Revolutionary restoration

Renovating its facilities to allow preservation and restoration work on vulnerable historic films, Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City recently installed an ARRISCAN scanner and archive accessories such as the Sprocketless Transport, Wet Gate and Archive Gate. Paolo Tosini, Digital Restoration Laboratory Coordinator at Cineteca, speaks with ARRI News about the work that has been done so far on delicate nitrate film materials, including unique, century-old color footage of the Mexican Revolution.


Renovating its facilities to allow restoration work on vulnerable historic films, Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City recently installed an ARRISCAN scanner and archive accessories, which have already been put to use on 100-year-old nitrate footage of the Mexican Revolution, and this trailer of a lost Mexican film, ENSÉÑAME A BESAR.

What motivated the investment in ARRISCAN archive tools?


There was no laboratory like this in Mexico until we built it. Other public institutions were carrying out purely photochemical restorations and there were some private laboratories, but we wanted to create something new and work with materials that could not have been worked with before. I asked colleagues for ideas and everyone pointed me towards ARRI because of their focus on archive applications. We are very pleased with the different gates offered with the ARRISCAN; the Sprocketless Transport is extremely important for us, as is the pinless mode, and of course the Wet Gate is a big plus. The ARRI name was a significant factor; it's such an established company and has worked with film for so long.


What restoration work did you initially focus on?

Once the ARRISCAN was installed our initial focus was on the nitrate collection here at Cineteca. We started digitizing different nitrate materials to test them, especially color materials. One of the first tests we did was on the only color footage we have of the Mexican Revolution, dating from 1913-1914. It was shot by an American company that had a contract with Pancho Villa, the revolutionary leader. What's interesting is that the film was not pro-Revolution, it was actually anti-Revolution and was screened in the US, Canada and Europe to show how bad things were in Mexico.

Was the film in poor condition?

Unfortunately it was extremely damaged and in the final stages of decay, with sections that were stuck together. We don't always use the Archive Gate because the normal gate works well with most materials, but in this case we definitely needed the Archive Gate. The film was almost impossible to touch, it was so delicate.

We are very pleased with the different gates offered with the ARRISCAN.

There are very few materials about the Mexican Revolution and we now know that this 35 mm nitrate film stock, tinted with three or four different colors, is the only color footage in existence, so preserving it was culturally very important. We're also restoring the material, and we aim to finish the restoration in October.


Will that be your first complete restoration?


Actually we have already finished our first restoration project, a trailer for the 1951 Mexican film ENSÉÑAME A BESAR (TEACH ME TO KISS). As far as we know, the trailer is the only surviving element of the movie, so we decided to scan and restore it. We have also scanned some Uruguayan nitrate reels, both color and black-and-white, dating from 1923. It's the very first film shot in Uruguay and since there are no facilities there, they came to us with the restoration; we're very pleased to be working on it.

What scanning resolution do you work at?

We usually scan in 16-bit 3K resolution, although sometimes we downgrade to 2K for certain projects. From the beginning, we decided not to scan in 4K. This was not purely a financial decision, but one that came out of the fact that we are doing something totally new, so we wanted to start with a setup that was easy to manage, as well as affordable. Of course we are thinking of upgrading to 4K in the future, and we'd also like to add the Built-In Stabilization option to our ARRISCAN at some point.

Will nitrate film be a big part of your on-going work?

Yes, and we are very proud to work with nitrate materials. Years ago Cineteca burned down and was moved to a different location. Some believed that nitrate had caused the fire and there's a fear of how dangerous the materials are, but we want to overcome that fear and show how beautiful nitrate can be. Our main goal is to show these films as they were supposed to be seen. We created a laboratory around working with nitrate and we have put safe, reliable systems in place -- that's why the ARRISCAN was so important to us. We're very happy with it, and the ARRI service technicians who come here have so much experience, they really help us a lot.