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Film preservation and the impermanence of the digital medium

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In a recent blog post, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson take a look at the evolution of film restoration and preservation, and the problems that lay ahead as we move into a digital-only world.

Film Canisters Image From Flickr 1024
Film Canisters Image From Flickr 1024

Starting with a colorful anecdote about a cache of early silent films discovered beneath a Canadian hockey rink, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson look at the evolution of film preservation, and how the modern transition to digital formats could harm our ability to take care of the industry's works long-term. Two of the main issues are storage and compatibility; properly-stored film prints have a certain physical resilience to them, while digital tapes and hard drives are relatively fragile by comparison. Rapidly evolving file formats and DRM also carry the risk of leaving one decade's digital archive unreadable by the next, potentially putting future film historians in the same position as someone trying to rescue a school paper written in a long-abandoned word processor. It's a fascinating read for the film buff and layperson alike.