In November 2016 the UvA AMIA Student Chapter had the pleasure of visiting Den Haag to get acquainted with two impressive businesses the S8 Reversal Lab and the Film Atelier Den Haag.
Our first stop on our visit of Den Haag was to visit Frank Bruinsma at the S8 Reversal Lab, a lab specialising in Super 8 film processing. Frank has been running the lab for 20 years, and was kind enough to talk us through the various stages and challenges of film processing. This included detailed instruction on different emulsions, the chemical processes required for stable film processing, and the infrastructure required to do so. After the tour of the premises we sat down over coffee to discuss a range of topics including the state of the analogue film industry, the threat of obsolescence, and the continuing need to promote and encourage analogue filming and processing within an increasingly digital world.
The lab has a steady stream of committed customers who are as passionate about film as Frank is, as well as curious students and artists who like to test their skills in the analogue realm. Frank was most passionate when describing his relationship with Super 8 film, enthusing that the whole experience is exciting, as you will always ‘get presents’ working on film on account of never being able to exactly predict the end result, if the camera works as desired, if the batteries will last, the images will be stable, or the processing will be done correctly. The unpredictability of this process elevates the experience of filmmaking, and creates meaning. For example, if only thirty seconds of the footage you shoot is viable, then you have to cherish what you have. Frank further opined that whilst some see this form of artwork as ‘old-fashioned’, he would rather be old-fashioned and surprised, than produce boring, instantaneous works.
Continuing on from this we discussed the current state of the film market, particularly small gauge film, and how few companies presently create stable film stock. At the time of our visit there was a great concern about the future of Super 8 if there is no stable colour reversal film on the market. If there are no film stocks readily available on the market, why should laboratories be set up to process colour films? Current expenses are too high, and expertise is starting to disappear as technicians leave the industry due to a lack of support. Continuing on this topic, Frank stressed the importance of good relationships between the sales agents of suppliers and those running small and independent businesses such as laboratories and technicians, emphasising the importance of meeting face-to-face. These relationships have built a community of like-minded people and help create a stable industry.
However it should also be noted, while the intent of building these relationships is noble it is not always possible in the current industry, which is a pity. Established laboratories, such as S8, are being slowly pushed out of the market with the increase of prices, lack of materials, expertise and the promotion of corporate “in house” processing. The latter model effectively takes business away from traditional laboratories rather than supporting labs that have been supporting their product and cultivating a loyal clientele for however many years. Laboratories cannot survive on small assignments, and the risk of losing the accumulated expertise of these technicians is great. But again, there is perhaps hope for the future?
Frank also talked us through his work with Film Rescue, self-proclaimed ‘revealers of lost and found treasures’. The project helps process films that have never been seen before, with Frank working with the Canadian team to process some of their content. It was encouraging to hear that there is still a strong international community of laboratories and artists working together to process and share lost images throughout the world.
Once we had contemplated all of these issues we finished our visit by looking at various examples of successful and unsuccessful Super 8 tests. We enjoyed our time viewing excerpts from experimental films, home movies and weddings. After a few hours we finally we parted ways with Frank’s encouragement to take up a Super 8 camera, experiment with film and to encourage others to process locally.
You can find out more about the S8 Reversal Lab and Frank HERE.
Our second and final stop was to visit Elisa Mutsaers of Film Atelier Den Haag. Elisa invited us to her workspace and showed us to her quaint first floor conference room surrounded by an exquisite film book library. We spoke with Elisa about her time in the industry, specifically the role of the Film Atelier and her life post P&P (which you can read more about here), and sought advice she would like to give us students aiming to work in the industry.
The most intriguing part of our visit to the Film Atelier was our talk about education and practical experience in the industry. Elisa explained that she chose her courses to mix both theoretical and practical education, but didn’t really learn the practical side of her work until she underwent her internship. Subsequent to this, she undertook an extra certificate with George Eastman House (2005-6) to gain more practical experience. Training at George Eastman House teaches you the high standards that archives should work towards, however, it should be noted that you cannot always work to that standard in practice. Elisa emphasised that it is good to know what the highest standard is so that you have something to work towards no matter where you are working. The physical handling of film cans, cataloguing, and testing of the materiality of film is something that has to be learned and practiced on the job.
We again discussed Elisa’s preservation work with the Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Geschiedenis [Netherlands Institute for Military History] and her success in finally reaching the last can in the collection. She explained that when she started the job 13 years ago she had begun with can 3500 and had finally reached the can 5700, which is something to celebrate as she can now go back to the very beginning and try to complete the circle she once began. It is clear that Elisa enjoys her longstanding job with the military collection and it is inspiring to see her commitment over the years.
We ended our time with Elisa discussing the ‘What is Film?’ lectures and workshops she presents, which had originally been presented at an earlier AMIA conference and is now a recurring workshop for children on the materiality of film. Elisa explained it is necessary to still teach children about the physical properties of film so they might one day be future archivists, or someone who can help promote preservation work.
Click on the link for more information on Film Atelier Den Haag.