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Paul Thomas Anderson & Nicolas Winding Refn Join Forces To Save Fragile 35mm Film Prints

Paul Thomas Anderson & Nicolas Winding Refn Join Forces To Save Fragile 35mm Film Prints

Is it the format that is important or the content? Vinyl clearly sounds better than cassette, CD or mp3, and the medium has clearly been in a renaissance period for several years, but ultimately, in the digital age, it is practical? The same debate can be fought over 35mm film and digital prints. Kodak and processing labs are going away and sticking with 35mm seems like a losing fight—especially when 90% of theaters across the country are converting to digital for myriad reasons, the least of which is ultimately it’s cost effective and space or storage problems are less of an issue. Studios clearly prefer it from a cost-effective perspective as well; it’s a lot cheaper to send a digital file than ship a physical, weighty 35mm print. But while digital prints are looking better and better, most will agree that 35 mm still looks superior. However, time is cruel mistress, and there are many moves on film print only that are getting lost to the ravages of time.

So here comes Paul Thomas Anderson (who shot his last picture “The Master” on 65mm) and Nicolas Winding Refn, who are joining the advisory board of the The American Genre Film Archive. The organization is working toward completing high resolution digital transfers of its endangered titles, starting with Craig Denny‘s 1975 film, “The Astrologer.” But they need some help, and have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to make it happen.

Read the The American Genre Film Archive press release below, and check out their Indiegogo video after that.

The American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) announces a new initiative to help preserve and share the rarest of its vast collection of 35mm film prints. The non-profit archive – which counts among its advisory board members filmmakers Nicolas Winding Refn and Paul Thomas Anderson – has launched a fundraising campaign via Indiegogo that will help support a mission to complete high resolution digital transfers of its endangered titles – film prints too rare and fragile to be loaned.

“By any means necessary, we need to watch movies on film, because that’s why God created cinema,” says AGFA advisory board member Nicolas Winding Refn. “The American Genre Film Archive has begun a mission to preserve what I consider the greatest art form God has given us.”

The very first film that AGFA is setting out to preserve is Craig Denny’s THE ASTROLOGER (1975). This self-financed movie stars Denny, a real-life astrologer, as an astrologer who rises to fame by advising the President of the United States. It is an intensely strange time capsule and a vision from a unique voice in American cinema – the self-produced eccentric.

“There’s no other movie like THE ASTROLOGER. It deserves to be seen,” says AGFA advisor and Alamo programmer Tommy Swenson. “As the digital era supplants 35mm film and studios let preservation fall by the wayside, a huge swath of movie history, films like these, could disappear forever. Ultimately, film prints have a limited lifespan. However, with proper storage and care, we can prolong the lives of these prints and ensure that the movies themselves endure the ravages of time.”

AGFA is looking to raise $15,000 by May 30 to fund this first digital restoration project. Donation levels start at just $5 and go up to a $1,000. Each donation of $15 or more comes with its own unique perk, starting with tickets to see THE ASTROLOGER when the new digital transfer screens at Alamo Drafthouse. Depending on the donation level, additional perks range from a real astrology reading, to a shelf named in the donor’s honor at the archive, to the chance to program a Weird Wednesday or Terror Tuesday at the Alamo.

“There are a lot of ways that you can contribute to make this goal a reality, from just a few dollars to a significant contribution,” says AGFA board member and Alamo CEO/Founder Tim League. “One particular perk I think some of our regulars will like: You can host a screening of any AGFA film for you and 40 of your friends complete with beer and popcorn. If you contribute at this level you get an awesome movie party and will feel great knowing your fun is preserving our American genre film legacy.”

Founded in 2009, AGFA specializes in horror, sleaze, action, and independent regional filmmaking, as well as international genre cinema with an emphasis on films from Hong Kong. A home to over 3,000 film prints, AGFA has saved these from landfills, incinerators, and from literally being tossed into the sea. It serves as a sanctuary for endangered movies that no one cares about, but should.

