The 35mm Battle Continues: ‘Let’s petition Ford to reopen the Model T production line’

The 35mm Battle Continues: 'Let's petition Ford to reopen the Model T production line'

We received a lot of comments and Tweets about our recent article on the petition to save 35mm — and the discussion has traveled to the UK, where University of Leeds' Leo Enticknap has a very different opinion.

Enticknap is not on the sidelines of this debate; he's a faculty member for the Institute of Communications Studies, where he serves as the institute's cinema director and as a lecturer in cinema. He originally expressed this opinion on the Association of Moving Image Archivists online forum, where it was noted by forum member (and Indiewire film critic) Eric Kohn; it's republished here with Enticknap's kind permission.

OK, and let's petition Ford to reopen the Model T production line, and ban all performances of Mozart's piano concertos on anything other than an eighteenth century fortepiano while we're at it.

Quote from the petition:

Revival houses perform an undeniable service to movie watchers – a chance to watch films with an audience that would otherwise only be available for home viewing.

Agreed.  And that audience isn't any the less communal if they're watching a DCP.  Trust me.  You can still be scared when King Kong stomps around munching the natives, shed a tear when Ingrid Bergman gets on the plane and giggle as Bruce Willis is introduced to The Gimp.  None of that is going to change.  But, apart from in a tiny handful of theatres worldwide, you can no longer watch King Kong's rampage on an alumised, tobacco-smoke resistant screen, lit by a carbon arc lamp and projected on a nitrate print through a really s****y (by 21st century standards) 1930s, f5 lens that is only able to focus a small patch of the dead centre of the image.  Yet I'm not aware of the format purist brigade having fought campaigns against the introduction of safety film, the xenon lamp, computerised glass grinding in lens manufacture and the banning of smoking in theatres.

If the concern of this theatre owner is that the transition to DCPs is going to mean that, in the short term at least, a significant number of archive and rep titles simply won't be available for screening at all, then this is a valid concern that the archive community needs to engage with.  When a government-funded scheme to provide British arthouses with digital projectors was launched 5-6 years ago, one of my concerns at the time was that its backers seemed to believe that every film currently available on 35mm would suddenly become available on DCP as if by magic.  They didn't, and they still aren't.  The cost of digital projectors is also an issue, and again, providing help for venues that are likely to be hit hard by it is something else we need to look at.  The same goes for projectionists whose jobs are disappearing.  I know that many mainstream theatre chains have done good work in helping these folks transition into management and other roles, and hope very much that ways can be found to help smaller venues do likewise.

But nostalgia is not a valid reason for keeping an obsolete technology on life support in the mainstream.  Film is a wonderful preservation medium – still the best for moving images that was ever invented, bar none.  But as a technology for facilitating theatrical, communal viewing access, it has now been superseded by any objective measure, just as the alumised screen and the carbon arc lamp have.  Thanks largely to the VPF business model, theatre conversions are now at around 70% in the US and 60% in Europe.  We can no more stop the wholesale transition to DCP projection in 2011 than we could have prevented silent films going away in 1931.  The emphasis now has to be on developing ways to produce high quality DCPs of existing titles cheaply and efficiently (and ideally proactively, in response to theatres' and programmers' demands), and of mitigating the cost of equipment and the disappearance of projectionists' jobs – not on delaying the inevitable.

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This Enticknap bloke from Leeds is a complete dick! He evidently doesn't know anything about 35mm projection but if he wants to come down south and I'll enlighten him, he's more than welcome. There is a HUGE difference in 35mm projectors and digital projectors. The whole clairty of the picture is obvious from the moment the curtain goes up. The only time it's 'better' is when it's shot digitally and projected digitally. When watching films, both old or new which have been shot on film there is a noticable inferiority about the picture quality. I don't need to be patronised by this idiot: I saw both digital and 35mm versions of 'The Dark Knight Rises' last month and 35mm wins hands down. Maybe this twerp would like to battle it out with me, Steven Spielberg, Chris Nolan, Quentin Tarrantino etc and we can put him in his place. Do you honestly think that if there was no noticable difference that tens of thousands of people would sign a petition to prevent it fading away. And that Ford car comment is ludicrous, as 35mm hasn't dissappeared, it isn't old. In fact a lot of cinemas have kept their 35mm projectors incluidng the Odeon and most independent screens too in the case that prints are available. They are still producing new prints of Hollywood blockbusters, althought to a lesser extent: hence the reason for this petition. And for the record when I saw 'The Dark Crystal' recently and found out it was being projected on Blu Ray when the staff said 35mm I waited until the end of the movie and I not only got a refund, but also compensation for having to sit through an inferior experience. A world famous film producer was also interviewed after the screening and voiced his displeasure on having to watch it that way. It's nothing to do with nostalgia. Jesus Christ this imbecible really needs to shut the f*ck up!

Bernie Rayner

Suggesting we reopen the Ford Model T production LINE when talking about Digital Cinema is totally invalid . Today's cars basically have all the same ingredients of the model T – 4 tyres , gearbox , engine , fual tanl , brakes , radiator , etc – sure they have been refined and improved
When it comes to 35 mm , the indutry is throwing it out totally and replacing it with a totally new system – not an improved system on the original


About the indie cinema future.
I start a PhD on digital cinema, this research ins funded by ISF ( an association of several indie theaters in France. The goal is to propose a digital cinama solution, in conformance with DCI, who fits for indie theaters and distributor needs. More details on the topic here : or here

We decide to start this work because we think, that an open digital alterantive is a serious matter to preserve indie cinema

Julia Marchese

My petition is not simply about nostalgia. I am not saying we should not move forward with technology, but simply requesting that we not destroy the past.


love 35mm . but the fact is digital is taking over . but we still need to keep projectionists . to keep a eye on it all. even to take the hand prints off the porthole after the kids club shows

Akif Ergulec

Installing digital projectors in movie theaters and taking away the unique look of 35mm film is like replacing Mona Lisa painting in Louvre with a digital frame.
Have fun?

