Preserving Grain, Presenting Pixels: Film Preservation and Restoration in the Digital Age Part 1

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David Ferriero: \
Good evening. I’m David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, and it’s a pleasure
to welcome you to the National Archives in the William G. McGowan Theater. Tonight we’ll
examine the current and future state of film preservation. We’ll learn how archival institutions
and the film industry are dealing with the digital dilemma, as they face the challenge
of preserving and restoring our motion picture history.
\ \
Tonight’s program also gives us the opportunity to feature the film preservation and restoration
work we do here at the National Archives. And I’m pleased that staff members Dan Rooney,
Criss Kovac, Bryce Lowe are here to explain their work and show some examples. We’re also
very honored to welcome Joe Lindner, preservation officer with the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, who will tell us about the important work that the Academy does in
this field. And I’d also like to welcome any members of the audience who were attendees
at today’s NARA’s 26th Annual Preservation Conference. Thanks for sticking with us.
\ \
Tonight’s program is the third of three programs we present annually in partnership with the
Academy. It is a valuable partnership that could not have happened or be sustained without
the help and support of the Foundation for the National Archives and the Charles Guggenheim
Center for the Documentary Film. On February 20, we’ll present the first AMPAS Partnership
Program for 2013, the ninth annual five-day showcase of Oscar-nominated documentaries
and short subjects. This is shown the week before the Oscars are presented; so it’s a
great opportunity to see these — all the nominees before the award ceremony.
\ \
Before we get to today’s program, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs here
in the McGowan Theater. On Tuesday, October 23, at noon, author William [sic] Stahr will
discuss his book, “Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man,” which sheds new light on Lincoln’s secretary
of state, and the man who saw the — oversaw the purchase of Alaska from the Russians.
And for those of you who don’t know, there’s actually a check upstairs in this building
drawn on the Riggs Bank here in Washington for $7.2 million for the purchase of Alaska.
And we actually have the check. \ \
On Thursday, October 25, at 7:00 p.m., a distinguished panel will discuss “The 14th Day: JFK and
the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis”, the secret White House tapes. This program
is presented in conjunction with the exhibit that recently opened upstairs in the Lawrence
F. O’Brien Gallery, “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis”. And Caroline Kennedy
will open that program. To find out more about these and all of our exhibits and public programs
please refer to our monthly calendar of events. There are signup sheets in the lobby, or you
can receive it by regular mail or email. \ \
The moderator for tonight’s program is Dan Rooney. Dan is the supervisory archivist of
the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video branch in the Special Media Archives Services division
of the National Archives. His business card is about that long. He joined the Archives
in 2002, and since then he has worked as an archivist in the Special Media division in
multiple roles, primarily in both the still and motion picture holdings. He attended Loyola
University-Chicago and the Catholic University of America, where he earned his master’s degree
in Library and Information Science, concentrating on archives and media studies. Now I’ll turn
the program over to Dan Rooney. \ \
[applause] \ \
Dan Rooney: \
Well, good evening, everybody. And thank you very much, Mr. Ferriero. I’d also like to
welcome you all to the National Archives and to the McGowan Theater for our program tonight
on motion picture film preservation and the changes and the challenges that we face in
the digital age. \ \
Here at the National Archives, of course, we have one of the country’s largest motion
picture collections. And for than 75 years now we’ve had a division specifically dedicated
to the acquisition and preservation of motion pictures. In fact, some of the early accessioning
[spelled phonetically] activity, dating all the way back to the beginning of the Archives
in 1934, included early U.S. government film operations; films coming into the archives
related to those roles. My role now as the supervisory archivist includes overall collection
management, public access, and preservation responsibilities for the motion picture holdings.
And it — I have to say that it’s my real privilege the last few years to serve the
collection’s needs, working in very close partnership with my colleague on the stage
here tonight, Criss Kovac, who heads our Motion Picture Preservation lab. And together, I
think our organizations have sought to continue the tradition of our predecessors by firmly
upholding NARA’s role in and commitment to preservation of our national motion picture
heritage. So thanks, Criss. \ \
Criss Kovac: \
No. Thank you. \ \
Dan Rooney: \
The Archives’ film preservation approach has relied for many years on an essential strategy
of film-to-film duplication utilizing traditional photochemical printing and processing methods
in order to ensure long term preservation of the holdings. However, like the rest of
the profession, we now find ourselves squarely at a crossroads. Market trends including the
significant decrease in commercial manufacture of film stock reduced availability of media
expertise and equipment obsolescence are only but a few factors which have moved us to explore
the future of digital preservation methodology in recent years.
