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Motion Picture Academy: digital films need greater preservation efforts

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wants to draw attention to another the problems of digital preservation in a an era when movies are often a collection of ones and zeroes.

Digital Dilemma
Digital Dilemma

We all know what it's like to be stuck with obsolete media: who hasn't seen boxes of VHS tapes at garage sales, next to the 8-track cassettes? The inevitable move into all-digital means of production and distribution is supposed to alleviate this problem (or at least provide us with a new set of problems), but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wants to draw attention to another consideration: digital preservation. The Academy's Science & Technology Council just released the second part of "Digital Dilemma," its years-long study of the issue. Its findings? While filmmakers — independents and documentarians, especially — recognize the benefits of digital workflow, most don't consider the effects on longevity. While good old-fashioned film can last for a century even if not carefully preserved, digital masters can quickly become unwatchable, whether due to media failures or incompatibility. (Imagine trying to play a Flash video in 2100.)

Even when aware of the problem, most filmmakers can't do much about it. Preserving digital media requires greater commitment and overhead than typical film archiving; the most robust archival method, in fact, is converting digital into film. But that's prohibitively expensive. Instead, the Academy hopes to establish standard file formats beginning later this year. It's also working with the Library of Congress to make sure our new wealth of digital video doesn't turn to unreadable relics in the coming decades.