Jun. 7, 2018

ARRI Archive Workshop 2018

The ARRI Archive Workshop 2018 has wrapped up in Munich. The biennial two-day event attracted speakers and delegates from all over the world to discuss all the latest developments and trends in film restoration and digitization. 


Jun. 7, 2018

Film reconstruction has been likened to the piecing together of a jigsaw puzzle, but that comparison does the process no justice. These jigsaws have damaged and missing pieces, while others exist in several versions – and the finished puzzles are made up of around 120,000 pieces or frames. These frames – with very different grains and colors – then have to be matched to give the reconstructed film a consistent appearance.  The ARRI Archive Workshop 2018 began with a perfect illustration of this process – a look at the Deutsche Kinemathek and ARRI Media Berlin’s restoration of "The Ancient Law," a silent film made in 1923. It tells the story of a Jewish man who falls foul of his strictly religious father when he becomes an actor. The reconstruction was based on six different contemporary prints that were scanned in full, and then combined in a complex edit.  

Another session on the first day looked at the restoration of German films from the National Socialist era. Film restorer Anke Wilkening, from the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Wiesbaden worked on the adventure fantasy "Münchhausen" (1943). It was made in Agfacolor, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s as a non-American alternative to Technicolor. The dyes are unstable, resulting – with the passage of time – in the prints fading to magenta.

In between the seminars delegates were able to wander around the venue – Munich’s Isarpost – exchanging views and experiences, and looking at the exhibitors’ stands. Nordisk Film Shortcut from Denmark were well represented; Hans Vermeij has worked for them for 25 years, and was excited to see ARRI’s new ARRISCAN XT on display. “We have one of the very first ARRISCANs – Number 6”, he said. “We’re looking to upgrade to the ARRISCAN XT, because it has lots of new features, and the work can all be done on-site in just a few days.” 

The company is currently restoring and digitizing Danish films from the 1940s onwards, along with vintage TV series from the 1970s. Anders Bloch-Rose from Nordisk said the workshop allowed him to learn more about his craft and the latest developments. “Time has shifted, and quickly,” he said, “there used to be no market for restored and digitized old film – it was very expensive to do, and it wasn’t commercially viable. That’s all completely changed.”

On day two, back in the seminar room, delegates heard a detailed case study of the reconstruction of "Der Kampf ums Mattrhorn" (1928). It’s a fictionalized account of the first climbing of the Matterhorn, and the restoration was a challenge of similar proportions.  

Anke Mebold, from the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt, told the audience that all primary sources were considered lost. The reconstruction drew on surviving prints of foreign release versions, while the intertitles were lifted from a 16mm reissue version, using foreign theatrical prints as reference. “We restorers oscillate between beneficial deeds and destructive acts”, she said ruefully – the sole source for the film’s climax was a vintage Czech distribution print that had been badly damaged by earlier generations of 'restorers'. Retouching ink and paper stickers had to be analyzed and removed manually, frame-by-frame, to reveal long-obscured images. And, frustratingly, after her work on the film was finished, a full original print of the film was found in Prague

In the session breaks there were more networking opportunities – an important feature of the event. Franziska Schuster, a project manager from the DEFA Stiftung in Berlin, has attended the Archive Workshop once before. “It’s like meeting the family” she said, “it’s a great way to catch up, and keep track of what’s happening in the industry”.  Wolfgang Pannier, from TVN Hannover, said the event allowed him to meet contacts, and learn about the latest technological developments. His company is particularly concerned with the archiving of video tape recordings of television programs, with 30 years of material including major sporting events to store. 

There were other seminars about sound restoration and color fading, but the prize for the furthest distance traveled to the event must go to Gareth Evans from New Zealand’s Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision. In 2017 archivists there discovered that "Snows of AorangI" (1955), New Zealand's first Academy Award-nominated film, had never been preserved, and that no complete master material survived. The film had to be reconstructed by compiling four picture elements, including two severely magenta-shifted 35mm prints. With limited resources and only three weeks to complete the project, the team saved a film that had almost been lost to the ravages of time.

But the sad fact is that not all film can be saved. Lukasz Ceranka from Fixafilm in Warsaw reminded delegates that digital restoration is a very expensive process, so decisions must be made about which elements to restore and which to allow to be lost. Alongside this editorial process, he said, “restorers must take decisions about which restoration artifacts are acceptable and which are not, given the constraints of time and money.” And, he said, “they have to ask whether it is worth spending thousands of euros to improve a film, when only a small number of specialists will be able to appreciate the difference on screen.” 

Opening image: Gareth Evans from Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision describes the saving of an iconic New Zealand film