Preserving Cinematic Heritage of India

Author: Madhavi Reddy – Savitribai Phule Pune University – India

About the Film Preservation & Restoration Workshop organised by FHF

Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) is a not-for-profit organisation set up in 2014 in Mumbai, India, dedicated to the conservation, preservation and restoration of India’s film heritage, which are valued both as works of art and culture and as historical documents. Film Heritage Foundation in association with The International Federation of Film Archives, Belgium (FIAF), has been conducting annual film preservation and restoration workshops in different cities across India since 2015. The first workshop was held at the Films Division in Mumbai in 2015, followed by the National Film Archives of India, Pune in 2016 and at the Prasad Laboratories, Chennai in 2017.

The workshop I attended this year was held in Kolkata 15-23 November 2018. Besides India, these workshops are also open to neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Malaysia that are similarly lacking in a resource of trained personnel to preserve their audio-visual heritage.

We have reached a critical time for the world’s film heritage. Despite a few major film makers and creative artists still choosing to shoot films with the medium that they love, film production has almost entirely moved away from traditional film technology towards digital. Even films shot on ‘film’ are immediately transferred to digital for all the post production work, So the entire infrastructure surrounding the creation of a final film print through a long and convoluted production chain – rough cuts, negative cutting, sound mixing, optical effects, grading, intermediate copies, printing and processing has been dismantled. The majority of laboratories have closed, the technicians have drifted away into retirement, the world has moved on. In this transformation there is something important being lost: the skills of understanding how old technology worked. “Creative artists will always find a way to adapt to new circumstances, but film cans sitting in a vault are nothing without the means to make their contents come alive” says David Walsh, FIAF’s Training and Outreach Coordinator who also designed the curriculum for the workshop. Film archivists not only have to deal with the old technology of film production but also become experts in the digital domain and understand all about documentation, not forgetting that a film archive also holds photographs and other material on paper, all demanding special attention.

The objective of FHF’s annual workshops is to build an army of film preservers by providing the necessary training for the cause as well as achieving the initiation of future film archivists who can become the foot soldiers in the battle to save the cinematic heritage of India. This unique workshop provided a fantastic opportunity to receive hands on training in both celluloid and digital preservation and restoration from the best experts from around the world. Another unique aspect of these workshops is that out of 50 participants on an average every year attending these, 26 participants will get sponsorship from FIAF and Tata Trust to ensure the participation of deserving candidates.

Taking the cognizance of the feedback from the previous workshops, the curriculum for the week-long workshop is designed to raise the bar with a greater emphasis on specialisation in the curriculum. This format not only gives participants an overview of different aspects of film preservation, but also enables them to specialise in their area of interest from the four streams: Film Repair, Preparation and Handling; Digital Preservation and Restoration; Cataloguing and Photographic and Paper Conservation. Participants are clustered into small groups for hands-on training with experts in their specialisation field.

Theory classes included sessions on: Film in Serious Condition, History of Film Technology, Restoration Ethics and Practice, Digital Technology Fundamentals, Film Digitisation, Preserving Sound Tracks, High Quality Archiving on a Low Budget, Before and After Life of a Restoration Project and Preservation Strategies. The Practical classes covered areas such as: Archival Management and Funding Strategies, Film Digitisation from A-Z, Photo and Paper Conservation, Film Handling and Preparation, Film Repair, Selection and Identification, Scanning Archive Film, Colour Grading, Digital Image Restoration and Restoration of Sound Tracks.

Film archiving is slowly opening up as a viable career opportunity for young people in India. The film Industry has woken up to the fact that they need to preserve their films. The central and state governments in India too have begun to take measures to archive films.

This one-week workshop will not by itself save the film heritage of India but it will be down to the participants of this workshop along with countless other enthusiasts and activists to carry on the cause of saving cinematic heritage forward in the future.


About the author

Dr. Madhavi Reddy is a Professor at Department of Media and Communication Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University, India. She attended the above workshop as a “Tata Trust Scholar”.