From Grain to Pixel. The Archival Life of Film in Transition

G Fossati

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 2 (Research NOT UU / Graduation UU)


Film is in a state of rapid change, a transition in which analog (photochemical) film is being gradually replaced by digital film. This transition is evident across media in both the commercial and the cultural fields, and is profoundly affecting not only the practice of filmmaking and distribution but also that of film archiving, together with the theoretical conceptualization of the medium film. Also film archival practice is changing very rapidly and, with it, the way we look at the preservation of our film heritage. New forms of digital archives are being developed that make use of participatory media and that provide a significantly wider and more open form of access than any traditional archive before. As a consequence, film archives are struggling with questions about their role. At this crucial moment of changing technologies and concepts there is insufficient dialogue between film archives and academia. Caught up in everyday practicalities, film archivists have rarely time to reflect on the nature of film and on the consequences on the viability of film as a medium deriving from new technologies. At the same time, researchers investigating the ontology of the medium theorize future scenarios at a much faster pace than practice can keep up with, often without considering the material and institutional realities underlying the medium. This study attempts to bridge the fields of archival practice and academic research. By addressing the question whether the ongoing transformation in technology is introducing a fundamental change in the nature of film, it discusses how the debate on the ontological status of film affects the role of film archives. Based on a thorough investigation of current debates in film and new media studies, a theorization of film archival practice is proposed. This theorization is further elaborated through the analysis and the discussion of a number of relevant players in the film archival field (e.g. film archives, laboratories and funding entities) and of some of the most innovative recent film restoration cases, carried out in the timeframe 1996-2007, right in the middle of the transition from analog to digital. Theorizing archival practice in this moment of transition is not only urgent for film archives but also for media scholars. The kind of theorization proposed in this study aims at providing a common ground for a renewed dialogue between film archives and media studies. Such a dialogue will have a direct influence on the way we understand, preserve and access our film heritage. As film undergoes its most recent and perhaps most profound transformation it is urgent that a theory of practice is developed today, while this transition is ongoing.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Kessler, Frank, Primary supervisor
  • Uricchio, William, Supervisor
  • Verhoeff, Nanna, Co-supervisor
Award date29 May 2009
Print ISBNs978-90-8964-139-7
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2009

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