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Film Is Undergoing A Renaissance

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Film is undergoing a renaissance with an increasing number of clients returning to film for shooting features, commercials and pop promos, writes Adrian Bull, CEO, Cinelab London.

A large contributing factor has undoubtedly been the demand for higher resolution and higher dynamic range images demanded by platforms not constrained by the historic boundaries of broadcast television. What we have known for decades is that celluloid film as an acquisition format has always been 'HDR' and has far more detail and range than we have typically been able to resolve in the video world.

Improvements in display technology and increased bandwidth have presented the opportunity to deliver higher value content and unlock the inherent qualities of film which can only now start to be realised in the digital world. Remastering 50-year-old, 35mm negatives to 4K and high dynamic range really does uncover a delightful quality that has never been seen before. With the latest digital restoration tools we can remove unwanted dirt, scratches, distortions, etc.

Coupled with sophisticated grading we can then technically compensate for deterioration and creatively enhance the result beyond the capabilities and tools that were available when the film was made in a purely photochemical environment. We are incredibly lucky to be close to these master assets on a daily basis, and constantly surprise clients with a rejuvenated version of their prized films.

A recent case in point was Director John Goldschmidt's documentary film, 'The Unlucky Australians'. The documentary based on Frank Hardy's book, 'The Wave Hill Walk Off', told the story of the Aboriginal Gurindji peoples' ongoing campaign for land rights, and is an amazing piece of Australian history. The film had never been shown publicly in Australia until August 2017, when a remastered HD version created by Cinelab London was aired by ABC.

Two 16mm prints and a Sep Mag existed within ITV's library. The prints were different editorially due to film damage in projection and suffered different levels of fading due to age. Both versions were scanned, inter-cut taking the best elements and then graded and restored along with the soundtrack. John Goldschmidt supervised the process and attended the grade with Cinelab London's Senior Colourist, Paul Dean. Due to extreme time constraints, the project had to be completed in little over a week, with the result delivered electronically to ABC for transmission.

The result, in John's own words, was "outstanding and looked better than when the film was made in 1973."

Marie Davies, who dealt with the acquisition for ABC Australia, was equally impressed, particularly with the sound mix for a film that was 45 years old.

We regularly work with film dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, and what is remarkable is that the film is nearly always viable – we clean it, shine a light through it and get a picture! We also provide a tremendous range of tape digitisation as video and audio archives have fewer places to go to deal with these ageing formats. These are often much more problematic as any physical damage or deterioration of magnetic tape formats is particularly difficult to overcome.

It will be interesting to see in another 100 years' time how data acquisition and archiving fares. We know that productions shooting film today will still be able to recover their content, and in the case of 65/70mm may even be able to fully realise its true resolution in the digital world. For the video world that has evolved from magnetic tape to data devices, there are more options than ever. Which of these will survive into the next century and remain recoverable?

Image caption: John Goldschmidt.

This article also features in the September edition of Broadcast Film & Video.

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