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The Reel Thing: A Focus on Audiovisual Preservation and Restoration

By Debra Kaufman

On the evening of Aug. 23, The Reel Thing opened with the U.S. premiere of newly restored 1960 Billy Wilder feature, The Apartment. The following two days of presentaitons and expertise were curated by Sony Pictures Entertainment EVP of asset management, film restoration and digital mastering Grover Crisp and Sony technical specialist Michael Friend.  The event focuses exclusively on audiovisual preservation and restoration. “What makes The Reel Thing so different from most other such convocations is its unique blend of scholarship and historical perspectives of preservation and restoration of motion pictures and sound media,” says Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president John Bailey, ASC. “Film preservationists, filmmakers, studio technicians all mix in a heady, intoxicating brew of deep love of the cinema. It is a terrific mix of film lovers devoting their lives to protecting the audiovisual record of our art form – even at a time when it is changing faster than we can keep pace.”

AMPAS Science & Technology Council managing director Andy Maltz – who will be giving a Saturday morning presentation on “The Academy Digital Source Master: A Future-Proof Deliverable,” with Dr. Wolfgang Ruppel – calls The Reel Thing “a novel mix of practical applications and the underlying science and technology of preservation and archiving, bundled with really well curated screenings.” MTI Film chief executive Larry Chernoff, who will attend his tenth Reel Thing this week, looks forward to Maltz’s presentation, as well as the screenings, which include a newly restored version of the Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 Bicycle Thieves and an unnamed science fiction movie. “MTI has been active in development of technology to accommodate both ACES and IMF throughout Cortex Enterprise software, so [Maltz’s presentation] should prove both interesting and affirming,” he says. “When I first attended the conference, I became aware of the magnitude of what the archive world encounters in all aspects of its mission to preserve film culture. Most members of the community are unaware of the scope of work required to maintain the integrity of an archive, and exposure to the various processes employed would be an enlightening experience.”

Film critic Leonard Maltin calls himself “lucky enough to attend The Reel Thing for a number of years.” “I love interacting with the archivists and scholars and always come away learning something I didn’t know before,” he says. “There are so many facets of restoration that even educated film buffs and teachers haven’t witnessed first-hand. I often tell friends about David Pierce’s eye-opening lecture about the use of a second camera in the silent film era and how it has been misunderstood for so many years,” he continues. “I’ve missed [Film Forum/Rialto Pictures’] Bruce Goldstein’s presentation about subtitling and can’t wait to see it at this year’s conference.”

The Film Foundation executive director Margaret Bodde reports that she’s eager to see the presentation by the Academy Film Archive director Mike Pogorzelski and Library of Congress National Audio Visual Conservation Center’s motion picture lab supervisor Heather Linville about the Academy’s recent restoration of director Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 film Detour, a project that would not have been possible without the collaboration of the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Cinémathèque Française, with the support of The Film Foundation and funding from the George Lucas Family Foundation.

Although he won’t be able to attend this year’s Reel Thing, 20th Century Fox EVP of Media & Library Services Schawn Belston calls the event “a great opportunity to learn what colleagues are doing both within the Hollywood studios as well as in archives and universities around the world.” “I’ve always appreciated the spirit of community and sharing that Grover and Michael have built around the conference,” he adds. “I’ve learned a lot during the breaks as well as the conference itself.” He points to Goldstein’s talk on subtitling as well as L’Immagine Ritrovata film restoration lab director Davide Pozzi’s presentation about “The Kinemacolor Digital Restoration” as sessions he wishes he could attend, as well as the conversation between Magnopus’ Craig Barron and Skywalker Ben Burtt, moderated by Paramount Pictures’ Senior VP of Archives Andrea Kalas.

Technologist Jonathan Erland, who has delivered Reel Thing presentations over the course of several years, says he’s looking forward to the Kinemacolor digital restoration session as well as another on a case study of the “Restoration of the Dunning Color Process,” with archivist Alan Boyd and Gotham Photochemical founder/chief executive Jaime Busby. “Not only is much of what is presented at The Reel Thing pertinent to current production, but I would like to have the SMPTE/HPA community exposed to and impacted by the sense of care – to the point of devotion—that prevails at The Reel Thing,” adds Erland. “A sense of heritage is notoriously lacking in the education of young people entering our field, as is the sense that the profession is a calling or vocation rather than merely a livelihood. The Reel Thing is an excellent source of remedial education in that respect.”

UCLA Film/TV archive director Jan-Christopher Horak agrees that The Reel Thing has been “an excellent way to stay abreast of the many technological changes that have affected our industry, especially the complicated transition from analog to digital.” Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center chief Greg Lukow adds, “The Reel Thing has helped forecast the future of moving image archiving by showcasing a diverse range of innovative technological approaches for preserving our audiovisual heritage. By presenting case studies and investigations into the restoration of black-and-white and color, silent and sound, large format and small gauge, whether on obsolete analog or cutting-edge digital formats, The Reel Thing has demonstrated the impact of new technologies and shaped the debate on the future of standards and best practices for our field,” he adds.

Erland agrees, adding, “Grover Crisp and Michael Friend perform a vital service to the art/science of cinema.” Image Pro founder/president/chief executive Sean Coughlin, who formerly headed preservation/restoration company Cinetech, notes that, he’s “not seen any non-profit that collectively brings in artists, institutions and archives and has such impact and advance of ideas through changing technologies for over three decades.”

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