The beginning of the 21st century brought along the most significant technological transformation that cinema has undergone since its invention. The replacement of analogue systems with digital technology in the entire cinematic chain from production to exhibition has had far more profound consequences than all the technological changes that occurred in the first century of cinema. These include the replacement of the 35mm cellulose nitrate film base with cellulose triacetate, and even the transition from silent cinema to sound cinema.
One of the consequences of the digital revolution is the need to establish an all-new archival methodology – including digital repositories whose longterm viability is still unproven. But another, no less decisive consequence, is the need to define how we intend, from now on, to preserve and exhibit the great historical collection of 20th century cinema.
Do we accept that only whatever digital support is the current standard becomes the only vehicle for accessing cinema’s past? Or, despite the inherent difficulties, do we choose to maintain the entire analogue archival chain to conserve, preserve and exhibit film in its original form?
In line with their mission of preserving heritage, it is likely that the majority of film heritage institutions (FHI) will consider that cinematic works born in the era of analogue film should be preserved and exhibited using traditional analogue technology. To uphold traditional methods, FHI will have to keep alive the accumulated knowledge of analogue film, its nature, its technique and its history. Only this will allow continued professional conservation and exhibition of film in the future. Maintaining this knowhow will be an increasingly difficult task in the current all-digital audiovisual landscape. It will be up to the FHI to maintain this knowledge within their domain, while at the same time developing their digital operations to be able to serve current production of film heritage.
It is important at this point to raise some questions for discussion within film heritage institutions:
- How much have FHI teams and staff lost knowledge about analogue film heritage and how to work with it? Has the demand to digitise film heritage resulted in focusing our teams’ training on digital concepts only?
- Has the retirement of experienced technicians made it difficult to maintain knowledge of analogue film technology within the FHI? Has there been enough transmission of knowhow and knowledge?
- How can we deal with the dearth of suppliers of products used with analogue film heritage? Where to purchase film stock and consumables such as tape, leaders and lab chemicals? Where to source spare parts to maintain the old machines – projectors, laboratory equipment, viewing tables?
- In a nutshell: how can we guarantee the transfer to a new generation of archivists of all the specialised knowledge necessary to run and maintain the entire analogue infrastructure, which today depends on very few specialised technicians?
These issues will be discussed in this ACE workshop, with the aim of raising awareness and finding common ways to guarantee the safeguarding and continued availability (using traditional methods) of analogue film heritage produced in over a century of cinema.