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preserving the future digital dilemma film preservation

preserving the future digital dilemma film preservation

In an interview with dga quarterly in the spring of 2007, Martin Scorsese addressed the need for film preservation. “Film is an essentially American art form,” said the legendary director. “It’s American culture and history, which is why we have to take care of it.”

Scorsese wasn’t just talking. He founded The Film Foundation in 1990 to support the preservation and restoration of films. To date, the Foundation has preserved more than 525 classic films. But as the writer, Steve Pond, observed, “It’s not just about saving the movies from 90 or 50 or 30 years ago; it’s about saving the movies being made this year.”

Veteran film preservationist Milt Shefter agrees. Shefter and Andrew Maltz, director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Science and Technology Council, co-authored “The Digital Dilemma,” a report based on interviews with 70 archivists, technology gurus and studio executives, comparing practices, costs and effectiveness of archiving film and digital media by mainstream producers.

Shefter says it has become standard practice for the studios to archive their work. Original analog negatives, intermediate records used to generate release prints, as well as YCM (yellow, cyan and magenta) separations that are recorded on stable black and white polyester film, can be used to faithfully recreate accurate copies.

“Film that is archived in temperature- and humidity-controlled environments will last for more than 100 years before it might need to be copied onto new celluloid,” Shefter explains. “In contrast, technology vendors recommend that digital files should be migrated to new files at least every four to five years.”

Shefter says that there are at least 100 public and private U.S. archives available to serve the needs of independent moviemakers looking to preserve their work.

“Today’s independent filmmakers are the next generation’s Marty Scorseses who are creating motion pictures,” Shefter says. “It is important to preserve their films for posteriety. This is a cultural mandate more than a fiscal concern.

“The next step” concludes Shefter, “is surveying the moviemakers who read MovieMaker. I encourage everyone to answer the archiving survey posted on MovieMaker.com. We need to know what the problems are before we can all try to find solutions.”

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