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Why We Need A Digital Database to Archive and Ultimately Preserve Films

Why We Need A Digital Database to Archive and Ultimately Preserve Films

Film producer and festival programmer Ted Hope recently wrote on his blog Hope for Film about the need for the industry to create a digital database to archive films. He has given Indiewire permission to reprint the post on our site. As he points out, you can’t preserve films unless you have the elements to work with. Hope has the interest in creating such a database, but is looking for feedback. Read his ideas below and post your thoughts in the comments section.

Film preservation is a difficult thing. And it has gotten more
difficult. But it could be made easier.  Like many things, although
there is not yet an app for that, there is a simple fix.

If you are reading this now, I am going to assume you know about the “digital dilemma” and recognize that we probably are going to lose a
great deal of the films that have been created over the last decade.  As digital is not a stable medium,
and filmmaker rarely migrate their data, archive quality versions of
films that were originated on digital and never output to film, are
probably gone for good.  I guess one simple fix would just be to educate
people more about this.  But then again, knowledge does not ofter alter
behavior — or else we wouldn’t smoke, over eat, or have unprotected
sex.

Yet we have the mechanisms and infrastructure to make everything a
whole heck of a lot better — and who knows maybe we can save a few films
from oblivion.  Digital requires it’s own initiative (and I have a few
ideas about that too), but good old celluloid —  reliable as an archive
medium for about 100 years — has its own challenges too, starting with
the most basic of knowing the what and the where.

Preserving films is one thing, but the process can’t start unless you
have the elements to work with.  You won’t have the elements unless you
know where they are.  How often do we hear the tale of yet another
version of “Metropolis” being discovered in a vault somewhere?  The fact
is filmmakers often lose track of where their elements are. They have
their film print made at a lab, and then they forget.  If we were lucky
enough to have had our film funded by a third party, but if your film
industry is at all like mine, precious few companies last for eternity.
 Companies go out of businesses.  Labs go out of business.  Humans
forget.  And soon we don’t know where our mix master is, let alone our
negative.

If every film festival requested on their application for filmmakers
to identify where there film elements are, we would have the foundation
to create a fantastic database.  We could even take it one step further
and ask filmmakers to identify what their preservation plan was; not
that they would most likely have a preservation plan, but if you ask the
question, at least they’d start thinking about it.

As most festivals use WithoutABox for their applications, it should be easy to facilitate, right?

If the database was collected, it could be put on line and filmmakers could thus update it if they ever moved their elements.

Help me think this out.  It is a simple fix.  I thought I would
initiate it as soon as I ran a film society, but well, things happen and
things get delayed, but there is no time like now.

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