Leslie Provatas

35 mm is like a great paint brush and it is one that lasts forever. Why not use it? One can paint with light on it like nothing else. Have we forgotten the role of the "lighting cameraman." Or woman, as the case may be. Film is unique. It is beautiful and it is a way of creating unique images. Open your eyes and heart and remember how much beauty it has begotten and will continue to create.


The thing that is really disappointing is that the distributors attempt to deny audiences a chance to see existing 35mm prints of classic films shows an utter disregard to the craft and medium of film. They are dictating the culture of indifference to the delivery of the film product. I've seen a 70mm print of 2001 A Space Odyssey at The Astor in Melbourne Australia (the only place that can project this stunning format down there) and was immersed in the experience, yet when I enquired as to a friends experience of 2001, he found it 'boring' and was distracted. Why? He was watching it on a laptop with nothing but the tiny laptop speakers. It is more expensive to convert a film to DCP than it is to continue the exhibition of 35mm prints. When movies moved from VHS to DVD we saw massive amounts of titles disappear for good, and with DVD to Blu Ray turfing thousands more movies from memory, we run the risk of losing so many classics. Why should a perfectly good print of an obscure cult classic be left to rot when there is an audience for it. Leaving fans with bootlegged torrents as the only alternative is like removing paintings from galler walls because you can see them on your iPad. There is still demand and will always be demand for the print medium. Most of those studios run things based on their flimsy market research tactics (the same people releasing countless remakes to dismal box office returns over and over again like its a good idea), so film fans need to be vocal and loud. Will we let the American Cinemateque, The New Beverly, The Astor Melbourne die due to studio short sightedness? Imagine a world where the only chance to see a movie is multiplex crud amongst the masses that openly talk and text throughout, or the isolated solitary experience a home, as Apple and Netflix continue to ensure your entertainment experience is one of solitude and image compression. Film and digital can coexist but films are an artwork and studios run by book keepers show utter contempt for the artwork and should be ashamed.

jean vigo

Let's be clearer about this: this is a debate about whether to "project" on film NOT to "shoot" on film. The choice to shoot on film is becoming that now – a choice, an option. And it is still a strong one for aesthetic reasons. Many advances have come from taking the OCN's journey to a projection format.

And I agree, these digital conversions (DIs, etc) can faithfully represent the "look and feel" of the choice of a 35mm/16mm shooting format well.

Shooting on film should not be sent to a time capsule; it's look and resolution is still unique and, let's not forget, is THE standard to which all digital formats and cameras are constantly researching to match.

Ron Merk

One more thing I will miss….the sound of the projector running in the projection room. It just brings back many memories of the thousands of films I have seen since going to the movies the first time as a kid.

Ron Merk

There are a great number of points on which I agree. But 35mm is history, and by that I don't mean it's finished like the Model T. I mean it's where we must migrate our digital and video images for long-term preservation. It is HISTORY, the history of a specific film.

As a projection medium, it's always been the standard, and at the same time it was costly (about $1500-2000 for one release print), hard work to handle (heavy, expensive to ship, clumsy to thread into a projector, and easily scratched and damaged). So, I agree that moving 35mm films to digital projection is a smart move, both to reduce costs and to preserve the images from that original negative in a way that film prints cannot do. Having said that, the digital version may not look the same in each venue. Have you ever watched a DVD or video on two different monitors? They NEVER look the same, and unless you have a totally tweaked monitory, you don't even know what colors you have on your video or digital master. So, that's an issue that theaters will have to address. Considering they often hire mostly untrained minimum wage workers who have difficulty just focusing the picture (the lens only turns left or right, and yet they struggle to focus a film when you complain), I'm very concerned about what I call "color integrity" in the digital projection world. another problem is that we are moving from an easily repaired mechanical system of projection, to an electronic one. Unless you have an expert to fix electronics, you have no show until one shows up.

The other difference between 35mm and digital projection is cost. Theaters are struggling to stay afloat, and this is a big issue, especially for independent theaters.

I've seen films transferred to digital projection that look better than the originals. Many old Technicolor prints were often grainy, but transfer one to digital, and they look like the Technicolor that we all seem to remember, but which may never have actually existed in 35mm. I've also "brought back" color that was lost in materials by transferring them to digital formats and working with the separate color records. The only print I had of one film had gone totally red, but with digital color correction, I brought it back to the original color balance. The information was still there, in the film, it's "history" still intact. Digital project will, in fact, allow many films to be seen for which there are no longer any viable 35mm prints. So, I see this move to digital projection as a good thing, for the most part.

As for film, I think the rumor of its demise is just that, a rumor. Unless Kodak and Fuji decide to get out of the film manufacturing business entirely, I think we'll film with us for a long time. And by the way, if you've never opened a can of motion picture rawstock, or a print when it comes from the lab, and just taken in the aroma which is unique and very sweet, you have never completely experienced "film."

So, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Film and digital media can work side by side, without conflict, and in fact, helping one another.

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