Access is a crucial part of AGFA’s preservation mission. Every year, the archive loans hundreds of prints to arthouse institutions, film societies, festivals, libraries, and universities. For some titles, AGFA’s print is the only one that exists. These fragile and endangered titles can’t be safely loaned out due to risk of damage or of being lost. The mission to complete 2K digital transfers of these endangered titles, which can then be easily duplicated and loaned for theatrical use, helps ensure that these nearly-extinct titles can be shared with the largest audience possible.

“These films can be seen as frescos that are about to crumble off of walls without even having been documented. This initiative will essentially photograph these frescos so they can be seen and shared,” says AGFA advisor and Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen. “AGFA’s longer term goal is to one day carefully restore and strike new 35mm prints of these films. But for now, the main effort is to make sure they stay accessible for everyone and not just sitting on a shelf.”

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His name is Craig Denney, not Denny.


I agree with the fact that digital projection is improving and having seen 300 rise of empire and amazing spiderman on 2k projection i feel the digital projection is now way ahead or atleast equal to that of 35mm projection and i feel it was e-cinema with its crappy 1.3K resolution which gave a bad name to digital projection.


Kodak is not 'going away'. They've recovered from near bankruptcy and are doing well as the only surviving supplier of 35 and 16mm film. Check out the 'shot on film' section on their website. (Which I can't link here because of anti-spamming detection- motion dot Kodak dot com)


Vinyl does not *clearly* sound better than CD nor does 35mm *clearly* look better than a DCP. Either one can look and sound better than the other depending on what encoding, method, and equipment is employed for playback. Solely quantitative or qualitative assessments and judgements must be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, AGFA is a crucial archive of independent exploitation cinema and genre cinema generally. They are making the right decision to digitize and restore their archive so that it can be distributed as DCPs, but I would not say that a 2k scan is sufficient for their longer term hope that the scans might be outputted to a 35mm polyester print. With more of their titles in distribution, and with the restored titles only they control for distribution, they would open a great revenue stream for the archive. I hope that they use some of this money to develop archival practices that benefit their physical holdings. Digitizing their collection to relieve wear on physical prints is good, but not providing a sufficient storage space with the correct environmental controls and microhousing would be a naive preservation effort.


I'm the manager of an arthouse theatre and I can tell you categorically that there aren't a 'myriad' of reasons why cinemas switched to digital, there's only one: 2 years ago studios announced they would stop making prints. We had to adapt or die. As for 'cost effective', it cost us about eighty thousand per screen to convert to digital. Many cinemas couldn't afford to do that and have shut down; we only could because our own sold one of his theatres to pay for conversion for the rest. The only way we're saving money is the lesser cost of shipping; versus the cost of conversion, it would take about 50 years for that saving to materialize. If we last another 10 thanks to internet availability of films, that would be a miracle. The only people saving money are the studios because as you say the costs of making and shipping digital prints are lesser.


I think there are two issues here that get blurred most of the time – movies being A) shot on film and B) sent as release prints on film. I'm fine with the people who'd say there's some magical quality to shooting on film, it definitely looks distinctive, though I've grown used to digital at this point as well. However the bigger issue is movies released across the country on 3000 screens on film. I hadn't seen a movie projected on film in a standard multiplex for years until I saw "Moneyball" in a dumpy theater in Vegas a few months after its release. It looked like garbage and the scratched, poor quality release print, poorly projected and out of focus, reminded me of countless such experiences when I was younger. Film, properly projected somewhere like The Egyptian or The Aero here in LA, still looks gorgeous, no argument, but the vast majority of movies aren't properly projected, and digital projection improves the experience of watching them for the majority of the audience.


The "vinyl is better" argument is based on specious reasoning and a lack of understanding about the halcyon technology from yesteryear. Go to Vox online and look up the article "Vinyl's Great But It's Not Better Than CDs" to get an idea of why this is. Same with film vs. digital… I've been to recent screenings that decry the use of digital projection/distribution and pile on the praise for film prints, then they screen a print fresh from the studio that's cleaned up, and voila… it's faded, full of pops and scratches, the focus often feels soft, etc. etc. etc. One man's trash, I guess. But let's put to rest the fallacy that somehow older technology is better because that's what we grew up with, or "that's the way it's been" or any other myriad reason behind such Luddite attitudes.

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