Jane Fonda Calls for Hollywood to "Invest as Much in Saving Films as Making Them"

The actress and activist warned that restoration and preservation funding is "woefully inadequate" during Saturday's HFPA Film Restoration Summit.
Magnus Sundholm/HFPA
Jane Fonda, Alexander Payne, Thierry Fremaux

Emphasizing that the resources available to preserve Hollywood’s film history are “woefully inadequate,” Jane Fonda urged the Hollywood community to “invest as much in saving [films] as making them."

That was the call to action at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Film Restoration Summit, which the HFPA presented Saturday in partnership with The Film Foundation and Institut Lumière at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

"More than 50 percent of films made before 1950 are lost to us forever," warned HFPA president Meher Tatna, explaining that the HFPA's commitment to preserving cinema history through support of film restoration is one of its most important initiatives. She added that the HFPA’s decades-long support of this mission has already seen more than $6.5 million invested in 125 film restoration projects.

Fonda noted that this isn't just about preserving Hollywood classics, but also newsreels and documentary material. "Films were made because filmmakers wanted to make sure what happened would never be forgotten," the actress and activist said. "If we allow documents of our past to disappear we end up [without the whole picture]. We can't know where we are going if we don't know where we have been.

“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of material that needs to be restored and preserved and the lack of funding," Fonda continued. "Most studios are cutting back on archiving. ... The challenge of indie filmmakers is far greater."

Moderator Sandra Schulberg, president of film preservation organization IndieCollect, called it “a crisis that is engulfing us." Speaker Jan-Christopher Horak, director of UCLA Film & Television Archive, confirmed that at UCLA, "every penny of programs like preservation needs to be funded through third-party sources."

Filmmaker and Film Foundation board member Alexander Payne was also on hand to urge funding efforts. "If we all do a little … if everyone here gives $50, we’ll get somewhere," he said.

The HFPA recently donated $200,000 to Festival Lumière to support the second phase of the restoration of the Lumière brothers' one-minute films. Thierry Frémaux — director of the Institut Lumière of the Lumière Film Festival as well as director of the Cannes Film Festival — said that the Lumière brothers are credited with developing motion pictures, allowing viewers to watch moving images simultaneously on a big screen. He got a laugh when he quipped that Thomas Edison is also credited with moving picture inventions, but "maybe the revenge of Thomas Edison is called 'Netflix.'"

Fremaux offered Summit attendees a unique look at some restored Lumière films. They included the 1896 classic The Arrival of a Train as well as a wide range of rarely seen images, such as people at work and at play in France during the late 1800s. Fremaux’s narration provided insight into the Lumières' early development of film language with light and composition, as well as what he referred to as the first tracking shot, a clip photographed on a boat.

Grover Crisp, exec vp asset management, film restoration and digital mastery, Sony Picture Entertainment, offered an overview of current restoration, preservation and archive techniques. He showed examples of how color grading software has been used to dramatically restore color, and how he has used digital trickery to repair frames (for instance, he replaced an actor's eye with one from a different take). Crisp noted that the costs of a restoration could range from several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand, depending on the condition of the material. Schulberg added that a film restoration can exceed $1 million.

Crisp also touched on one of the unintended consequences of Hollywood’s move to digital cinema. There are now movies that are shot and displayed in the digital realm, never touching film. But celluloid is still very much a part of archival efforts.

“We always make multiple, photochemical [film] copies and store them in different places around the world,” he said of his archival practices. “We do the same with our digital data, which is like [the digital equivalent of] the camera negative. We duplicate it, separate it.”

Crisp added that they also migrate the digital data to new formats periodically “and check it every few years to make sure it’s still there.” This is because new digital storage formats are being introduced, rendering some of the earlier formats obsolete. (Think, for instance, if you have material stored on a VHS tape while players are no longer available.) Additionally, there have already been some reports of digital formats that have lost data after being stored. “This has been going on for almost 20 years now. … You have to be careful,” he said.

Underscoring the message to stay alert, Payne admitted that he had already struggled with preserving his first pic, 1996's Citizen Ruth, when he found a sound problem in his archival film prints.

The director was recently invited to select a movie whose restoration will be funded by the HFPA; he chose the 1926 silent film The Black Pirate starring Douglas Fairbanks. Crisp, meanwhile, is starting a new 4K restoration of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hooper's Easy Rider, which this year marks its 50th anniversary.

The event concluded with a screening of the 2014 restoration of Sergio Leone's 1964 Spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars, starring a young Clint Eastwood. The restoration was funded by the HFPA and The Film Foundation.