There has been a discussion about conserving super8 films during the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2006. This article was written by Frank de Neeve (Skrien).
[last webpage update 3 June 2006]
Super 8 conservation
These days many people are having their childhood films, which were shot on Super 8, converted to dvd, condemning projector and films to the garbage dump. However, not a lot is known about the tenability of dvd's. At the latest International Film Festival Rotterdam professionals discussed the conservation of Super 8 film. Because of the abolition of colour print stock, the possibility of direct copies of colour films has disappeared, but digitisation is no option yet.
by Frank de Neeve
In The Netherlands remains a lot of knowledge about Super 8, due to the existence of two small Super 8 labs. Complete digitisation was rejected by the participants of the discussion.
Quite troublesome, a filmmaker like the Canadian Bruce Bailey. When his work was being conserved, everything possible was done to recreate the original look of the films. But then it turns out that Bailey would prefer his films to be printed on modern film stock, with colours that he likes nowadays, instead of what the films looked like then.
How to deal with the wishes of filmmakers that are still alive? This was just one of the questions that surfaced at the Super 8 conservation discussion, part of the ‘Starting from Scratch' program at the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam. At the meeting some fifteen professionals, half of them from The Netherlands, concerned themselves with the conservation of Super 8 film. The fact that the meeting took place in The Netherlands is not so strange, if you consider that there is still a lot of knowledge on Super 8 in that country, as it harbours two small specialist Super 8 laboratories.
As film archives contain part of a country's national heritage, they need to be conserved. Super 8 being a reversal film and consequently having no negative, each projection means a chance of damaging it, making a well thought through vision on conservation essential. To complicate matters, it has recently become impossible to make a direct copy of a Super 8 colour film, as Kodak has discontinued its Super 8 colour reversal print film. From a business point of view, this is understandable, as in Europe there were only two buyers of the print film left. One of these labs, Germany-based Andec, printed only four rolls a year.
Last year Kodak also announced that after forty years it will discontinue its Kodachrome stock. The decision was regretted among Super 8 users, who loved the emulsion because of its small grain and therefore great sharpness. Because of this, in Eastern Europe two companies have picked up on the production of Super 8, but insiders describe the emulsions that they produce as dubious. In the meantime two small German companies are trying to cut Super 8 film out of the wider Fuji Velvia 50D film stock. This is more difficult than it seems, among others because of the desired constant extreme accuracy. But if they succeed, this could prove to be a worthy substitute of Kodachrome, although no one knows how long these companies can keep up their production.
The issue of what exactly conservation is, also came up at the meeting. Conservation can be done passively and actively. Passive conservation means storing the film under the best possible conditions. When involved in active conservation a new copy is made, which can then be screened, while the original is safely put on a shelve.
When the filmmaker is still alive, he can be involved in the conservation process, and the intentions of the filmmaker can also be documented for future conservations. Simona Monizza from the Dutch Filmmuseum described how having the filmmaker around when doing a conservation can be quite troublesome. She argued that filmmakers can make arguable decisions based on a copy they have, which to her eyes is clearly discoloured. Another participant insisted on using the term interpretation instead of conservation, because of the always present subjective element.
Another possibility is digitisation via a digital intermediate: scanning at high resolution, processing using software and then writing it back to film. This option is currently the best means to control the look of a film. A number of software suites have been specifically developed for digital image restoration. A keen promoter of the use of digital intermediate is Giovanna Fossati from the Dutch Filmmuseum, but she found Ludwig Draser opposing her. According to Draser film scanners are built for commercial use and negative film and he claims there is no scanner that can catch the contrast and vibrant colours of Kodachrome reversal film. Fossati didn't agree, but unfortunately there was no one present from a conservation lab, like the Dutch Haghefilm, to tip the scale.
The alternative of complete digital conservation was rejected by the participants of the discussion. As yet there are no digital storage media that have been proven to stand the test of time, like film. Also: archives have a lot of experience with conservation using film and while the digital revolution is still in progress, businesses may convert to digital, but for archives it's still risky. An option would be to wait until the digital revolution has advanced so much that films can be scanned well and digital storage is reliable. But if that is the only alternative, many Super 8 films will remain unscreened in archives for a long while. It made Simona Monizza cry out that in the nineties they could do more the analogue way then is possible using analogue means nowadays.
During the discussion the question came up from the laboratories what the actual demand is for Super 8 conservation, so the labs could look for a solution. Unfortunately the representatives of the archives didn't answer that question. This was one of the weaker points of the discussion: not all cards were laid on the table, along with the many cancellations and the badly moderated discussion. But in the end the discussion was a commendable initiative and it proved that the International Film Festival Rotterdam and film festivals in general are excellent platforms for film professionals to meet and discuss matters close to their trade.
Thanks to Frank Bruinsma of the Super 8 Reversal Lab