Digital Cinema and film heritage: the dilemma of archival practice

In 1999, neurobiologist Joseph miller requested for NASA’s Viking probe data transmitted from Mars in 1975.He was able to procure carefully warehoused magnetic tapes but couldn’t retrieve all the information as the technology had already marched ahead leaving the well archived old format tapes unreadable. The NASA example hasn’t been witnessed in the history of motion picture so far but similar type of threat looms ahead for archival practices in the age of digital cinema.


The motion picture industry has utilized advanced digital technologies by retooling its production, distribution and exhibition mechanisms. Digital image capturing, CGI, color grading, sound capturing, editing and mixing along with digital distribution and exhibition is not a distant reality anymore. This technological transition has major implications for the traditional understanding and practice of film archiving. The archive industry is forced to explore ways of adapting digitization technologies while also reconfiguring their role in a digital environment where “new forms of (digital) archives are being developed via the Internet that make use of participatory media to provide a significantly wider and more open form of access than any traditional archive has ever offered before” (Fossati, 2009, p16).


Digital archiving is not just about preserving the digital data on hard drives, magnetic tapes or optical discs. The shift from the management of physical collection to the storage and archiving of intangible data for long-term accessibility is a bigger challenge. However, there is no digital storage technology available as a proven storage medium comparable to cellulose nitrate films with a 100 year lifespan at an ideal storage condition. Moreover, the traditional methods of preservation and archiving may be insufficient to store the enormous amount of ‘born digital’ material produced through digital technologies.

The digital transition is still underway with analog and digital technologies intertwined at various levels which call for an exploration of how archives are retooling themselves through digitization to preserve and ensure access to film heritage? How the ‘born digital’ cinema and its ancillary material pose challenge to the archival community and how archives are redefining their role in a changed media landscape?

By Swati Bakshi


Conway, P. (2010).Library Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 1, pp. 61-79. Available from [Accessed 21 March 2017].

Fossati, G. (2009). From Grain to Pixel: The archival life of film in transition. Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

Nachreiner, T. (2009). The Digitization of Audiovisual Archives: Technological Change within the Structures of Reproduction. In Maj, A. and Riha (eds.) Digital memories: Exploring Critical Issues. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Randle, K. and Nigel, C. (2016). Digital Cinema: Opportunities and Challenges. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies .Available from [Accessed 19 March 2017].

Science and Technology Council.(2007). The Digital Dilemma: Strategic Issues in Archiving and accessing Digital Motion Picture materials. Available from [Accessed 21 March 2017].


Pro Film Scans. (no date). [Image] . Available from[Accessed 20 March 2017].

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