Lesser-known pics may die off in digital race

Euros raise awareness of cost and work to be done on 35mm prints

At a recent congress in Hamburg of Germany’s Bundesverband kommunale Filmarbeit — a national network of German arthouse cinemas — members raised the issue that, with the coming digitization of cinemas, the advancing obsolescence of 35mm projection could mean that many classics of European cinema might no longer be able to be screened.

Claudia Dillmann of the Deutschen Filminstitut called for cinemas to hold on to their 35mm equipment so that films could still be screened for audiences, fearing that pics that hadn’t been digitized in the last five years could be shut out of current digital projection standards. She further called for a Europe-wide organization of digital mastering facilities, cinematheques and archives to deal with the problem of bringing European film history into the digital age.

While Hollywood films have the studios and their conglomerate owners behind them to help with the digital remastering process, European films are largely the work of a wide array of independent producers from all over the continent, with widely varied means, if at all, to deal with costly restoration. Being Europe, the solution would have to come from the public sector.

The Germany-based Europe’s Finest, which distributes European classics and contempo pics via a digital cinema package to cinemas, has enjoyed support from the European Union’s Media program, receiving ?300,000 this year. Europe’s Finest has digitized over 50 European classic films for 2K distribution from directors such as Hitchcock, Truffaut, Resnais, Bergman, Kaurismaki, Menzel, Visconti, Rosselini and Polanski.

But this initiative only illuminates how much more work there is to be done. And of course, raises the tough issue of which films get mastered and which don’t. Martin Koerber, film curator of the Deutsche Kinemathek and member of the restoration team responsible for digitizing “Metropolis,” points out that the high-profile classics are not so much in danger as the lesser-known films.

“At this point any digitization is use-driven — if the interest is big enough it will be done. And if not, it stays on film. What it all boils down to,” he says, “is the repertoire gets diminished.

“But that’s the situation and prints in the archive become more valuable because that’s the only way you can see them.”

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