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Monday, 14 May 2012 06:00


Written by  Bob Fisher
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The Digital Dilemma report published in 2007 focused on the archival status of  motion pictures produced and owned by the Hollywood studios.

The Digital Dilemma 2 report deals with the archival status of  independent narrative films and documentaries. Both reports were co-sponsored by the Academy of  Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of  Congress.  The research was a collaborative endeavor by Andy Maltz and Milt Shefter, who co-authored both reports.

Maltz is  director of  the Science and Technology Council at the Academy of  Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Shefter is president of  Miljoy Enterprises, Inc., a media asset preservation firm that provides consulting and project management services. 

They cite significant financial and cultural incentives for effective archiving. A 2007 Global Media Intelligence study reported that approximately one-third of  the $36 billion average annual earnings by producers comes from re-releasing older films to new markets. You can see an examples any day of  the week by checking the Turner Classic Movie channel schedule. The recent schedule  included The Four Horsemen of  the Apocalypse (1921), Ben-Hur (1955) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).

Older films frequently provide essential content for the production of  history-based documentaries.  One example:  Harrison Engle produced and directed The Lost Kennedy Home Movies, which aired on PBS in 2011. The visual content, which primarily consists of 16 mm home movies taken of  John and Teddy Kennedy and other family members during the 1930s through the mid-1960s, provides extraordinary insights into the shaping of  their characters and perspectives.

The findings of  the Digital Dilemma reports are becoming increasingly more significant with the rapid trend towards digital origination and postproduction.

“Analog films are relatively easy to maintain,” Shefter observes. “The original film will last for 95 years or longer in proper temperature and humidity controlled environments. Many of  the people we surveyed and interviewed weren’t aware of  the need to migrate digital content before it degrades and as older formats become obsolete.”

Maltz adds, “More than 60 percent of  the independent and documentary filmmakers who responded to our surveys and participated in interviews said that they have thought about migrating older digital files. However, only eight percent of  them said they regularly migrate content. Twenty-six percent said they do it occasionally.”

One potential solution: There are more than 550 public moving image archives in the United States and its territories, however Shefter cautions that some of  them aren’t equipped for long-term shortage of digital content.

“We want everyone who is concerned about ensuring long-term access to films to be able to read the report,” Maltz says. “Educational organizations can get free printed copies upon request and anyone can purchase them. The report is also available on the Academy website at Anyone can download it.”

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