert of casual gestural precision and individual detail that Garnett gets from his crowd scenes, here as throughout, is electrifying, while the fluidity of the camera movement and dense tapestry of sound give the lie to the persistent idea that cinema’s transformation into an audio-visual art sent it back to the drawing board.

The real focus of the story isn’t Annie, who soon settles back into a fog of blue ruin and self-pity, but one of her younger coworkers, Frankie (Helen Twelvetrees), who is handled by slickster pimp Johnnie (Ricardo Cortez), and has somehow retained a glimmer of goodness despite making her living picking pockets while batting her doll eyes at suckers and spoon-feeding them sob stories. The trouble begins when she levels her eyes at Dan Keefe (Phillips Holmes), an angelically handsome sailor on a stopover whose only possessions are a medal attesting to uncommon valor, a striped sweater that gradually disintegrates through the course of the movie, and a dream of clean living.

Moviegoers acquainted with the period will undoubtedly find some key elements of Her Man familiar. The setting and setup are reminiscent of Josef von Sternberg’s The Docks of New York (1928); Dan and Frankie’s rebirth before a church altar might very well have been cadged by Leo McCarey for his Love Affairnine years later; and the raucous, reckless shore-leave atmosphere is akin to that of Raoul Walsh’s Sailor’s Luck (1933)—though it should be said that Her Man deserves extra marks for sozzled sordidness, and the climactic barroom brawl contains back-breaking suicidal stuntwork of a sort rarely seen outside of 1980s Golden Harvest productions. And gourmands of period argot would be hard-pressed to find a more sumptuous spread, starting with Frankie’s sisterly admonition “You got the heebies bad, grab yourself a coupla snorts.”

The reappearance of Her Man was precipitated by the discovery of the original camera negative in the Library of Congress’s Columbia Pictures collection—the 4K DCP playing MoMA is the result of a collaboration between Sony Pictures and the Film Foundation. To see the film in its original format in New York you’d have to have been around in 1967. In Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema, published the following year, the author, still fresh from seeing Cinémathèque Français loan prints of Her Man and The Spieler (1928), defined Garnett’s personality as that of “a rowdy vaudevillian.” To this I might add that he shows significant control in the midst of knockabout chaos, and that Her Man exhibits several resourceful examples of visual synecdoche, such as representing Annie’s return to Havana entirely with shots of her legs and worn-down pumps, swabbed out of the way on the ship’s deck like so much refuse.

Garnett was a former gag man for Hal Roach and Mack Sennett, and that pedigree is certainly more evident here than in what is his best-known work, the 1946 film of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. MoMA’s program offers a selection of rare, lesser-known Garnett titles. Most of these come from the late 1920s and early ’30s—including a single screening of The Spieler in the late afternoon on Thursday—with 1953’s Main Street to Broadway an outlier. Outside of Her Man, the rest of the program is 35 mm: theMain Street print from the MoMA archive; The Spieler in what adjunct curator Dave Kehr describes as a “gorgeous” print from the Eastman Museum; and Celebrity (1928), “an on-the-fly ‘restoration’ composed of reels from two incomplete prints, one from MoMA and one from the Library of Congress.” It’s more Garnett than has been seen in one place in many moons, and if it’s even still a thin slice to evaluate a fifty-year career on, there’s no denying that Her Man is a rolling, heaving, helluva a good time—and that’s on the level.

Her Man: A Forgotten Masterwork in Context” runs March 29 to April 4 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.



3/8/2016 12:00:00 AM
Finalists for the 13th annual FOCAL International Awards in association with AP Archive include some of the highest-profile documentary films released around the world in 2015, including Academy Award Winner Amy, about the life of Amy Winehouse. Set to take place on 26th May, 2016 at the Lancaster London Hotel, the FOCAL International Awards recognise producers, directors, researchers and other creative media professionals for excellence in the use and preservation of stock and archival footage across 16 production categories.

London, UK – 8th March 2016 - FOCAL International, the Federation of Commercial Audio-visual Libraries, today announced its shortlist for the thirteenth annual FOCAL International Awards, to be presented in association with AP Archive on 26th May 2016 at the Lancaster London Hotel, hosted by Kate Adie, the former Chief News Correspondent for the BBC and current presenter of From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Radio 4. The FOCAL International Awards celebrate the best use of footage across all variety of genres and media platforms, as well as those who preserve, restore and ensure that archival footage remains a vital resource to the global production community. 

