Benjamin Alimi is the director of customer relations for Digimage Classics, one of the main French film restoration laboratories. He talks about the challenges of the sector.
What is the purpose of film restoration?
It aims to allow us to rediscover the original film exactly as it was when it was first released. Sometimes this is unrealistic, given that when films are very old or the head cameraman and the director are no longer alive it is often practically impossible to know exactly what the original image looked like. There is thus an element of interpretation on the part of our machines and the technicians who carry out the restorations.
Are there limits to how far restoration can go?
In terms of best ethical practice, we're supposed to give priority to damage due to the effects of time and not to correct defects present in the original. This however depends very much on those commissioning the work. For example, for a blemish on the film, some clients may ask for it to be conserved since it forms part of the history of the film. Others will say that it is aesthetically unattractive and that the head cameraman wouldn't have wanted it. We constantly have to make a choice between these two viewpoints. There's no such thing as absolute truth in restoration. We have to think about what is reasonable at each stage in the process.
Film still from Marius, by Marcel Pagnol © RR
How much does a restoration cost?
The price depends on the age of the film and its condition, but the range is between 80,000 and 200,000 euros, including the transferring onto film of the final restored version.
Why is France the world leader in this field?
Because the country has a vibrant restoration culture. The subsidies provided by the French National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image (CNC), which can account for up to 90% of restoration costs, boost the French market. There is also increasing interest in the sector thanks to the numerous film festivals organised, such as the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon, or promoters of events focusing on film restoration such as the Cinémathèque Française.
Interview conducted by Benoit Pavan