New old skills: motion picture film at the Library

Close up of colour film being inspected

Close up of colour film being inspected

'Luscious velvety emulsion' – it’s not a term one expects to hear, well ever really, except if one were winding through the significant State Library motion picture film collection.

A small team from Collection Care and Digitisation are preparing films to be digitised and in doing have discovered a mixture of finished black and white and colour films and very occasionally some original reversal home movies shot by significant NSW based personalities and trailblazer organisations. 

The nature of these 16mm original reversal home movies means they were nearly always shot on highly responsive film stock.  This explains the chemistry of the film’s emulsion layer and the velvety rich saturated colour of the film frames.

In addition, they are shot from a unique angle and always with a specific agenda.

A home movie of a 1940’s trip down New Guinea’s Kikori River shot by a London Missionary Society pastor will be an illuminating addition to the understanding of that time and the works of missionary societies in that area.

Home movies made by the principal of Curlwaa Primary School in 1962 shows educational practices of the time complete with the end of year Christmas concert and his long summer holidays at Pambula and Merimbula on the NSW South Coast.

 Aviator Sir Hudson Fysh‘s wide shots on a tarmac circa 1958 will mean something to the enthusiast who knows about the specific propeller planes in shot.

Annie Breslin with film winding equipment Filmmaker, sound editor and audiovisual archivist, Annie Breslin, has recently joined the Library to share her extensive filmmaking knowledge and experience with a team of dedicated Collection Care staff. The team has been learning new skills about old technology and the craft of film making as they prepare donated films for digitising. 

Staff are preserving films by testing vinegar syndrome deterioration, off-gassing, bench winding and archivally rehousing the films.  Before disposing of the old film cans, we photograph the often charming can lids and labels to retain important provenance information. All the while, we are carefully documenting the condition and format and verifying the content.

Sourcing the increasingly rare pieces of film gear that enables us to wind and join and investigate the detail of the film items is not always easy.

Deteriorating 16mm black and white film print This week we gratefully took possession of two winding benches, a Steenbeck viewer and other equipment from the Sydney Film School.

Sydney Film School, located not far from the Library, was one of the last film schools in the world to teach students to shoot and edit on celluloid film. They have recently and somewhat reluctantly made the decision to stop editing on analogue film and were looking to donate some old equipment. We happen to have just the right home for the equipment which will be put to good use as we breathe new life into old equipment and old films.

27th October is UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. This year's theme is 'Your story is moving!'.