Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film: Film Review

Devotees of supposedly obsolete Polaroid photography sing its praises and stage an "impossible" comeback.

Devotees of supposedly obsolete Polaroid photography sing its praises and stage an "impossible" comeback.

An impassioned response to Polaroid's 2008 decision to discontinue the products that made it famous, Grant Hamilton's Time Zero reminds us what a remarkable invention instant photography was, shows why enthusiasts still cherish it and follows the company that invented it from rise to fall to fledgling reincarnation in corporate form. Though an easy sell for design junkies and retromaniacs, the doc will likely be a modest draw at art houses before finding an appreciative audience on small screens.

From pro to amateur, many shutterbugs favor Polaroid over other formats both analog and digital: We hear testimonials about both its distinctive formal qualities (the idiosyncratic color palette, the ubiquitous white border) and the social rituals unique to a camera that makes its own prints. More than one apparent introvert speaks up for the friend-making capability of a camera that spits out a pleasing artifact within seconds.

(Oddly, Time Zero never manages to mention Instagram and similar digital-photo tools that did so much to repopularize the Polaroid aesthetic in an era when the actual film was getting harder to find.)

Hamilton finds veterans of Polaroid's halcyon years to speak of the brilliance of founder Edwin Land, a workaholic inventor whose most famous creation still looks a lot like magic, and of the loyalty he inspired. He digs less into the reasons Polaroid's post-bankruptcy owners decided to scrap the instant-photo division than some curious viewers might like, instead dwelling on the shock of fans whose lamentations -- future digi-centric generations won't have shoe boxes of physical photos in the closet! -- begin to sound overblown the more they're repeated.

The doc's final third observes the "Impossible Project," in which a wealthy devotee bought up the company's production facilities and set out to manufacture new film for old cameras. Rescuing instant-photo technology was vastly more complicated than getting Netflix to reboot a canceled TV comedy, though: For reasons that could use a bit more examination here, necessary chemicals are no longer available, and (here's where the "impossible" part comes in) a team of scientists was given a year to formulate an entirely new recipe for self-developing prints.

Production company: Full Frame
Director/director of photography: Grant Hamilton
Producers: Sara Hamilton
Music: Jimmy Thompson
Editor: Per-Hampus Stålhandske
No rating, 94 minutes

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