The “wet” part of the film lab, where the negative films are being developed, will be operational by the end of the year. Czech television has no external contracts and no internal use of the photochemical workplace. That’s why he wants to close the process and leave only the digital scanner. For example, the Association of Czech Photographers or FAMU strives to preserve the workplace. According to the filmmakers, this monument is a National Technical Monument, and may also benefit from orders from abroad or from the National Film Archives.
Director of the National Film Archives Michel Brigant He modified this idea in an interview with DigiZone. The foundation he runs has no business for Czech Television’s Film Labs. The film archive must comply with the Public Procurement Act and the bid must be open to all interested parties in the market under equal conditions.
“Czech TV did not apply to participate in the publicly announced competition correctly, because it knew that we also wanted things that they could not and do not do. We cannot move outside the public contract. This is actually the end of it for us,” Brigant notes. By those activities that are not carried out by television laboratories, he means, for example, the process popularly called “de-casting”.
“It’s an ugly word and makes some people feel like we have rotten films. It’s not. Extraction is a standard procedure that we developed at Barrand Laboratories in the mid-1970s,” explains the archive director. Film strips naturally age and must be maintained regularly due to the chemical reactions of the acetate components, nicknamed vinegar syndrome. This prevents the formation of a white powder on the edges and surface of the film, which can look like mold to the eye of the average person. “It is a cyclical process that will take place as long as the raw material for the film is present,” Michel Brigant notes.
“Zlin Laboratories have the technology for this, which they have developed with us. While Czech TV does not do this in its laboratories, and as Technical Director Michal Kratochwil said, they do not even want to introduce it,” explains the head of the archives department.
Although the National Film Archives secures its film collection by photochemical means, it has already processed the vast majority of its collections. Only the oldest materials on a highly flammable substrate, which were used in Czechoslovakia until the beginning of the 1960s, can degrade, and therefore additional insurance with safe materials will be necessary. But that won’t feed the TV lab.
“Materials are checked constantly, in an infinite series, square by square, so that at any moment we know if there is any decomposition of matter – a natural process that cannot be stopped. The vast majority of Czech materials are already insured. However, credit is due to the credit Professional archivists suggest that nitrate is not shredded unless it has completely decomposed. Its quality and image information is still at the highest level we know of,” explains Brigant.
From Vršovice to Italy
A safe film is a film that has a film material on a non-combustible backing that is properly processed and stored in a warehouse. The Czech Archive also cooperates with foreign laboratories in the digitization and restoration of films.
“Maybe we have digitally restored the film when the cat comes in Bologna. We have previously digitized Ecstasy with them and collaborated with them on many professional projects. Other than that, most of our digital restorations take place at UPP in Vršovice. The films we digitally restored there,” the Head of Archives explains about the procedure.
The Venice International Film Festival, which runs until September 10, 2022, has included a restored digital copy of psychological thriller The Ear in its program. The source of the digitization was the original image negative and the original magnetic mixing strips for sound. The restoration at UPP and Soundsquare took place thanks to a donation from Milada and Eduard Kučerová.
When defending the importance of Czech television laboratories, the filmmakers also used as an argument the alleged quality of work in the Hungarian laboratory, with which the National Film Archives also collaborated. According to Michal Brigant, this is already a thing of the past: “We digitized in Hungary between 2015 and 2017 on the basis of an international public contract. The Hungarian laboratory won it because the main criterion at that time was price and the Hungarians made the lowest bid. Two or three bids were made. Other offers, but in the evaluation according to pre-set criteria, it could not be different. We ended this cooperation with the digitization project paid for with Norwegian funds, and we have not done anything there since then.”
The National Film Archive can handle some activities on its own. It contains duplicating equipment for digitizing films for distribution in the cinema, broadcast on television or for various online video libraries. In addition, it is building its own laboratory, which will be able to scan films with high resolution. However, it does not have the ability to clean up post-production for digital copies, as blemishes, dust, scratches and other image imperfections are removed field by field.
“That’s what UPP sometimes does, because it has a lot of post-production, and sometimes it can give people on computers that work, which, for lack of a better name, is still called restore. They do it well and the results are just fine. However, they couldn’t retain such qualified people just for restoration. In short, most of the work has to be in post-production, and sometimes they can restore the film digitally afterwards,” the NFA director explains about the financial requirements for salvaging old films.
Movies are routinely numbered over and over. What was digitized 10, 15 or 20 years ago is being processed again today. The tools are getting better and the archives also carry a research ethos, so they are trying to improve the digitization tools and additional processing. Digital data is a great tool but not a solution. The solution, at least for us, is to take care of the film materials that we will return to”, emphasizes Michel Brigant.
It doesn’t end with enough mountains
However, even in such a situation, he sees no reason to keep the laboratories operating in Kavče Horá, which for a long time were not crucial to the operation of Czech television, let alone the tasks assigned to it by law.
“Of course I feel sad when Labs end this tradition. But in my opinion, Czech TV is behaving rationally in this regard. It is not irresponsible, and there is nothing else you can do about it.” Czech TV is supposed to broadcast, and maintain the Labs because kind of No obsolete workplace does not belong to the common law role it is supposed to play,” says Brigant soberly.
“I think it will end up moving the material from Prague to Zlin,” Future explains. Zlín Lab won a contract not only from the National Film Archive, but also from the Slovak Film Institute or the Serbian National Film Archive. “The Serbian archive sent them trucks loaded with film material, which they completely processed in Zlin and returned safe, clean and on new copies. They then store these security copies in Serbia as an array for future use. This is the principle on which the laboratories in Zlin are designed, and there is a tradition in it. , and people who know how to do it work there, and there is the necessary technological equipment that cannot be used in normal operation ”, adds the example.
So it is not the case that after the closure of the film laboratories in Kavoe Hora there is no longer any possibility of processing raw materials for the film. Filmmakers of the future are also learning in Zlin.
“Czech TV has excellent money for the digital archive program and the organizer. What they have in the film, they continue to shoot. But I think they have digitized the de-facto. The wet lab makes no sense for them either,” concludes the NFA president with his expert opinion.
Filmmakers are still trying to persuade the Ministry of Culture to declare TV labs a technical monument or find a funding system. However, in difficult economic times, with limited state budgets and high costs due to inflation and energy, this option is shrinking.