Sixteen awards will be presented in total, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, won this year by renowned film preservationist Robert Gitt.

This year’s finalists were drawn from a large, diverse and international pool of nominees, with a strong showing from the United States and Europe. The United States is also well represented in the Footage Researcher of the Year nominations and this was from a very strong field of 12 entries in that category.

“We are delighted with both the international turnout and the prevalence in this year’s shortlist of so many highly-acclaimed archive-based films such as Amy, Cobain and Best of Enemies,” said event organizer Julie Lewis.

The FOCAL International Awards also honour the work of archival researchers, footage archivists and film preservationists, with this year’s Lifetime achievement award going to legendary film preservationist Robert Gitt.In a career spanning more than fifty years, Robert Gitt has gained an international reputation as one of the foremost experts in the preservation and restoration of motion pictures. In addition, Gitt will deliver the Jane Mercer Memorial Lecture on May 24th in the lead up to the FOCAL International Awards ceremony.

Tickets for the Gala Awards Ceremony 26th May are now on sale, so you'll need to hurry if you want to book a table

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES: Please talk with ANNE JOHNSON at FOCAL International if you are interested +44 (0)20 7663 8090


Best Use of Footage in a History Production
Sponsored by Getty Images / BBC Motion Gallery
• A German Youth (Une Jeunesse Allemande) – Local Films (France)
• Every Face Has a Name - Auto Images (Sweden)
• Red Gold (L'Or Rouge) - Vivement Lundi ! (France)

Best Use of Footage in a Current Affairs Production
Sponsored by Bloomberg Content Service 
• Clockwork Climate - Artline Films (France)
• India's Daughter - Assassin Films (UK)
• The Queen of Ireland - Blinder Films (Ireland)

Best Use of Footage in a Factual Production
Sponsored by Bridgeman Footage 
• Best of Enemies - Magnolia Pictures (USA)
• The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution - Firelight Films, Inc (USA)
• The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor - DeepFocus Productions, Inc (USA)

Best Use of Footage in an Entertainment Production 
Sponsored by FremantleMedia Archive
• A City Dreaming - Indie Movie Company for BBC NI (UK)
• Best of Enemies - Tremolo Productions / Magnolia Pictures (USA)
• Children Over Time - RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana (Italy)

Best Use of Footage in an Arts Production
Sponsor sought
• Arena: Night and Day - BBC (UK)
• By Sidney Lumet - RatPac Documentary Films / Augusta Films / Thirteen Productions LLC's (USA)
• Imagine: The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson - Essential Nitrate Limited / BBC (UK)

Best Use of Footage in a Music Production
Sponsored by Shutterstock
• Amy - On The Corner (UK)
• Cobain: Montage of Heck - End of Movie, LLC (USA)
• Eurovision at 60 - BBC Entertainment Production (UK)

Best Use of Sports Footage
Sponsored by ITV Sport Archive 
• Building Jerusalem - New Black Films Limited (UK)
• Free to Run - Yuzu Productions (France) Point Prod (Switzerland) and Eklektik Productions (Belgium)
• I Believe In Miracles - Baby Cow Productions and Spool Films (UK)

Best Use of Footage in an Advert or Short Production
Sponsor sought 
• Gatorade 'Heritage' - Stalkr/TBWA/Chiat/Day (USA)
• Lenor 'Odes to Clothes: Marvellous Scarf' - The Director Studio for Grey Düsseldorf (UK/Germany)
• MTV 'Tagline Here' - Stalkr/ Ghost Robot (USA)

Best use of Footage about the Natural World
Sponsor sought
• Beasts Behaving Badly - Barcroft Productions (UK)
• The Nature of Things: Jellyfish Rule! - CBC (Canada)
• Wild 24 - NHNZ / Nat Geo Wild (New Zealand)

Best Use of Footage on non-Television Platforms
Sponsor sought
Bitter Lake - BBC Productions (UK)
Britain on Film - BFI (UK)
The Beatles 1+ Video Collection - Apple Corps Limited (UK)

Best Use of Footage in a Cinema Release
Sponsored by British Pathé 
• Amy - On The Corner (UK)
• Cobain: Montage of Heck - End of Movie, LLC (USA)
• Free to Run - Yuzu Productions (France) Point Prod (Switzerland) and Eklektik Productions (Belgium)

