Preserving and developing film in Rochester

Original 1939 print of Gone with the Wind on Kodak nitrate film.

Rochester, N.Y. – The Academy Awards is celebrating 90 years of honoring the best films and performances in front of and behind the lens.

Film has played an integral role in the Oscars for those nine decades, and today, is still a preferred away for some to capture movies.

“One of the things that's known in the industry is that if you want an Oscar worthy film, then it needs to be on film. Which is of course Kodak,” said Brad Kruchten, President Print Systems Division and Senior Vice President of Kodak. “We're seeing a resurgent and so we more films shot on film than we have in the last several years. It's exciting to see that the major producers and major directors really want to use film.”

Film is just part of Kodak’s future. Technological advancements, because of the company’s history with film, is what’s driving the it forward.

“We do manufacture film here, we still manufacture consumer film here, but we're also doing a lot of the things for the future of Kodak,” said Dolores Kruchten, President of Eastman Business Park. “Like thin film, and with our antenna that you'll see in cars. There's a lot of advancement in technology that's still taking place here and that will be manufactured here.”

Like the touchscreen on smart phones and the Rocky Mountains turning blue on a Coors Light bottle – both are Kodak technology.

But Kodak film is still important. Not only for current Oscar worthy movies and future productions, but for past movies dating as far back as the late 1800s.

“When there's a film that's beginning to deteriorate or there's a film that we want to do a new restoration on by combining several different prints, the only way you can make that work is if you have new film because we want to save it on film,” said Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding Director George Eastman Museum. “That's where it belongs.”

The George Eastman Museum has more than 28,000 titles on film in its collection. With numerous vaults full of films from different eras. The museum has one of the most active film preservation programs in the world, according to Barnes.

“We also think it's essential that people recognize how special it is to see motion pictures the way they were meant to be seen on film,” said Barnes.

The Dryden Theater, at the museum, shows movies regularly on film.

Spencer Christiano, Chief Projectionist at the museum, takes great pride in what he and the museum do here.

“This might be the last time the audience gets to see this on film, so we want to make every show count,” said Christiano.

Christiano is specially trained to project film, especially nitrate film.

The Dryden is one of the four theaters in the country, and the only theater on the east coast that can show the highly flammable film.

“We have the capability to inspect the film to make sure that it's able to be projected, we have projectionists who are extraordinarily skilled, our projection room meets all the fire code - we really know what we're doing,” said Barnes.

The nitrate films are stored in a secure offsite vault, because of their flammability.

24,000 reels, including Gone With the Wind and the Wizard of Oz, are stored in the vault. It's kept at 40-degrees Fahrenheit, 30-percent relative humidity, with fresh air return every 20-minutes.

“When you want that beautiful quality you really want to look at those nitrate prints,” said Deborah Stoiber, Collection Manager, Moving Image Department. “That will really give you as much detail as possible, which is why we hold on to our nitrate film. We conserve it and hold on to it until it is dust in the vault.”

It's all about keeping history as it was meant to be seen, and when necessary, saving it on the medium it was originally captured on.

“We're playing a critical role in preserving our cultural heritage by the way we care for the film,” said Barnes. “But every now and then one needs new film stock to be able to do preservation and Eastman Kodak is playing a critical role in cultural preservation, in keeping our cultural heritage by the work they do in continuing to manufacture film.”

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