Euro film preservation flourishing

Festivals, DVD sales push revenue

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European film preservation and restoration is a flourishing sector thanks in part to DVD sales and the increased exposure afforded at certain major film festivals.

"It's a good period because catalog owners are investing more in restoration," says Serge Bromberg of Paris-based Lobster Films, which specializes in the preservation, restoration and distribution of vintage films.

"In France, film preservation is in better health than most other countries because there is a very dynamic policy to support it," notes Boris Todorovitch, director of cinematographic heritage at the Center National de la Cinematographie. He adds, "The major catalog holders like Gaumont, TF1 and StudioCanal are increasingly active in terms of their archives. Classic film is seen as more valuable, partly because there is still lots of potential in the DVD market and partly due to specialist cinema channels."

France restores around 500 films a year across all genres. The Cinematheque Francaise has just completed "Donne-moi tes yeux" (1943), directed by Sacha Guitry, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, and two films by Russian emigre Viktor Tourjansky.

Meanwhile, film preservation in the U.K. is set for a major boost with the government's promise of an additional £25 million ($51.6 million) over two years for the country's national collection and to build a digital infrastructure to make content available. A large chunk of this will go to the British Film Institute, whose recent restorations include the 1958 version of "Dracula," starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and Terence Davies' 1988 movie "Distant Voices, Still Lives." The BFI is also working on restored copies of the first eight David Lean movies to mark the director's centenary next year.

The situation in Italy is complicated by the number of major film archives that don't necessarily work in close cooperation, according to Alberto Barbera, head of the National Cinema Museum in Turin.

The museum has restored about 20 films in just a few years, including the $350,000 makeover of Giovanni Pastrone's 1914 epic "Cabiria," presented by Martin Scorsese.

The Turin archive is working on a DVD collection to include a release of "Cabiria." The museum is currently working on restoration of additional silent movies produced in Turin, as well as collaborating with other archives on classic Italian titles.

According to Lobster's Bromberg, one of the biggest challenges facing classic film archives is distribution. To this end, the company is planning to launch a video-on-demand service entitled European Film Treasures that will feature selected works from some 36 film archives across the continent and is likely to be online next year.
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