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Film conservation and its impact on our modern societies

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

The Film Foundation is a US-based non-profit organization dedicated to film preservation and the exhibition of restored and classic cinema. It was founded by the Director Martin Scorsese and several other leading filmmakers in 1990. The foundation raises funds and awareness for film preservation projects and creates educational programs about film. The foundation and its partners have restored more than 900 films.

A subject like that is bound to interest ICFFCY. By preserving films in general, we save a century of history, and we pass on, within the film making and educational fields, a century if not more of valuable ethnological background as cinema and films come from all over the world, and this right from the beginning of the seventh art.

Created on perishable plastic and fixed with nitrate, films decay within years if not properly stored. So, the main function of a film archive department is to acquire copies of historically important films and to preserve them by storing them under the best possible conditions. Unfortunately, lots of depositories where reels were kept have been victims of fire and were lost forever.

An interesting story is the lost 25 minutes of images from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) which was taken to Argentina by a private collector in 1928, where it sat until discovered in an archive of the Museum of Cinema in Buenos Aires in June, 2008. It was a lucky turn for this master piece.

Films encourage us to take action and to be responsible citizens. Our favourite characters, superheroes, teach us life lessons. They give us ideas and inspiration to do everything for the better instead of just sitting around, waiting for things to go their way. ICFFCY makes sure we are always following these rallying cries.

Sitcoms and comedy shows’ make us laugh, psychological thrillers help us see the world from new perspectives, and historical films help us understand where we've come from as a people. Every video and every film can reflect society and transform opinions. Preservation began in earnest in film archives in the 1930s with the aim of safeguarding the history of an art many considered disposable. This cultural mission dovetailed with a more material concern: film is fragile and inherently unstable. But beginning in the 1970s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, aware that the original negatives to many of its Golden Age films had been destroyed or lost, began a preservation program to restore and preserve all of its films by using whatever negatives survived.

The Library of Congress has documented that only 20% of U.S. feature films from the 1910 and 1920s survive in complete form in American archives; of the American features produced before 1950, about half still exist. For shorts, documentaries, and independently produced works, we have no way of knowing how much has been lost, as many documentaries and other “orphan” films did not meet the criteria of a systematic commercial preservation program.

Preservationists fight film deterioration by protecting the film originals and sharing the content with the public through copies. This involves three basic steps: printing old film onto new, more stable film stock, storing the original film and new master under cool-and-dry conditions, and providing public access through surrogate video, DVD, and film copies. The laboratory work necessary to save a film is expensive. In 2010, making a new master and viewing print of a seven-reel black-and-white silent feature costs about $18,115, assuming that no special restoration work is required. Making a supervised digital video for public viewing adds another $3,000 to the total.

“The language of cinema is universal,” Martin Scorsese said in a statement. “In a time of great divisions, conflicts, transformations, it's really crucial to preserve and share our cultural patrimonies and to ensure that this universal language will speak to future generations around the world.”

Thank you to the ‘The Film Foundation’

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