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The Moving Image 6.1 (2006) 111-124

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The Use of Digital Restoration within European Film Archives:

A Case Study


This article is based on my thesis, Digital Restoration within European Film Archives, which was written for the Professional Master of Arts Program "Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image" at the University of Amsterdam during the 2003–2004 academic year. My research examines the role of digital restoration in European film archives, specifically to identify the use of digital technology in European film archives and to offer some observations about the prevalence of digital restoration in Europe.

Before I describe my research methodology, I want to emphasize that this case study is a snapshot of a particular moment in time and should be regarded only as a description of contemporary digital practices. Digital applications are constantly changing because the technology is evolving incredibly quickly. At the same time, digital technology is still a fairly recent innovation with lots of attending problems. In particular, the language describing the technology and its applications is not yet well defined and the ethical issues posed by digital restoration have not yet been adequately addressed.

I began interviewing European film archivists about digital restoration because I felt that there was a lack of information about contemporary practices in different archives. Although there are various journals, articles, and Web sites dedicated to the topic, there is very little comparative information about the practical experiments and ethical standards at work in different archives. Nor is there a detailed reference framework about the state of digital restoration in the archives.

I conducted a series of interviews with different European film archivists and used the data from these interviews to compare how the archivists are not only implementing their digital capabilities but also reflecting on their use. I examined how these archives are currently coping with the practical and ethical problems posed by digital restoration. My research also studied the similarities and the differences in approach at different European moving image archives. The following steps outline my research trajectory:

  • developing the questionnaire
  • researching appropriate responders at different archives
  • sending the questionnaire via e-mail or meeting responders for live interviews
  • analyzing the responses
  • comparing different answers and forming conclusions

This research is not exhaustive because it presents the practices at only eight European archives. Yet, for purposes of general comparison, these archives provide a good overview of the European situation.

While I was studying in Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to participate in an internship at the Nederlands Filmmuseum. My affiliation with the Filmmuseum greatly facilitated my access to and knowledge of the different European archives represented here.1 Of the nine archives I contacted, eight agreed to participate in my study. I had not expected such a positive response, and I was encouraged by it. In determining the archives to contact, I was guided by two criteria: their degree of involvement with digital restoration and the possibility of contacting them through the Nederlands Filmmuseum.

The interviews, conducted orally with Giovanna Fossati and Davide Pozzi and in writing with the other interviewees, were based on the following questions:

  1. What is the approach of your archive toward digital restoration? Do you use digital restoration merely as an advanced tool to help the traditional restoration process or do you already restore (some or all) films entirely digitally?
  2. What kind of scanner, software, and re-recorder do you use?
  3. What do you find are the advantages and disadvantages of using these instruments? [End Page 111]
  4. Do you send films out to laboratories for any part(s) of the restoration process? If so, in what way do you monitor the job they do?
  5. Do you think that digital restoration could one day replace traditional restoration completely?
  6. What do you think about storing films on a digital format for preservation purposes?

The following case study describes my findings at individual European moving image archives.

Archives Françaises du Film du Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), Bois D'Arcy, Paris

The Centre National de la Ciné...


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pp. 111-124
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