Ivan Kozlenko in conversation with Robin Baker

During the Odessa Film Festival British Council got together two specialists from one sphere: Robin Baker, Head curator of National Archive of British Film Institute, and Ivan Kozlenko, Deputy director of Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Film Centre of Ukraine. Both reserve and restore their country’s film heritage. We present an interesting conversation of two film professionals.

— What kind of digital restoration do you use? In 2K, 4K, which kind of equipment do you use, and also how long does the processes take?

— In terms of the length of the linked project the one thing I found hard to decide is how much money you invest in film restoration. And the Hitchcock project was hugely expensive one for us, we could easily have spent the entire budget just on one film and I think for me the challenge was to decide how much is enough or how much is appropriate. And with films of that period I don't think you need to remove every single little scratch. If we’re restoring three-strip technicolor film from the 1940s, that’s very different. I think we’d expect to see the film absolutely perfect. And when I was conscious about it given how expensive the restoration is and quite a lot of this money is funded by the British taxpayer, it’s almost what good value is and for me doing 9 Hitchcock silent films very well is much better than doing one silent Hitchcock film extremely well. 

— But your restoration was wonderful, as for me it was very perfect. 

— The restoration you saw last night in a way the quality of image is so great because the negative was in pretty good condition. 

— I wonder how do you store them? It’s almost a miracle that you got the negatives. Because the National Film Centre of Ukraine has no negatives of the Ukrainian films for that period.

— It feels like a miracle for us to have negatives for that period, it is very rare. I have three negatives of silent Hitchcock films. We’re so incredibly lucky. We are particularly lucky at the moment because about two years ago we had money from the UK government to build what we call a master film store. And on master film there are all these unique copies, prints or the negatives. And store keeps all that material at -5 degrees and 35% of humidity, so very cold and very dry and we therefor prevent further deterioration. Up until that point you knew that these incredible precious materials you weren unable to keep in the best possible environment. And for something like the negative of Blackmail, it was shrunk quite badly over the last 85 years. And the real problem is when it comes to scanning. You can imagine you scan it very-very slowly frame by frame and you don’t put too much pressure because you don’t want to put negative on too much tension. It means that the process becomes very-very slow and very laborious but I think it’s almost the greatest investment you can make is getting the best possible scan because unless we’ve taken that time you would have re-distorted image with so much blurring and what I love so much about the work that technical team did on that is the absolute clarity of the image. 

— You don’t change the speed of projection during the restoration. What other principles do you stick to?

— Being faithful to how film was seen is absolutely paramount important of all we are doing. In fact large amount of our restoration programme is trying to get films as close to how they originally looked and in particular what colour fill it was human sound and film it was originally colored. In the UK at least in mid-1920s about 50% of film was either tinted or toned, occasionally stenciled. So one thing I can say was really important is changing the understanding of audiences about what silent films really look like.