Preserving the national film heritage is a challenge for the UK and Australia.
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12 Jul 2010 - 4:26 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 11:30 AM

The British Film Institute's public appeal for funds to finance the restoration of nine Alfred Hitchcock movies begs the question: Shouldn't state agencies be properly resourced to preserve their country's film heritage?

The question is equally relevant in Australia where many classic films are either missing or in need of restoration. The National Film and Sound Archive is looking at the possibility of following the BFI's initiative.

“We are well aware of the BFI campaign (and their current financial problems under the new British Budget and amalgamation with the Film Council) and find it quite interesting,” NFSA chairman Chris Puplick tells SBS Film. “We are looking at some aspects of this – but there may be taxation issues we need to consider before we take anything further in this regard.”

Producer Tony Buckley, who tracked down the only remaining print of Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright (pictured) and helped facilitate its restoration at a cost of $700,000, believes the government should give the NFSA a special grant of $50 million to bring its collection “up to what it should be by 2020.” The Archive receives $25.2 million each year from the government but it allocates just $230,000 annually for film restoration. Atlab/Deluxe and Kodak meet in-kind costs for restoring about five films a year with the Archive, says NFSA chief executive Dr Darryl McIntyre.

Buckley was one of the leading lights in the campaign to persuade the government to make the Archive an independent statutory authority in 2008, wresting it away from the then Australian Film Commission.

The producer says only one film in the Cinesound collection, Ken Hall's Thoroughbred (1936), the story of a rundown horse that became a champion, starring American actress Helen Twelvetrees, has been restored recently. Hall's On Our Selection (1932) is currently being restored and Buckley says a further 15 Cinesound titles await that process. The Archive says synching problems have delayed the restoration of both films but this should be resolved shortly.

According to Buckley, another Film Search program is needed to locate the missing negatives of films such as Ray Lawrence's first movie Bliss, Tom Jeffrey's The Removalists, Ralph Habib and Lee Robinson's The Stowaway, Cecil Holmes Captain Thunderbolt and Raymond Longford's Fishers Ghost.

At the recent Sydney Film Festival, the NFSA launched a missing film search for lost films post-1951 as well as earlier lost gems. “We will be extending the search for these films to include other countries (eg United Kingdom, Europe, North America and South America) as well as developing a web site dedicated to the search for lost films,” says McIntyre.

“The NFSA has already undertaken a large number of film preservation and restoration projects - including the collaborative partnership with Atlab/Deluxe and Kodak - over many decades including the Operation Newsreel project with Rupert Murdoch and Alan Rydge as key supporters. These projects require an enormous amount of time and skilled resources and effort to preserve and restore these films in relation to their original format and in time a large amount of funding to create a digital format for digital delivery.”

The BFI points out that a donation of £100,000 is enough to restore an entire film. It's offering an on-screen credit to anyone who donates at least £5000, and, rather pitifully, is asking for as little as £25, which would restore 50cm of film.

The Hitchcock titles are The Pleasure Garden (1925), The Lodger (1926), The Ring (1927), Downhill (1927), Easy Virtue (1927), The Farmer's Wife (1927), Champagne (1928), The Manxman (1929) and Blackmail (1929). The BFI has also launched a search for 75 lost films including Hitchcock's Mountain Eagle (1926) and George Pearson's A Study In Scarlet (1914).

The BFI suffered a blow recently when the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government axed plans for its new digital film centre as part of swingeing cuts to public spending. The government also shelved a planned merger between the BFI and UK Film Council which the previous government had initiated.