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.