Today I began reviewing footage we shot in 2015 which explored the most prolific film hardware collection I had ever seen.
Peter is a gently spoken man with a passion for the tech monsters of the the film era and their preservation.
As we wandered through shed 3, I asked Peter; "how many of these peices are working?" He thought about this for a time and finally, with a rye smile, pointed to a Steinbeck film editor and said, "well last time I plugged that in there was a lot of smoke". We laughed but it wasn't until much later that I began to realise the gravity of that comment... was there a plan beyond the collecting?
A little later, Peter ran a newsreel for me in his private theatre and told me the story of his first time in a projection booth. As a wide eyed boy, the experience was nothing short of magical and the projectionist was a wizard; firing beams out into the darkness from a box that artificially created light as bright as the Sun.
These theatrette projectors were similar to the ones he witnessed all those years ago and the continuity they provided him was palpable.
It was a common story. Many people I'd met through making this film were deeply connected to a pivotal cinematic experience in their lives, keeping it alive at any cost but often, not really knowing why. These were the people I was particularly drawn too but also the ones responsible for my posing a central question... is our fascination and zeal for the preservation of the projected film experience simply nostalgic? For many, undoubtedly, it is just that. A life time love of presenting and going to the movies focused in a collection. But once these people are gone, will anybody really care about seeing film projected?
I've asked many collectors what will happen to their treasures beyond their lifetime. Most have no solid plan in place. There was certainly the hope that everything would find a new home but not much more than that. The need to save and stock pile equipment was largely due to the fact that they couldn't bare to see it go to scrap. And these collections are colossal, enough to fill many museums over.
I find myself wondering... without a co-ordinated plan, are they just existing on borrowed time?