\ \
About five years ago, the archives began making heavy investments into new digital technology
scanning equipment and supporting data networks to begin what was called an “analog-to-digital
transition phase” for our preservation labs. Five years later now, we are very much in
a hybrid approach. We’re still relying on traditional film printing, but we are embracing
the advantages of digital, particularly to rethink our public access approach to delivering
film content. \ \
Of course along the way we have encountered what our Academy colleagues have termed the
“Digital Dilemma” and the many aspects associated with it. We are facing serious challenges
with the massive data sets generated by widely varied digital production processes, long
term ingest storage, and retrievability of a vast variety of digital and audio digital
assets, hardware and software dependence, storage media reliability, and life span.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has been a leader in our field for many years
now and in publishing their report several years back, entitled “The Digital Dilemma,”
they began to successfully articulate and document the monumental challenges that lay
ahead for film archives in our time today. In light of these common challenges and shared
philosophies, the Academy has been a partner to the archives in many aspects relating to
film preservation and we are pleased to welcome our special guest tonight, Joe Lindner, the
Academy’s preservation officer. I’d like to introduce Joe and ask him to enlighten us
on AMPAS’s approach to film preservation and asking him how you see this concept of the
“Digital Dilemma” and can you give us an over view and update on what the Academy is doing
to address it? \ \
Joe Lindner: \
I was holding up this, “The Digital Dilemma” — it was a report that was done by the Academy’s
Science and Technology council. So I’m with the film archives but these are my colleagues
who were just upstairs who did this. This came out a few years ago and the more recent
one, “The Digital Dilemma 2,” both of these are available for free downloads at,
of course. I think there are still some paper copies of this, if you want. Dan articulated
many of the issues really well, so I’ll just touch on a few of them. Of course, I don’t
have any answer for the “digital dilemma” but I can talk about what we try to do to
try to deal with it and just to summarize one of the — what I think the key conclusions
of this report was that digital preservation in the movie image field is a challenge, is
a problem, and it’s a challenge that even the large studios — the American Film Studios
— struggle with. And if they’re struggling with it, how does a independent institution,
the Federal institution, the private institution, the small library deal with it? And although
this came out a couple years ago, and one of the conclusions was the studios were still
preserving on film. I know today, this year there was news in our field about Fuji stopping
production of most of their stocks. And one stock they kept, they announced they were
dedicated to, was the black and white separation stock that the studios are still using to
preserve their restorations and I believe many of their new films. So, even at that
level, where there’s not lots of money to go around. And, there’s a lot of motivation
to protect those assets. I mean, that’s what they call them in these studios — “the assets”
— because they are valuable to them, and they don’t want to lose them. They still use
film as a tool. So, that was one of the key take-away’s from that and then this followed
up with the idea of independent production, documentary film makers, and how if the studio’s
struggling with it, it’s even worse there. \ \
So, we know from film, I do a lot of work where I research film makers that were nominated
or won Academy Awards. I end up cold calling or emailing, and saying “are you the one who
made this film that was nominated in 1979?” And a lot of times, the people say “Yes! That’s
so great — I think we have a VHS.” And we say “Ah, do you have the negative, do you
have at least a print — do you have something on film?” and everything from “Well I left
it at a lab that closed” or “My partner — we were in a dispute — and I never got the materials
back to — might be in my cabin in Maine, and I only go there every six months” or,
“it’s in a box under my bed, so the next time we talk to them they say “Oh I haven’t opened
it in years and they had sent me the wrong film. It’s all this — it’s a Chinese film
and I even contacted the people on the label and they said \’ebno, we didn’t’.”
\ \
So, it’s hard enough when there’s a tangible artifact — and I’ll address the thing about
film — one of the things that archivists love, is that its, despite its fragility in
many ways as an artifact, it can survive “benign neglect” very well — it’s a term that was
— I like from one of the “Digital Dilemma” reports — that even just being, you know
I had that film that had been abandoned in a film maker’s closet — and had it been the
right film we would have had somewhere to start, and that is a challenge that if it’s
a hard drive and its 20 years later, the plastic might be very nice, but whether we will be
able to access the data on it, that’s the challenge. And then of course, the big issue
is preservation. Many of you must deal with preservation of digital data, and all of us
do, and in the industry and motion pictures, the challenge is our files are just so big
and our storage needs just dwarf most of what people expect.
\ \
Our IT department, very well intentioned about a year ago, said “Well, we can give you space
on our server. I can give you a terabyte” and I said “yeah, [laughs] Okay.” They said,
“You only need it for a year or two.” And I said “No, we’re talking about something
else.” The “Digital Dilemma” defines preservation of digital data for accessibility of over
a hundred years, so, you could say that’s possible if you have migration. And if you
migrate all of your text documents and all of your family photos every three to five
years when you buy another laptop. Maybe that’s not so hard. But when you have terabytes and
petabytes worth of data that have to moved every three to five years, again a motion
picture studio might have continuous funding and a reason that support that. But most of
the non-profits and government agencies don’t always have the luxury of that kind of funding.
And so that’s the fear, is how will this be sustainable over many generations?
\ \
The simple answer — and I apologize this slide has been up here so long — I’ll start
with the — moving on, the Academy of course, just a little bit about us, because they do
get asked about this yes — “where does our funding come from?” is one of the first questions.
And the Academy is known for the Oscar show, giving out awards for excellence in the industry,
and so for that, we’re promoting the trade industry, that’s not non-profit activity.
And, however, very fortunately, people seem to love it, they like watching that show,
they tune in. And millions and billions of people watch it, and so we have a very lucrative
contract for the broadcast rights. And that funds everything the Academy does and it’s
the majority of the funding. So, anything beyond producing the show, and the operations
of the administration goes into the non-profit activities.
