One of the joys of being a film curator at the National Film and Sound Archive is that every collection you work on has some moments of excitement. Mostly the excitement is about the film’s content or perhaps a surprise inclusion added by the donor, but sometimes the surprise is caused by the condition of the film. As the person responsible for bringing the collection in you are also the first to see if there are any problems with the items. You are the front line and must be ready to deal with anything.
The negotiation for a collection often occurs via correspondence or telephone calls. The items are then packed and a courier collects the boxes for delivery to our warehouse. But film is an organic material, so it is prone to many physical problems which eventually can lead to its total decomposition. That is why when we talk with a donor, we ask about the film’s condition and for information regarding where the items have been stored. Are they are damaged in any way? Are they stored near water? Do they have a vinegar-like odour? Very often the donor is unable to provide much information, but that’s not an issue. After all, we are professionals who can identify and deal with a myriad of problems.
As you can never be sure what a collection will bring until you begin to work with it, we have to be prepared for anything. That includes physical deterioration. And so, with our cleaning tools and winding skills we can handle most of what we find. using accepted conservation practices. Sometimes though, a film requires extra special care simply so we can see what is on it.