Jim Broadbent and Katherine Helmond stretch a little in 1985's "Brazil." (American Cinematheque )
Because so many feature films are being shot on digital these days, more and more theaters across the country have abandoned film projectors for digital ones. So what becomes of existing 35mm films?
For archives, revival theaters, art houses and other small venues, it has become a struggle to obtain 35mm prints of vintage, experimental, independent and short films for programming purposes.
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"There is one studio that when you ask for a print they will say, 'Show the DVD,'" said film noir historian Alan Rode. "It's a very difficult situation."
But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Film Archive is hoping that its two-year initiative to preserve and make 35mm prints of as many films as possible will help. And this week, the fruits of the archive's labors are on display with the first Film-to-Film Festival, which opens Thursday night with Terry Gilliam's cut of his 1985 masterpiece "Brazil" at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Archive director Michael Pogorzelski said that the project's urgency was compounded by the distinct possibility that the price of film stock needed for these restoration projects and making prints could go sky-high.
FOR THE RECORD:
Film-to-Film Festival: In the Sept. 27 Calendar section, an article about the Film-to-Film Festival described the documentary "Out of Print" as being about the struggle to persuade studios to make 35-millimeter prints of their movies. The film is also about the New Beverly Cinema revival theater in L.A. —
"More screens in the U.S. are converting to digital and there is much less demand for film," he said. "If the prices go up, that means we can do fewer projects in a year. Our thought was why wait? Let's try to do as much as we can."
Ironically, all films shot on digital as well as digital restorations are output onto film for preservation purposes "because digital information is too ephemeral," said UCLA Film & Television Archive head Jan-Christopher Horak. "What they are not doing is making prints [in the first place] because they don't see that as a market anymore."
Since last year, the film archive has made some 400 new prints of older features, shorts, animation, documentaries and independent and experimental films from its own vaults, as well as worked with the studios to get material to make prints.
The academy also lends some 500 prints a year to cinematheques, film festivals and other venues if they have the capability of projecting archive prints. The academy, added Pogorzelski, wants audiences to have "a theatrical experience seeing a movie the way its first audiences saw it."
And that's just what they'll get with the Film-to-Film festival, which moves to the Linwood Dunn Theater on Friday for a program of animated and live-action shorts and experimental films. Documentaries are set for Saturday afternoon at the Dunn, followed that evening with two cult films, 1968's "Spider Baby," directed by Jack Hill, and Herk Harvey's 1962 "Carnival of Souls."
Meanwhile, the UCLA Film & Television Archive begins its own 10-week series Monday called "Out of the Past: Film Restoration Today," highlighting newly restored films at the Billy Wilder Theater.
Horak said that UCLA has signed an agreement with the academy "to fast track a lot of preservation work that we are financing together in order to get stuff done."
The lack of 35mm prints, Horak said, "has affected us most in terms of our own public programming. We don't just show films from our collection, but films from all over. So oftentimes we are depending on finding prints of classic films at the studios and other places and it's getting tougher."
Film activist Julia Marchese directed the documentary "Out of Print," about the New Beverly Cinema revival theater and the struggle to persuade studios to make 35mm prints. She also raised more than 10,000 signatures on a petition signed by moviegoers around the world in support of 35mm.
"Every time you change to a different format you lose titles," Marchese said an email. "Think of all the movies on VHS that never made it to DVD or from DVD to Blu-ray. You will always be able to watch 'Casablanca,' no matter what format, but what about the small titles that the studios don't deem worthy of transfer because they're too old or too obscure? The scope of movies available for us will narrow and narrow."