28mm Film Collection
NFSA 28mm Film Collection
In 2019 the NFSA hosted Janine Winfree, a graduating student from the L Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. Janine was the recipient of the 2019 Ray Edmondson Fellowship and her work at the NFSA focused on the film format she loves most – 28mm.
Anzacs on 28mm film
I was asked to inspect and identify approximately 150 films on 28mm in the NFSA collection.
An early home movie and educational format developed by Pathé in 1912, many 28mm films were produced in France. Examining the NFSA's 28mm films helps our understanding of what Australians in the early 20th century were watching – for entertainment and education.
The 28mm collection consists of a variety of subjects – novelty, shorts, serials and newsreels.
Newsreels were a key source of information about current affairs at home and abroad. One 28mm reel in the collection is a Pathé newsreel titled Departure of the Australian Expeditionary Force, showing Anzac troops waiting to board a ship during the First World War:
Cats and Caves on 28mm
My personal favourite 28mm film in the collection is Les Chats, which not only included clips of kittens playing with each other but also a trick shot of what appears to be kittens flying on a toy plane (pictured right).
There was no plot or lesson to be learned; it was simply different shots of kittens being as cute as they possibly could be. Apparently not many things have changed in 100 years – we still love our cat videos!
The 28mm format was also used for making home movies, although these are comparatively rare. Surprisingly the NFSA has several Australian home movies on 28mm, including a family vacation at Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains (pictured below right).
Dealing with Hazards
Many of the films that I inspected were almost 100 years old, but they were all in surprisingly good condition. However, film damage and decay is not uncommon with this format.
The film conservation experts at the NFSA were able to teach me new conservation methods to deal with issues that can damage these films or make handling them difficult.
As 28mm was used as a home movie format, it was especially important that it not catch fire easily. Naphthalene, a fire-retardant chemical, helped make the 28mm diacetate film safer. As these films age, however, the chemical releases and can be hazardous to inhale, so archivists must take precautions to limit their exposure.
Other possible damage to the films comes from rust on the can and reel which can stain the film.
I also learnt from NFSA Conservation staff how to deal with these issues. Inspecting film under a fume hood can protect you from potential chemical hazards while using a small vacuum brush to remove rust enables you to inspect a film safely.
My fellowship at the NFSA gave me more valuable experience in handling film in an archival setting, but it also introduced me to new Australian subjects and historical events.
And it reminded me of the universal – and long-lasting appreciation – of funny cat clips!
The Ray Edmondson/NFSA Fellowship supports a graduating student from the L Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman Museum to visit the NFSA as a member of the curatorial team for up to two months. You can find more information on the George Eastman Museum website.