Conservation Unit

The Work of Conservation Unit


The Archive often encounters films and film-related materials that have been damaged due to extended neglect. Our Conservation Unit is responsible for restoring those damaged films and providing a sound environment for our collection's safekeeping. Conservation staff are also responsible for conserving film-related materials including posters and stills. Every incoming film goes through elaborate examinations and treatments, from cleaning and removing residual chemicals to, in some instances, processes like restoring colour or striking new prints. Regarding film restoration, the most complete Cantonese version of Bruce Lee's The Kid (1950) in existence is reconstructed from different incomplete versions of the film. Whereas in Nobody's Child (1960) (Director: Bu Wancang; main cast: Josephine Siao Fong-fong, Wang Yiu, Butterfly Wu), part of the emulsion on the original film had peeled off. Digital technology was used to duplicate and re-create the lost images, and to reduce flickering, scratches, spots and background noise. The restoration work started from an original 16mm copy borrowed from the Chinese Taipei Film Archive. It is the first Archive title with restoration version copies in both DCP (Digital Camera Package) and 35mm film stock.

Nobody's Child, before restoration Nobody's Child, before restoration
Nobody's Child, after restoration Nobody's Child, after restoration

Our storage facility is among the best in Asia. Film vaults are equipped with an air-conditioning system with acid-removal mechanism, the first of its kind in the world. Currently, we have around 100,000 reels of celluloid, kept at a temperature of 4oC and relative humidity 30%. Under such conditions, our film collection can last for 100 years or more. As for digital holdings, we align ourselves to the archival profession's code of ethics to ensure their safekeeping for the long haul.

A scene in the film storage A scene in the film storage

Film Handling and Inspection

Upon arrival, all films must pass through a preliminary inspection. In a hot and humid place such as Hong Kong, film reels are often found deformed or shrunk.

Films showed sign of decay Films showed sign of decay
Film conditions inspection in progress, a film damage is being studied Film conditions inspection in progress, a film damage is being studied

The film is inspected for shrinkage, tears and scratches. A shrinkage gauge and a magnifying glass are used to examine each frame of the film before it is repaired and cleaned. Faults such as perforation damage, edge damage, notching, break and tear can be repaired by film splicing.

Film splicing in progress Film splicing in progress

Where suitable, the film is put through an ultrasonic cleaning machine to remove dust, mould and grease.

An ultrasonic film cleaning machine An ultrasonic film cleaning machine

Once thoroughly cleaned, the film is put inside specially conditioned vaults for safekeeping. Before a film is projected, it will be checked over carefully to prevent it from tear and break.

Where restoration is necessary, our conservators will apply corrective treatments with photochemical technology, or scan the film into digital file for digital treatment.

Meaning of Film Preservation and Restoration

The moving image is an important part of our cultural heritage. The Hong Kong Film Archive sets out to gather motion pictures and related artefacts from around the world. Very often, we encounter films that have been damaged due to poor storage. Our Conservation Unit is responsible for restoring films with both optical and digital technologies, as well as providing a sound environment for their safekeeping.

As of today, no film carrier can last forever or function as long as we want it to. Preservation, in the archival context, means keeping deterioration to the minimum so that a copy of high quality continues to exist. Through duplication, contents contained in unstable celluloid can be transferred to more stable film stock designed specifically for preservation purposes. In the case of digital films, their contents can be duplicated to more mature, reliable digital media or preservation-oriented celluloid for better preservation.

Technically speaking, celluloid is more developed than other digital carriers as a means to preserve. As per the recommendation by FIAF (International Federation of Film Archives), we have made it a rule to duplicate for each restored film a set of picture and sound negative plus preservation positive. Only by doing this could a film be considered duly preserved.

Digital technology has greatly broadened the possibilities of film restoration. Traditional photochemical technology, nonetheless, has its own strengths in terms of image quality and overall reliability. Our conservators would take into account the actual needs and make wise use of both, and from now on, more energies will be devoted to in-house restoration work alongside collaborations with our counterparts worldwide.