\ \
So we have a number of foundations — the archivists have its own foundation now and
it’s located over at the Pickford Center for Motion Pictures Study — so it’ll be the image
on the right — we’re in Hollywood, in the Historic Don Lee Mutual Broadcasting Studios,
which was the first permanent TV Studio in LA. Beautiful, thick concrete walls for soundproofing,
which meant the building was fantastic for \’f1 we didn’t have to retrofit \’f1 in Los
Angeles you have to worry about seismic stability and earthquake retrofitting. And also great
for temperature and humidity controls, those really thick concrete walls. So we’ve turned
those old TV studios for quick shows like “Queen for a Day” were recorded into film
vaults. Actually that large studio right on the corner there is the Linwood Dunn Theater
— So there’s the lobby of the theater on the bottom left. And you can see we don’t
unfortunately have the windows with the Cadillac’s. Don Lee developed the TV studio to advertise
his Cadillac dealership so that was the reality in the early years of broadcasting. One business
owned a broadcasting facility. In addition to the Archive Foundation, there’s the Library
Foundation of Margaret Herrick Library has millions of still photos, tens of thousands
of original posters, drawings of costume designs and books and scripts and personal papers
of filmmakers. I’ve researched Gregory Peck’s collection when we were preserving the Big
Country. So, we also do scholarships and other grants and most recent new foundation that’s
exciting is Academy Museum — you may have heard that the announcement was that the Museum
being built from the ground up is going to be partnered with the LA County Museum of
Art so they’d had the architects but, the new press release was the visions, so these
are the two new drawings. That’s the Historic May Company Building which was — department
store on Wilshire Boulevard — its right next to the Museum of Art and the interesting part
is this is looking north, so this is pretty much preserving the historic part of the building,
but in the second photo, this is looking south. One of the challenges is the building didn’t
seem really suitable for building a theater, but they’ve come up with a solution where
a less historic addition is going to be replaced with this theatre. It may be hard to see in
this drawing, but I was kind of intrigued when they told me about it, the vision, and
again, this is just a vision, this is not a final drawing, but to have a theatre that
will be suspended, so that there will be space underneath it for an outdoor courtyard, taking
advantage of the Southern California weather, so you can sit out in the caf\’c8. And then
above it, you can walk above it, and actually on the deck you can look out onto the Hollywood
Hills and see the Hollywood sign. It’s less clear here, but if you go on our website,
I think it’s clear on that image. Then the theater itself is also encased in a glass
dome, so you’ll somehow having a windowed Hollywood view, you’ll be looking out through
that. And the theater itself it’s in between there, and we’ll be set up for archival Film
projection. We have a number of theaters of our own that can show film, but this will
be a venue for people who come to the city and are interested in movie history and they
are eager for that content, we’ll be able to show our preserved films there as well.
\ \
So, in addressing — sorry, now getting back to talking about the Academy — getting back
to film preservation — how are we addressing the upcoming problems of the “Digital Dilemma?”
One of the factors is — Dan pointed out — is the possibility of the end of film stock,
which we hate to ever say or believe in the death of film. We hope it’ll last for a long
time. But one of the true realities was that the industry decided to move away from film
as a projection format and really mandate that all of American theaters have to be on
board with digital projection by January 2013, or you won’t get prints. That’s an economic
reality, and I can’t blame them for that. But the effect of that, will be that Kodak
will no longer be selling 6000 copies of every new release the studios make. They’ll be making
very few, maybe still for international distribution and a few specialty things. And the archives
really are not a big customer of Kodak. We would like to be, we’re small. Studios were
big, so that gave us an economy of scale. So it really meant film preservation was cheap.
That’s kind of hard to believe, considering that we’re usually struggling, funding for
it is actually very expensive. But compare to what’s going to happen if economy of scale
goes away, it is cheap. So, we convinced our organization that — and I was very glad they
came through — to invest in preserve now, let’s preserve as much as we can in two years.
Let’s do five years worth of work in two years, because in five years we may not be doing
it at all, and it may be more expensive. So we’ll be getting a bargain because we’ll be
doing it all up front. And all the new elements we make now, we can scan later. We’ll make
new negatives, especially of the most at-risk things that will be harder to scan.
\ \
So, nitrate — you may be familiar with nitrate, films used, up to 1950, in addition to potentially
deteriorating — you can see here on the right — sticky film fragile film — especially
film from the silent era — this is the stuff that the oldest and most important artifacts
we have, especially since we’ve lost so much of that cinema already. About 80% is what
the estimate — of films from before 1930 are gone forever. Its not that they’re hard
to see, or the DVDs are out of print, they are lost. So, 4/5th’s of our history from
the first 35 years of the birth of a new medium are gone forever. So when we have silent artifacts,
whatever we have is pretty precious to us. An example on the left, is a film from 1912,
is a print from The Girl in the Armchair. You can see the broken perfs the misaligned
splices, on standard perforations — it’s basically a fragile element. And while you
can scan it, there are scanners and people who are familiar with scanning really fragile
things. We still have film labs that can print this really well. And we can make a brand
new master negative and we can make new prints. It looks fantastic and we have something we
can depend on. That’s why archivists like film as a preservation format. These new formats
are really stable. Everyone seems to think polyester film can last a hundred years. Kodak
used to say five hundred years. No one will be around to get a refund if that’s not true,
but that’s a lot longer than we can hope for especially when you think of three to five
years from migration. That’s a — you know we can put it on the shelf and store it, and
be confident that you have something that you can rely on for preservation. So, nitrate
was one of the things that we’ll make as many new negatives and prints of that. But of course,
acetate film is susceptible to the same deterioration — this was a newsreel from Laos — but this
gets back to that benign neglect that even though this was stored in the worst possible
conditions, humidity, heat of Southeast Asia, when we had it — because it survived — we
were able to copy this. We were able to copy this photochemically quite well, despite its
well over 2 \uc0\u937 % shrinkage, the warping, the spoking — you can see we made a beautiful
new negative, and that negative is something we will be able to scan 20 years from now,
and then 16mm in particular the master elements when they’re in multiple rolls. Now, and then
I get too technical I suppose, but basically in 16, and even in commercial film making,
two roles were used to do the editing, and they were sort of checker boarded, and you
could do dissolves, you know, fades that way. \ \
Even in standard commercial cinema, sometimes you had as many as four rolls, ABCD rolls.
And then if you add in student film makers, independent film makers, and animators and
especially the experimental types, you had all kinds of crazy things with multiple rolls.
And so this is an example from an experimental film from a film maker called Baylis Glascock,
well the four rolls that are in that first synchronizer are the ABCD rolls and the original
element, and what’s on top of the fifth synchronizer, is a positive copy that’s not necessarily
good for preservation but is a reference on how they went together.
