The ARRISCAN and its various archive accessories have been accepted by film archivists and restoration experts as the leading tools for an industry that is in a race against time to save the treasures of our celluloid past. One of the many institutions to invest in ARRI archive technologies is Filmoteka Narodowa, the Polish National Film Archive, which has instigated the three-year Nitrofilm project to carry out full restorations on three of its most important films and digitize 43 others. The first of the three was MANIA (1918), which was completed last year; the second is PAN TADEUSZ (1928), based on the national epic of Poland, an 1834 poem by Adam Mickiewicz. ARRI spoke with Pawel Smietanka, Head of Film Restorations at Filmoteka Narodowa, about the work that has been done so far.
ARRI: Why was PAN TADEUSZ selected for a complete restoration?
Pawel Smietanka: First of all it was one of the earliest feature films to be completely produced in Poland; it was first screened in 1928, only a decade after Poland had won its independence. It was also the first film adaptation of Pan Tadeusz, a poem that is known by almost everybody in Poland. In 1999 the famous Polish director Andrzej Wajda made a new adaptation of the poem, which brought the story to an even wider audience. We were very interested to compare how a filmmaker today approached it with how it was done as a silent film in the 1920s.
The second reason to choose this film for a full restoration was that it is on nitrate film, so it is vital to deal with it as soon as possible. The film is more degraded than our previous project, MANIA, so there are more technical issues. We only have two fragmentary copies of this film, so we have to be extremely careful handling it.
ARRI: Do you have the original camera negative?
PS: No, the original camera negatives are lost. Our copies are on AGFA and Kodak print stock, and the condition is very bad - both copies are heavily cut. We advertised on TV and radio that we were searching for elements of this film and a few days before we started scanning we got another 60 meters of material that someone found in old film cans in an apartment. Originally the film was between 130 and 135 minutes, so it was a very long film for the time. At the moment we only have about 122 minutes, at the original frame rate of 16 fps. We are still actively looking for more material, so if anyone reading this has any leads, they should get in touch.
ARRI: What is the nature of the damage to the film?
PS: The worst damage we have encountered is the emulsion being eaten away by a type of fungus. In many places half of the image is completely missing, so we have to accept that certain elements are beyond repair and we can't do anything with them; it just doesn't make sense to invent new information to fill those gaps. Of course we are able to clean up scratches, dust, spots and splices; we can eliminate many of the scratches with the ARRI Wet Gate system. Everything has been scanned dry and we will also do a full wet scan. Where there is duplicated footage between our two copies, we put the copy that is in better condition through the Wet Gate.
ARRI: Why do a dry scan as well as a wet?
PS: We will keep the dry scan for the next generation, for comparison with the restoration and for future analysis of what happened to the film -- what the damage looked like and how it occurred. Technology will move forward and we might be able to do a much better job of restoring the film in the future. So we will archive two digital copies -- the dry scan and the restoration. But we will record out the restored film with the ARRILASER for archive as a new master copy on film. This has to be a color version because the film has tinting and toning, using a six-color process.
ARRI: What is your approach to recreating those colors?
PS: On MANIA we desaturated all the scans before putting the new digitally created colors on each part of the film. On this project we have decided to keep the original colors in the scans and then after the digital reconstruction we will grade those colors on a scene-by-scene basis to get as close to the original as possible, because each scene varies in terms of the blacks and color saturation. The differences are small, but they exist, so we have decided to keep them. Essentially it means that, while we treated MANIA as a black-and-white restoration to which we added tints and tones, we are treating PAN TADEUSZ as a color film all the way through the workflow.
ARRI: Have you used your ARRI Sprocketless Transport on this project?
PS: For PAN TADEUSZ we decided to physically repair the damaged perforations and use the transport with sprockets, as we have more experience doing this. We like to prepare the material for scanning very carefully. However, we have done tests and found that for material with much more damage to the perforations, using the Sprocketless Transport is an exciting option.
ARRI: Why was a 4K workflow important?
PS: For us, using 4K is very important because we have to capture as much detail as possible, since we are creating a new master copy of this film. For a project like this we don't want to compromise on the image we capture at all. Some of our deliverables -- such as HD cassettes for TV stations or Blu-ray DVD -- will of course be of lesser quality, but we need to produce a 4K DCP for cinema projection and for own archive we need to carry maximum quality through to the black-and-white separation materials filmed out with the ARRILASER.
ARRI: When will PAN TADEUSZ be screened, and what is next for Nitrofilm?
PS: Filmoteka Narodowa is restoring the beautiful late-1940s Illusion cinema in Warsaw and we intend to premiere PAN TADEUSZ there on November 9th this year, projecting digitally at 4K. The original 1928 premiere also took place on November 9th and was attended by politicians and many of the most important Polish men of the time. We hope our premiere will also be a big event.
Our next project is a feature film from 1927 about Polish sailors on the Baltic Sea; it is called ZEW MORZA, which means CALL OF THE SEA.
We get a glimpse during the filming of ARGO, directed by Ben Affleck and shot by Rodrigo Prieto ASC, AMC on ARRICAMs, ARRIFLEX 435, ARRIFLEX 235 and ALEXA.