Best Archive Restoration / Preservation Project or Title
Sponsor sought
• La Noire de... Restored by The Film Foundation's World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Sembene Estate, INA, Eclair Laboratories and Centre National de Cinematographie. Restoration carried out at Cineteca di Bologna - (USA/Italy)
• Marius – Compagnie Méditerranéenne de Films-MPC and the Cinémathèque française, with the support of the CNC, the Franco-American Cultural Fund DGA-MPA -SACEM-WGAW, the help of ARTE France Cinema Department, the Audiovisual Archives of Monaco, and the participation of SOGEDA Monaco / Digimage Classics (France)
• The Memory of Justice – The Film Foundation / Academy Film Archive (USA) 
• Varieté - Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and Filmarchiv Austria (Germany/Austria)

The Jane Mercer Footage Researcher of the Year Award
Sponsored by AP Archive 
• Colleen Cavanaugh Anthony, Alexis Owens (Stalkr/USA) - Transparent Srs 2 Titles; 
The Big Short; MTV Tagline Here
• Jessica Berman-Bogdan (USA) - Cobain: Montage of Heck; Narcos
• Prudence Arndt, Deborah Ford Gribaudi (USA/France) - Free To Run

Footage Employee of the Year
Sponsored by Creative Skillset
• Tim Emblem English (BBC Studios and Post Production)
• Paul Davis (Getty Images)
• Bhirel Wilson (BBC Motion Gallery / Getty Images)

Footage Library of the Year
Sponsored by Bonded Services 
• Historic Films Archive 
• Huntley Film Archives
• Kinolibrary

Lifetime Achievement Award 
A gift of the FOCAL International Executive
Robert Gitt

To see the CREDITS and SYNOPSES of the final nominations and the full list of 191 submissions to the FOCAL International Awards from 17 countries click on the relevant category drop-down list through the hyperlinks above or via

The Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries International is a professional not-for-profit trade association formed in 1985. It is fully established as one of the leading voices in the industry, with a membership of over 300 international companies and individuals.
Its purpose is to facilitate the use of library footage, images, stills and audio in all forms of media production; promote its members - libraries selling content plus those whose serve the industry; provide a platform for members to promote themselves and their interests; encourage good practise in the research, licensing, copyright clearance and use of footage; support, promote and educate on the need to preserve and restore footage and content; act as an information resource for the footage and content industry; offer training in key skills and in the broader appreciation of the footage and content industry.


NFAI workshop to help preserve India’s cinematic heritage

Shoumojit Banerjee

2/25/2016 12:00:00 AM

The National Film Archive of India, the country’s largest film archive and custodian of the Indian film heritage, is conducting a workshop in film preservation and restoration to help conserve the nation’s cinematic legacy.

The NFAI, in collaboration with the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) and the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF), will conduct a one-of-a-kind 10-day workshop beginning February 26 titled ‘Film preservation & restoration workshop India 2016’.

The objective of this programme is not only to augment the infrastructure and capacity of the NFAI but also to build an indigenous resource of film archivists and restorers who can work towards saving India’s cinematic heritage.

“There is no culture of ‘preserving’ in this country. The first week-long workshop held in Mumbai in the Films’ Division last year was a resounding success. Fortunately, the fact that film preservation is a specialised field and that we need to build an indigenous resource of trained archivists that can take this movement forward is a fact that is gradually impressing itself,” said Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who heads the FHF, commenting on the genesis of the workshop.

The ten-day advanced course has been specially designed by David Walsh, head of the FIAF Technical Commission, with focus on intensive practical training in current film preservation and archival practices.

“Since Indian cinema has been gaining attention of researchers and scholars across the world, it becomes imperative that these aspects along with meta-data management be made ready as per universal standards,” Mr. Dungarpur said.

The workshop will be an advanced course with emphasis on documentation, cataloguing, projection system and the importance of preserving films in celluloid and digital.

Lectures and practical sessions in the workshop will be conducted by leading archivists and restorers from preeminent film institutions in the world such as the George Eastman Museum, Selznick School of Film Preservation, FIAF and L’Immagine Ritrovata, and is supported by Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project’. There will be equal emphasis on preservation of heritage on celluloid format along with digitisation, said NFAI Director Prakash Magdum.

“Even though India is one of the largest producers of movies in the world, general awareness about film preservation is abysmal and is not looked as a career option. So, through this workshop, we will showcase the use of the latest technological advances that will prolong the life of celluloid film,” Mr Magdum said. The NFAI in recent years has carried out digitisation of nearly 500 films and the restoration of 300 more a few years back.



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