\ \
Now, we can copy these today at film labs where, those technicians there were still
around when AB printing was traditional, where it was a common, commercial thing. So they’ve
got the experience — you know if I say ABC rolls, it’s not something you’ll find in every
city around the world but when you do have a lab that knows about it they can make a
new single strand element that can give us some confidence — we’ve preserved it, all
those complicated effects are built in. I was talking at Culpepper to some of my colleagues
about scanning AB rolls and they had a lot of confidence that they could do it — scan
it and put the files together. Part of the problem when you have four rolls, you have
four times the data, and part of that, all of those rolls is just blank because the images
just aren’t only on one of the four at any one time. That’s been trouble for us when
we’ve been to commercial vendors, digital vendors. At LOC, they said “ah, we can do
it,” but then it turns out they all have backgrounds in commercial film labs. They were optical
printers at the Lux, and all that, so of course, they could do it because they had the direct
experience when this type of filmmaking was more common, and our fears is that a hundred
years from now someone picks up these five rolls and will be struggling to put them back
together again. \ \
If we make a new element now, we have a kind of a lab term “idiot proof” element. You scan
and if no questions on it, you don’t have to know how all of these go together. It’s
all there. And it’s the kind of thing I’m sure you guys felt that when you’re looking
over old elements you wish someone in the past had just done something and you say “ah
you would’ve made my life so much easier.” \ \
So if I’m thinking about it optimistically, what I’m saying is I’m giving a gift to future
archivists, because they’ll have these much better elements for us to use. Of course,
16 is one of those stocks that Kodak is less interested in producing, and so it’s one of
those more at risk, and so we want to do this work now so we can get it into the vault as
soon as possible. But we also just wanted to make prints –35mm prints and movies.
\ \
And so this is just a list to show you the types of movies the vast mere variety of films,
nominated films are almost all of these. They are significant films, almost all in 35, I
think. Well, we made new prints, for our collection. Exhibition is another challenge of the digital
era because the studios had done a lot of preservation but they don’t always keep prints
anymore in circulation. So if you want to show “Airplane” — well, I’m not sure “Airplane”
is a good example — but if you want to show, and I think it’s on this list — but if you
want to show certain types of Hollywood films and you think “ah, the studio must have a
print” often they don’t — and it’s the people doing cinema tech programming at places like
this and ask “hey do you have a print?” “Magnolia” is the film that everyone wants. It’s not
that old of a movie but there’s not that good studio print, so we end up loaning our print
over and over again. And of course, you can make digital cinema packages that show commercial
cinema at a very high quality for projection, but the number of movies in the studio libraries
that are available that way is very small. And it’s not likely to change any time soon.
And unfortunately, a lot of programmers get told when they ask the studios to just show
the DVD. Well, if you’re a programmer, and you’re trying to get audiences in the theater,
and you’re showing them something they could get at home why are they going to come out
when you could show the theatrical quality, you know, how it was seen originally or close
to that? Then people have a reason to say “yes, I want to come and see movies on the
big screen.” But there is this gap. DVD is great because so many movies are available,
but yet there are a lot fewer movies available in this format, so that’s why we said again,
print stock is cheap now comparatively, let’s make as many prints as we can — let’s make
as many prints of these as we can of these nominees.
\ \
But we’ve also been doing preservations of silent films, really cool things. And here
like an example of an effects reel that Linwood Dunn visual effects artist from the silent
era. He would do lectures where he would show clips from his films; most of these were from
the sound era. His silent one has clips of movies that are otherwise lost. Got some animation
that’s really interesting. The first feature that Mary Philbin was in. She’s famous for
being the female lead in the Phantom of the Opera, the silent Phantom of the Opera. And
we’ve got a number of other silent features. But this one, the Jetta Goudal, she’s a Vamp
who’s big in the 20’s and pretty much forgotten because she ended up suing Cecil B. DeMille
to get out of her contract and won in court and he basically black-balled her in the industry.
So she didn’t really make it into the sound era. And this film is just, in Variety’s review,
under genre they say “western” or “thriller,” they called it “exotic melodrama” and it really
is an over-the-top melodrama set in the French foreign legion and she’s a vamp with a capital
“V.” And we have a print from France with French intertitles which was longer that was
longer than the print that was in Belgian, with Flemish intertitles and a bit of 16mm
that was in the American release that had an opening that hadn’t made it to the European
version so we’re going to put all this together. We’re copying the nitrate, which is the best
picture element that we could find and quality of it was fantastic. And this will be really
exciting; this will be a silent film that you could take someone that has never seen
a silent movie. This is so accessible and such a — it’s not a masterpiece — I’m saying
it’s a great piece of genre cinema, so I’ll be very excited when we have this available.
\ \
Male Speaker: \
Can I interject? \ \
Joe Lindner: \
Oh, absolutely. \ \
Male Speaker: \
Can the additional expense of the wholesale production of prints \’f1 how do you justify
that in a time of shrinking budgets and shrinking film projectors available, as you noted before?
