There Will Never be a Final Film Format

Long, fascinating, and well-written piece by John Lingan on The Verge about the Nitrate Picture Show, but also about the unpredictable transitions between technologies, the uncertainties of future accessibility, and the inevitability of loss. A must-read.

Film has been more scrambled by the digital age than any other medium. Once-standard 35mm celluloid is now a luxury item used mainly by high-profile directors who insist on it. Digital projection and storage is now standard, but just like its film forebears, it poses its own preservation challenges: file formats change so quickly and hardware is so unreliable that, in the words of Matthew Dessem, writing for The Dissolve, "Unless the unique challenges of digital preservation are met, we run the risk of a future in which a film from 1894 printed on card stock has a better chance of surviving than a digital film from 2014."

Cultural artifacts, like natural ones, go extinct as a matter of course. The question is simply how to carry history into each new era. There will never be a final film format; the movies will keep getting upgraded and compressed into tinier units of digital memory. But as they do, the world’s slowly improving stock of nitrate film will beckon — romantic, profound, extraordinarily novel. Before the festival, Jared Case said he hoped the Nitrate Picture Show would attract a broad group of bloggers, scholars, and film-Tweeters who would spread the word of nitrate’s viability as a living medium. "For a certain segment of the population," he told me, "it’s a real experience."