A window to history
Like many other major film collections, Filmoteka Narodowa - the Polish National Film Archive - has invested in ARRISCAN archive technologies to restore and preserve its oldest film materials. After a rigorous testing process, the archive purchased a 4K ARRISCAN with Wet Gate, Archive Gate and Sprocketless Transport. It also opted for a 4K ARRILASER2 High Speed with ARRICUBE Creator, for recording digitally restored images back out to film.
Specialists at Filmoteka Narodowa - the Polish National Film Archive - use the ARRISCAN Wet Gate to clean and digitize a rare and delicate print of the 1918 silent film MANIA.
All of these tools are in use on a project called Nitrofilm, which aims to digitize more than 150 highly fragile pre-war films, beginning with 43 scheduled for the first three years. Of these, three will undergo a full 4K restoration, the first of which has recently been completed and is currently being screened across Europe. Pawel Smietanka, Head of Film Restorations at Filmoteka Narodowa, spoke to ARRI News about the restoration of MANIA: A STORY OF CIGARETTE FACTORY WORKERS, a 1918 German-produced film featuring the Polish star Pola Negri.
ARRI News: Why was MANIA selected for a full-scale restoration?
Pawel Smietanka: MANIA was an international production in the sense that the director, Eugen Illés, was Hungarian, the producer, Paul Davidson, was German, and of course the lead actress was Pola Negri, who came from Poland. Aside from Pola Negri being a very important figure in Polish film history, it occurred to us that such a pan-European production suited the Nitrofilm project, which receives funding from the European Union.
AN: Where did your copy of the film come from?
PS: It was found by a Czech gentleman, who was a fan of Pola Negri and realized how important it was, so he donated it to our collection. MANIA is one of Negri's earlier films, but she would go on to become a huge international star. Our copy is probably the most complete that exists, so we had an opportunity to create the best possible reconstruction of the whole movie. We hope that there will be a lot of interest in seeing such an early Pola Negri film restored to the highest achievable quality.
AN: Is that why you opted for a 4K workflow?
PS: Yes. This being our first project, we wanted to illustrate what can be done with a 4K restoration of such an old and delicate film, in order to set a benchmark for the future. Another reason we chose 4K was because we knew we would be putting MANIA back onto 35 mm film with our ARRILASER once the restoration was complete. We have actually done two versions: one is for exhibition in theaters and the other is for archiving, so was recorded out to black-and-white separation masters. While the archive copy has been kept at 16 fps, which is the frame rate at which the film was shot, the release version has been time-stretched to 24 fps by duplicating eight frames for every second of running time. This will make the action and the performances appear much more natural to modern audiences.
AN: How did you set about restoring the various color tints in the film?
PS: All we had was our nitrate print, so we found the best examples of five different colors on the print and worked from them. The intertitles are green and the other color tints are amarant, which is a shade of pinky rose; yellow-orange; greenish olive; and finally blue-green. Their appearance does not seem to be motivated by each scene's time of day, like other silent films where night scenes are always tinted blue. In fact there is a scene that jumps from one color to another as it cuts between close-ups and wider shots. We're not sure of the reasoning behind it, but our general approach has been to respect the original.
AN: Have you used your ARRICUBE Creator to get these color tints right?
PS: We have, and I think we've produced some very accurate and consistent results. ARRI in Munich has supported us in refining our calibrations and getting them right. It's a gradual process of printing, checking the color with the ARRICUBE, making slight changes, printing again and checking again. It might take four prints to get the color absolutely correct.
AN: In general, how badly degraded was your print of the film?
PS: Although our print was almost complete (we were only missing 13 intertitles, which were sourced from the Bundersarchiv in Germany), there was some bad damage to it, especially at the beginning and end of each reel. There was a lot of dirt and dust, a lot of scratches, and very many splices that had to be repaired.
Starring the legendary Polish silent screen actress Pola Negri, MANIA is a 1918 German-produced film that has recently been restored using ARRISCAN archive tools as part of the Polish National Film Archive's Nitrofilm project.
AN: Which of your ARRISCAN archive tools were used?
PS: The first thing we did was to scan the whole film dry, through the Archive Gate. This was partly to record the state of the print for a 'before-and-after' restoration example we plan to screen after the end credits, and partly because we couldn't be sure how the emulsion would react to the Wet Gate. After viewing the dry scan we realized how bad the damage was and decided to put the whole film through the Wet Gate. The scanning process was so delicate that in total it took three months. We didn't really need to use our Sprocketless Transport on MANIA, though I'm sure it will be used on other Nitrofilm projects.
AN: Now that you've completed a major restoration, do you feel that the ARRI tools were the right ones to have invested in?
PS: Absolutely. It was the right system to use and the quality is excellent; the one area where we want to see improvements is the speed of Wet Gate scanning, so we're very pleased to see the release of the Wet Gate dryer. This new tool will make Wet Gate scanning much faster, which is very important for large film archives that have a lot of historic film materials requiring attention.
AN: When and where can the restored MANIA be seen, and what is next for Nitrofilm?
PS: Screenings are happening across Europe between September and November 2011. We start in Warsaw on September 4th and then move on to Paris, Madrid, London, Kiev and Berlin. Our next 4K restoration is PAN TEDEUSZ, based on the national epic of Poland.
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