\ \
Joe Lindner: \
Well, yes — \ \
Male Speaker: \
Not to put you on the spot. \ \
Joe Lindner: \
No, for the budgets, we have just made that argument. We said, “you give us the preservation
budget annually.” We are fortunate that way. We don’t have to do fundraising or justify
every single project, and the Academy’s very happy to use those funds for it. And we are
fortunate, in some ways, not to be as poor as many other non-profits. And, again, the
broadcast will give us some cushioning. Although, again, when there’s rating fears, or even
the networks are struggling, yes it’s true: money is always a problem. But we had a regular
budget — what we said is, this is a temporary increase. We didn’t — and it was about five
times our regular budget. But we said it’s for two years, because we’d never sell them
on giving us this money forever. We said this is temporary. The idea was that there was
this announcement that in two years, all the American theaters would have to switch to
digital, and we said “we could see this coming.” This is on the horizon. This is just a loan
of future budgets. Give us the money now because we may not be able to do that work then. So
that is how we sold it, is: yes, it’s a big increase in money, but it’s temporary, because
we’re trying to take advantage of the situation now. And if it turns out film is still readily
available and cheap for the next 25 years, that’ll be fantastic, but at least we cushioned
ourselves in case it’s not. \ \
And then into the idea of prints, yes, that’s another flaw that projection will be an issue.
We are lucky that at the Academy we are dedicated to the theatrical experience, so the administration
and the membership really understands the idea of showing film, even if it is going
to be unfortunately in a museum-type setting. It’s more and more one of the fewer places
that could show it. But we also have a projection staff who is dedicated to collecting the equipment.
That’s another thing, is that our basement at the Pickford Center is filled with old
projectors. Many of them donated from people who don’t need them anymore or switched to
digital. Yes, that’s a good question. If in a hundred years, will there be projectors
to go around but we still hope those prints will be a valuable resource.
\ \
And then I have another quick — we were fortunate to do our first film festival of all the things
we preserved as well. So we’re not waiting, we’re starting to show them as soon as possible.
We showed some documentaries, like right here, oh showmen, the Maysles film, where Sophia
Loren is shown at the selling of the film to women by the producer. It’s really a fascinating
verite documentary. Hadn’t been seen before, new 35mm print, so we showed it and now it’s
available to be shown again. Live action and animated shorts, other documentaries — just
some images for example, as well as feature films. Kind of random, because this is what
we had in the collection. But we’ve done full preservation on both The Cardinal and Sleuth,
our best picture nominees and the film Noir: New York Confidential — we had a couple of
cult features like Spider Baby, by Jack Hill, and Carnival of Souls and a really interesting
pre-code by Howard Hughes, called Cock of the Air. It was another, typical Howard — did
I say Howard Hawks? No, I meant Howard Hughes film, but it had censorship issues with some
of the dialogue, but we’re not certain yet. We’re hoping that we may have a pre-censorship
version of it. But, even so, it’s an unseen film from 1932, you may think early sound
is kind of boring and static. This is beautiful cinematography with a flowing, moving camera.
I’ll be very excited when we can bring that to audiences again as well.
\ \
And then finally to emphasize our connections with our colleagues here, Kukan: The Battlecry
of China, was one of the first — it was given a special Oscar — the first documentary to
be awarded this way, for documenting the Chinese peoples’ struggle against the Japanese occupation.
And, again, the idea is many people think these films must be somewhere, especially
if they won an Oscar, but this film really seemed to disappear. There, our colleagues
here had a very nice copy of it but the trouble is that it was only the first 30 minutes.
And for some reason, it was just an incomplete copy. The film is about 85 minutes, I think.
A researcher turned up a second film copy with the cinematographer’s family and it was
in really poor condition. I mean it was 16mm and the ends were a couple of rolls at the
ends, where the ends were curled and touching each other. But fortunately, for the opening
of the film, we had the first element here. And for the closing of the film, Colorlab
on the east coast, which is a laboratory very specialized in replasticizing that kind of
poor condition film. And they think they can scan it from that. Had that copy not survived,
we’d only have the first 30 minutes. Despite the fact that it was deteriorating, that it
was in really bad shape and had been neglected — when we did finally find one copy that
had survived its benign neglect and preservation all these years, we were able to do something
with it. And that’s ongoing. \ \
But, Dan used a great phrase — that we are in a hybrid era. We’re not just printing this
directly to film, we’re scanning it because it’s got a lot of damage from its poor condition.
And really, to sort of finish, the dilemma, the part that is troublesome to me is that
as an archivist, we have both photochemical and digital as a tool, and we’ve been in this
hybrid era for some, at least 20 years where archivists had to use both. The end of film
stock means we may lose one of those tools. So it’s not that archivists love film and
hate digital; it’s that we’re losing — the hybrid era \’f1– gives us a lot of flexibility
and a lot of confidence to do what we do. When we lose one of those tools, well then
we’re in a whole different era. \ \
So, I have a few more examples of things — I don’t even know if I should go into them.
Sorry about running tight. I brought one example about benign neglect: this is a 1911 film
that happened to survive in this very interesting format called “22mm \’f1 the Edison Projecting
Kinetoscope.” Edison thought he cornered the market in churches, and education, and home
cinema by producing this system that had three rows of film that went down, then you moved
in the projector so it went back the other way, so the images are backwards. And then
the middle strip \’f1 and then again down again on the right side. So, because we had
this copy of this film that was kept really as a show and tell thing — I mean, “oh look
at this goofy format” — But as it was, all other copies of this film are gone. So, its
otherwise lost and again, that’s another example the hybrid era, we probably could never preserve
this photochemically by optically re-photographing every frame, but if we scan it, it’s a real
pain. But we are able to scan it and Haghefilm did the work in Amsterdam, they were able
to put it back together again. So because this artifact happened to survive, despite
the fact that it’s really non-standard, we were able to save it.
\ \
I have a bunch more slides here about another area that we get involved in which is experimental
films. I’ll just scan through them because they’re groovy slides, but we have –the films
of Stan Brakhage are probably the most famous experimental film maker when it all came in
it looked like this –this is all of his life work together. He made 400 films so this slides’
put together by my colleague, Mark Toscano — he had to do some research just to find
out what was the full filmography so he could tell what was missing. And Stan was interesting
in that he used this often-called experimental avant-garde artist film is a good term for
it because he really was interested in light and he used it using film as reflecting the
vision in his mind. And he is famous for painting on film. So these are images of the actual
finished production. Really abstract and colorful things. He would print them multiple times
to go from negative to positive and use both the negative and positive in the final film,
and, you know, sometimes he would just layer the paint on to give this texture to the film.
