35mm film is not dead, despite what you may have heard. It has high-profile supporters including Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. For it to survive, however, there must be an infrastructure to support it and people who know how to deal with the medium. In the digital era, projectionists are a dying breed and physical copies of films are becoming scarce. But there are rays of hope.
The American Cinematheque is completely renovating the booth in its historic Egyptian Theatre so it will be possible to screen precious nitrate prints. In a press release Martin Scorsese says, “The art of cinema developed with nitrate from its beginnings to the early ’50s, and the silver content gave us a luminosity and a richness that was never quite matched by the safer stocks that followed or their digital reproductions. I’d like to thank all the partners that came together with The Film Foundation-the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Turner Classic Movies, the Academy Film Archive and the American Cinematheque itself to make this happen..”
The George Eastman Museum, having launched an annual nitrate festival, is now running one nitrate film every month. Coming in September, an original 35mm copy of Portrait of Jennie with its brief Technicolor insert intact.
And this week the Association of Moving Image Archivists and the good folks at Alamo Drafthouse, in partnership with Scorsese’s Film Foundation, are conducting a Film Projection Workshop in Austin, Texas. Other workshop partners include Boston Light & Sound, Kodak, TAMI, and Art House Convergence.
The idea isn’t simply to teach young people how to thread a projector. The organizers want a new generation of managers, bookers, and enthusiasts to understand how to deal with all aspects of booking, showing, and caring for 35mm films.
Here is a bullet list of topics being covered:
- Coordinating with Lending Institutions
- Archival Industry Standards, Guiding Principles & Best Practices
- Print Handling and Inspection for Archival Materials
- Identifying & Creating Cues, Best Practices
- Format Standards & Empirical Identification for Image
- Format Standards & Empirical Identification for Sound
- Variable-speed Principles & Operation
- Parcel Systems, Hazards, and Best Shipping Practices
- Advanced Splicing, Splicer Maintenance and Repair
- Advanced Projector Inspection and Maintenance for Archival Materials
- Installation and Alignment of Xenon Lamps for Archival Projection, Best Practices
- Sound Reproducer Alignment
I find all of this highly encouraging. There is no reason that 35mm can’t coexist alongside digital projection…and it would be a crime if audiences couldn’t see what original silver-nitrate prints look like on a giant theater screen. Here’s to all the hard-working people who are making that dream a reality and encouraging young film buffs to appreciate the singular qualities of 35mm.