The Film Preservation Guide

The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums is this wonderful book by the National Film Preservation Foundation that is exactly what it says it is. And boy is it thorough and complete. It’s pretty cool that the foundation is able to offer such a well-written, detailed, and comprehensive textbook like this – and guess what, it’s free! No strings attached, download the whole thing or just the chapters you need. What a boon to the archive community.

Download this book as a PDF here!

film preservation handbook

My Film Background

In case you didn’t know, I have a whole bachelor’s degree in film. I don’t really actively involve myself in the industry anymore, so my experience is less current – hence why I don’t usually advertise it.

That being said, I’ve always had a fascination with film. I mean actual film, black & white or color, 16mm, 35mm, super 8, whatever, I love it. It’s something I’ve put a lot of time into. And editing film, slicing it up with a razor blade and splicing it back together by hand with tape on a block, is one of the most fun and constructive activities I know of. I used to make found footage films and still have boxes full of extra film. I keep telling myself I’ll make more… one of these days…

Anyway, the point is I know a good deal about film already, and film history too. Preservation ties into history quite a bit since film has changed in composition over the years, from nitrate to cellulose to vinyl, and these materials have vastly different handling and storage methods (especially nitrate, which can be very hazardous and flammable).

One of my best friends, Lauren, is a legit film preservationist of some sort up in Eastman Kodak country (Rochester, NY). While I knew a fair amount about film preservation, I really wanted to learn more, and her occasional photos on Instagram of beautifully deteriorating film kept the motivation going. So – this book.

This Book

The book begins with the most basic question – why preserve film in the first place? What’s it good for? Who preserves it? What do you do with it? Then we move on to study the material of the film itself. While newer film is relatively easy to store, old nitrate film can be explosive and has to be disposed of according to various federal hazardous waste regulations. The damage can take different forms, such as shrinkage, mold, heat exposure, fogging, and more. While I think deteriorating film is beautiful, it’s certainly not good to lose important pieces of culture in this way.

Luckily, this book goes on to contain all the proper methods of handling, preventing, and repairing the damage – as much as possible, anyway. Duplication is the best bet to save film, and having master tracks that get more permanent storage as well as cheaper, easier-to-access VHS or digital copies which lack every detail of film, but still get the content across for most casual researchers.

This really is a comprehensive guide, because it goes on to talk about long term storage facilities, legal rights for saving film, the best ways to give the public access, and more. The end contains all the important details any professional would need to know. It even gives you questions to ask an archivist to know what exactly they’re doing if you’re giving them your film.

While obviously more study and experience would teach me more, I really feel like this book did a wonderful job getting me into this. It’s a great resource for the layperson or the expert alike. I’m looking forward to handling my film again with a little more knowledge of the medium in general. I highly recommend this book. And since you get it for free, why not check it out now?