So, here’s an example of the original 16 painted that way, and this is what the rolls look
like as an artifact and you’re handling them. Painted 35 — a really thickly painted one,
and painting over a film that had an image underneath it. So, here’s another example
of that. And he also very closely edited his films, sometimes down to single frame images,
and he also really wasn’t as concerned about the rough nature of his elements. You can
see in this piece right here the splices on every frame and, again, this will be an error
of the, you know, digital tools. When we scan that some of these artifacts that artists,
you know, enjoyed, the texture and the look of film, even though if you’re doing what’s
wrong, what was not commercial, what was not a clean image, digital tools often see that
as something to take out and so you have to be very careful when scanning things like
this to say, “No, this is supposed to be in there. This is not a defect.”
\ \
Example of a role that’s really heavily edited, every white line there is a splice. Again,
if this was a standard documentary it would not be nearly as many splices. Sometimes he
used colored leader. So, again, that would be an issue for scanning. The leader is plastic
it, you know, when projected the light would go through it then you wonder exactly what
it it’ll be like when we try to scan it. And sometimes he cut little pieces of film and
pasted them in there — that’s an example of really intense splicing — or even used
not film but film tape and put the artifacts between the tape and rephotographed those
and then splices sometimes tape and paint to actual film stock and did these really
complicated and intense pieces, and even in 8 millimeter doing things like taping patterns
of paper to the film stock. And, of course, he was known for “Mothlight” is one of his
most famous films where he used insects, but we also have these elements of a film called
“Garden of Earthly Delights” where he used plants and other organic materials.
\ \
He worked for many years with a film lab that knew exactly the look he wanted, so that’s
one of the things is that we are still working with that same lab in Colorado, and you do
wonder, you know — part of the reason I have this on here is the engagement with the artist.
Even though Stan is passed on, my colleague had worked with Stan and his films and distribution
before that and has worked closely with Marilyn Brakhage, and it’s really the engagement with
him as an artist that gives him the background to know how to address these things when we’re
doing preservation on them. As an example of that — and I’ll finish up now — Robert
Nelson, another filmmaker who just passed away this year, Mark engaged him in a number
of conversations on preservation, and this highlighted section says, “Your preservationist,”
— okay, I have to read this — “film view would likely save more stuff than I would,
but I think you should lean more my way a bit and be a bit reckless in your disregard
and discarding. I’m not, happily, Mozart nor Freud so every turd need not be preserved.”
This was his attitude as a filmmaker, and even though he’s a very successful filmmaker
— he did this feature film which in San Francisco and across the country was a big hit in 1967,
and had a filmography of a number of well known pieces — for many of his films he went
back and re-edited and changed and sometimes just destroyed things because he wasn’t happy
with them artistically, and Mark’s engagement with him wasn’t to say, “You have to give
me the archivists control over everything.” You know, a lot of filmmakers say, “Don’t
show this version, show that version.” \ \
We tried to say, “Okay, well, we’d like to preserve that original version so it’s not
deleted forever. Please let us save it. If you want us to show your new version, that’s
fine, but let us save the other version.” That’ll be an interesting thing in a digital
era when filmmakers start to just hit the delete key or can just wipe out a drive like
that. What happened is — this is from a screening event in 2006 — later in his life I think
Robert started to reflect on his work and Mark’s engagement with him when Mark would
say, “This is a really interesting film, you know, I know you’re unhappy with it and you
think it makes you look na\’d4ve and childish the way you, you know, the film you made when
you were 19, but it’s really important,” or, “I like the original version too.” So, he
did start to reflect on it, but unfortunately this is what he had started to do. He had
started to say, “Well, some of my films are better artwork — art pieces than they are
film.” So, that’s literally rolls of 16 millimeter painted and turned into, in this case, stools
— bar stools, but he also did other kind of sculptures with them. And then it was too
late, but fortunately there was a lot of film he hadn’t yet thrown out or he just didn’t
even know he had or he would’ve thrown out. A couple he said, “Oh, I destroyed that.”
And then Mark would get a call six months later and he’s say, “I found some of this
and I think I may give it to you.” And it was because of Mark’s engagement with him
that, you know, he was able to get him not to keep making sculptures out of his old film.
\ \
An example of this was — the “Awful Backlash” was a film — this is a distribution card
of the 16 print and there’s the highlighted thing that he made an improved soundtrack.
