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The solution to future-proofing archive? How about film?

2 minute read

(Credit: Courtesy of ©2012Company Films LLC, all rights reservedKeanu Reeves, producer and host of Side by Side, interviews a subject for the documentary exploring the evolution of film and digital.

It's a suggestion that runs directly counter to the past few years’ worth of digitisation efforts, but the producers of feature documentary ‘Side by Side’ have chosen to archive their movie on film stock. They might have a point

The story has legs partly because the producers are Justin Szlasa and a certain Keanu Reeves, partly because the film investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and film creation. "Interviews with directors, cinematographers, colorists, scientists, engineers and artists reveal their experiences and feelings about working with film and digital — where we are now, how we got here and what the future may bring," runs the blurb.

The producers essentially decided to create a film element of 'Side by Side' on Kodak VISION3 Color Digital Intermediate Film 2254, both as a master for its 35mm film prints and specifically to be archived at the Academy Film Archive, which is apparently providing substantial and instrumental support to preserve the movie

“At the end of the day, film is still the most stable and reliable preservation medium,” stated Andrew Evenski, President, Entertainment & Commercial Film, Kodak. “Only film offers a standardised, human-readable format that has been in existence for well over a century, and methods for retrieving content from a 35mm frame will exist well into the future. When content is preserved on film, no re-mastering is necessary.”

Indeed, the release talks about the archived version lasting safely for another century, which will be a lot better than nitrate-based film managed.

Kodak stopped using that in 1951-52, which still leaves an awful lot of cinema's finest moments shot on the format. The problem is that cellulose nitrate decomposes, giving off nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and some interesting other gasses that first yellow the film base and then make it unusable. And, as an added bonus, if the gasses can't escape for whatever reason — like, for example, they're kept in a sealed film can in an archive — heat builds up and spontaneous combustion isn't too far behind.

Stable Film Stocks

Of course, there are other, far more stable film stocks available, with 2254 indeed having an impressively long projected shelf life. But it does make you wonder. There is a blithe assumption that because something is digitised it is safe and preserved for eternity; an assumption that anyone with a passing knowledge of technology can poke all manner of holes in. Let's call it the 'Look, I saved it on a floppy' syndrome.

All of which then leads to a discussion about how to truly preserve your works for a seriously long time. The best we have come up for so far at Red Shark is pictorial information carved on stone tablets and lifted to the Lagrangian points of gravitational stability in the Earth / Moon system (L2 is our favourite as it's nice and out of the way on the far side of the Moon). That should hopefully give us several billion years until the Sun turns into a red giant. In fact, we could even monetise this idea as a service to the rich and famous: look out for us on Kickstarter soon, we need a rocket.

Anyone got any better ideas for seriously long term and deep time storage?


Tags: Technology