Preserving History Film

I would have thought that all of the films that needed repair or restoration would have been repaired or restored by now. The three people who changed my mind about this are Kevin Brownlow, Gary Adams and Sean McKee.

Brownlow recently won an honorary Academy Award® at the 2010 Governors Awards, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Born in 1938, Brownlow is a seasoned writer-director, a kind of British Orson Welles, who authored It Happened Here, a 1960s docudrama where Hitler conquers England. He’s also a noted film historian whose first book, The Parade’s Gone By, was a collection of precious interviews with key silent-screen luminaries.


Before-and-after pics of Planet of the Apes. Point.360 Digital Film Labs recently used DaVinci Revival Pro to complete restoration on the film.

Napoléon, the five-hour, epic 1927 silent film by French director Abel Gance. This is, to date, the most ambitious film restoration project of all time. It began when Brownlow was a teen and started collecting bits and pieces of the epic film in the ’50s. In the process, he obtained the assistance of Francis Ford Coppola, who sponsored an in-progress screening at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 1981. Here, the film was shown with a live symphony orchestra, with a score written and conducted by Coppola’s father, Carmine. The event was a huge success, requiring additional bookings to satisfy a sudden resurgence of interest in silent-film classics. In addition to turning his documentary and restorative efforts to lost films of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, Brownlow continued to work on Napoléon and eventually released a new version in 2000 that included 35 minutes of additional footage discovered by the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. Although Brownlow preferred to use early 20th-century techniques, reproducing the original tinting processes invented by the Pathé Brothers, and a Technicolor-like color-separation process called Keller-Dorian Cinematography, Brownlow has done more than any other restorer to create an interest in preventing classic films from being lost forever.

Gary Adams, however, uses digital technology to accomplish in seconds what Brownlow takes years to achieve. Adams is Product Manager of DaVinci Revival, a film- and video-restoration software product acquired by Blackmagic Design with its recent purchase of DaVinci in September 2009.

Although Adams would agree with Brownlow’s estimation of the endless task of film restoration, his market vista is much wider. "It isn’t just old films that we deal with," says Adams.

"A lot of new films need restoration. Every time there’s a resolution change of a motion picture, say, from DVD to Blu-ray, or from SD to HD and for Internet delivery, the producers go back to the original film negative or digital asset. And each time they do this, there’s an opportunity to improve the image of the original to make it more attractive on current viewing systems and projectors."