Well, this is what artists do. The way he improved the soundtrack was he just took a
razor blade and started scratching it away from one print because he didn’t really like
the track on there so he just thought, “It’s better if I just put in a bunch of damage,
and a bunch of noise.” And, again, that card meant he only wanted this version to be seen
and at first he said, “I want that version to be preserved.” And we said, “Okay, well,
I know in 1997 you took a razor blade to a film and thought it was a better version,
but can, you know, can we preserve the original one as well?” And eventually he did see that
and he was okay with that. Yes, and I think at the end of his life, even though we’ve
lost him, he was very glad to see that people were appreciating his films again. I think
that was part of it as well. We were showing the films and he started to feel like he was,
you know, he was not so interested in destroying his old pieces. And my colleague Mark Toscano
put this together, so thank you to him. \ \
I’ve talked a lot so I’ll finish up. I do realize that I forgot to say one thing at
the beginning. You know, I’ve talked about film preservation, but there is this idea,
this ticking that we’re aiming for this two years, if we can keep doing it after that
I’m fine, but obviously we know we’ll have to move to digital preservation in the future
— we get digital films now — but the storage was an issue. It’s not something you can build
on your own. I asked Criss before what she has and obviously it’s a challenge for all
of us. We don’t have a Culpepper Center like Library of Congress to put all our big files
in. We had to partner with the University of Southern California, USC, their digital
depository. They have all the Shoah Foundation interviews so they have thousands of hours
of very significant interviews. They’ve been digitizing them for storage. They’ve got the
experience to do preservation on it so we’re going to be partnering with them, and after
a study to figure out our most at risk and most important digital elements our first
year we’re putting 97 terabytes into that storage. That’s just a fraction of everything
we had — it’s just a few of our digital restorations — well, we we’ve only done a few, if we start
to do more those will grow. If we start receiving bigger files from the studio, if we start
digitizing the film we have in our collection, even for access, that 97 terabytes is, like
I said, just the beginning of it. So, that’s, you know, if you asked about the digital dilemma,
that’s the challenges. We can still make this film now, but when we really can’t make film
at all then that’s when things are going to change.
\ \
Dan Rooney: \
It sounds like our two institutions are very much in similar places in many ways. We have
also only embarked on — here at the National Archives we’ve only embarked on a very small
handful of true scanning and restoration projects, and it’s actually a nice segue into introducing
my archives colleagues where tonight, and they’re going to actually show us some examples
of some of the Archives’ early efforts in this area with some of our new scanning equipment
and learning about using digital tools to achieve the same preservation means that we’ve
been achieving for a long time now. In a few minutes we’re going to see some examples of
three different films from the National Archives holdings. One is a brief clip from an Eva
Braun home movie reel, and then there are two clips from two U.S. Army films, the first
titled “Let There Be Light”, which many of you may have heard of. That’s John Huston’s
1946 post World War II documentary on the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder on
GIs that were returning home from all the different theaters of war. The second one
is titled “The Negro Soldier”, which is a 1944 Army documentary, a tribute of sorts
to the contributions of African-American soldiers in all of the — the roles that they played
in all of American armed conflicts up to that point and also used as an education and I
guess to a lesser extent a recruitment tool. But before we see these clips I’d like to
introduce two of my colleagues here, Criss Kovac and Bryce Lowe, two of our resident
motion picture preservation specialists here at the National Archives. And I’d like to
start with Criss and ask her if she’d be willing to talk a little bit about the work of the
National Archives Preservation Lab and ask her about the digital dilemma and how she
sees this challenge for the Archives and what it has done to our lab work flow.
\ \
Criss Kovac: \
First of all, I kind of wanted to give you, sort of, a brief overview of what our lab
entails. Film preservation has, sort of, been going on since the 1950s when there was a
small lab actually housed in this building. At that point in time it was mainly a reformatting
lab and, you know, providing theater copies, those sorts of things. We’ve grown and evolved,
now becoming primarily, you know, preservation, and we have three main areas of expertise.
There’s the — what we refer to as the taxonomic identification process, so we’re assisting
the archival unit in determining which actual physical copies of each title that comes to
us we’re supposed to be holding. There are large — very large accessions that come to
us such as the Defense Visual Information Center collection, which the first shipment
came in six semi-trucks, so it’s taken us the past six years to go through and actually
determine, you know, what we should be keeping in the holdings for a preservation copy, an
intermediate access copy, and something we can serve in the research room. Another large
collection that just got dropped on our doorstep is from the Park Service, and I’m not sure
how many semi-trucks that was, but you get the idea. There were semi-trucks pulling up
to the Archives on a regular basis. \ \
Bryce Lowe: \
[unintelligible] \ \
Criss Kovac: \
And there’s also NASA, which, yeah, there’s —
\ \
Male Speaker: \
NASA is — \ \
Criss Kovac: \
There are space shuttle sized semi-trucks pulling up to the Archives. So, that is one
of our main roles, also the preservation of the collection. So, preservation needs as
identified when people are coming across, problems in the archival unit or in the field,
and then we also are helping to provide access through reference requests and then for screenings
and that sort of thing. We are primarily a photochemical preservation lab. Our philosophy
is that as long as we can preserve on film stock we will preserve on film stock. Our
equipment ranges from printers that were made in the 1930s to modern printers to our scanner
that we just purchased a handful of years ago. We’ve got a scanner that we purchased
for creating reference and access copies just about a year ago so there’s a continued investment
in equipment even though we love our printer from the 1930s. There are six of us in the
film preservation lab, and our goal each year is to inspect three and a half million feet
of film. We regularly exceed that goal, and just to give you an idea, that’s about 4,400
reels of film each year. At some point a handful of years ago I, you know, tried to estimate
how long it would take us to get through the film collection at that rate and in 296 years
from now we will have touched everything once. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us.
\ \
Dan Rooney: \
By the way, the Archives film collection is estimated to be over 360,000 unique reels
and equating to roughly 145 million linear feet of film.
\ \
Criss Kovac: \
So — \ \
Dan Rooney: \
It’s all meaningless. \ \
Criss Kovac: \
So, we’re going to need a lot of exabytes of storage at some point. But some of the
projects that we’ve been working on recently are, as I mentioned, the Defense Visual Information
Center collection. There’s — a few years ago we wrapped up the WRS rescue project.
This was a film lab that was located in Pennsylvania. They shut their doors one day and walked away
with all of our stuff inside of it. \ \
Joe Lindner: \
Everyone’s stuff, studios, archives. \ \
Criss Kovac: \
Everyone’s stuff, yeah. Yes, all of the above. And so, Dan and a couple of his colleagues
went up and crawled around in the dark with flashlights trying to identify our materials
and we spent about three years in the process of getting those films back and doing preservation
and identification on them. \ \
A couple years ago we finished up the Universal Newsreel project where we were preserving
all of NARA’s Universal Newsreel collection, so creating preservation elements as well
as access copies. And that was 5,960 original reels, so we created two copies, one as a
preservation backup and one as access for all of those.
\ \
I had mentioned the reference work that we do. We are currently scanning film to provide
reference DVDs and creating files that we keep in house and what we refer to not yet
as our preservation digitization program but our high intrinsic value digitization process,
and I’ll explain a little bit more about that, but I did want to mention that for our traditional
work flows we — when we’re going film to film we are inspecting and assess and repairing
and doing all of that work to the film before we’re creating film to film copies. For that
process we are doing gamma and color correction as needed as, you know, part of standard procedures
when we’re printing. We can also process black and white in house, and we have Colorlab,
which Joe mentioned, to process our color film externally, and at that point it goes
through a QC process and as long as everything has come out the way it’s supposed to it can
be said to be faithfully preserved and saved for 100-500 years depending on who you’re
listening to. \ \
Joe Lindner: \
Can I ask, so, you then by raw stock directly from Kodak?
\ \
Criss Kovac: \
We do buy raw stock directly from Kodak and will continue to do so as long as they will
produce it. \ \
Joe Lindner: \
I was going to say — and then as a customer, I mean, I’m not a direct customer because
I don’t buy the stock, I buy it from private labs, we don’t have our own lab. Do they seem
to indicate they’re willing to — do you have — what’s the impression you get as a customer,
like, in two months will you still have 35 millimeter print stock? Have they said anything?
\ \
Criss Kovac: \
We haven’t gotten any indication from Kodak that they’re going to be discontinuing certain
things. In fact, they’ve come up with a couple of new film stocks lately that they’ve put
on the market. One film stock that we use for our intermediate negatives they have actually
sort of re-crafted the formula and so, it’s changed a bit. So, they’re still actually
putting some — \ \
Joe Lindner: \
Yeah, and a new stock that’s intended to preserve, it seems like, digital video or digital — a
cheaper alternative to making black and white separations which are expensive and so they’re
thinking that there may be a market for that. Have you looked at that one at all?
\ \
Criss Kovac: \
We haven’t yet. It’s been pretty new, and I’ve been on maternity leave so the only thing
I’m looking at is my baby. \ \
Joe Lindner: \
No, I’m just curious, yeah. \ \
Dan Rooney: \
Although, the reliability of the ordering is a bit of an issue, is it not?
\ \
Criss Kovac: \
It can be. One thing that we’ve noticed is that, you know, the main manufacturing plants
are — you know, the biggest one is still in Rochester. But we notice that our film
stock is being shipped from — a few cases will come from Indonesia, a few cases will
come from Canada, a few cases will come from India, so that makes me feel like we’re perhaps
on some shaky ground. It’s a bit disconcerting. \ \
Bryce Lowe: \
I think we’re clearly in flux as far as where the market’s going to go because as Joe was
mentioning earlier, we all know Kodak’s problems, and we all know that Kodak may or may not
be around and they idea was, well, there’s always Fuji, Fuji will be there. And it was
just, as Joe mentioned earlier, it was just announced in September that beginning March
of next year Fuji is no longer going to be making film stocks, either camera negative,
black and white stocks, and they’re only going to be making the separation masters. And so
if that possibility of a manufacturer is gone that’s great for archival process but we still
have a lot of 16 millimeter, which I think, as Joe mentioned, is really at risk because
there’s really almost no market for that for exhibition or distribution at all and so the
way I understand what’s been kind of being discussed is that Kodak will be continuing
to manufacture those stocks that Fuji won’t make, so no longer are they going to be competing
for the same business. So, whether or not that holds true — and I just read “The Digital
Dilemma”, I know that came out — when did that come out 2008, 2007 — I just read that
this week and in that report it was saying that while we anticipate film to be around
for the next 10 years. It’s only been four years and we may be at that point where it’s
starting — we’re almost near the other side of that. So, it’s coming on us pretty fast,
but I think 16 millimeter is very at risk, and we do a lot of intermediate duplication.
So, if you’re doing preservation photochemical and you have 16 millimeter elements we may
be in trouble here. Not to be a downer at all, but that’s just kind of where we’re at.
\ \
Criss Kovac: \
We may end up, you know, trying to stockpile as much as we can at some point. I’m hoping
that day is farther off than I think it will be.
\ \
Joe Lindner: \
There used to be a bit of optimism in some of the FIAF which is the International Federation
of Film Archives that, oh, well, when Kodak decides they’re not really interested in it
the Archives can take it over, you know, Kodak will be willing to donate their patents because
they’re so valuable and then we can keep producing our own film stock, but really we used to
say how film was such a great thing. It was a transparent format, it was so easy — it’s
the same format from, you know, 1895, 35 millimeter hasn’t changed that much, but the manufacturing
of film stock is an extremely technical, complicated thing that sure Kodak did well because they
made so much of it and they were, you know, had so many years experience on it, but the
idea if they stop and those experts and those machines go away — yeah, I again hate to
be a downer, but the chance of starting them up again seems almost impossible. I mean,
there are cases like that guy who bought Polaroid technology in Amsterdam and, you know, started
making new Polaroid, you know, you can recreate some of that technology, but this is done
on an industrial scale, and making film stock that’s reliable, you know, that doesn’t have
the flaws and has the exactness of the perforations or all those — our specific needs like 16
perforations, that’s going to be really hard to replicate if Kodak does stop making stock.}

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