Nitrate still waits.


I’m not sure of the actual origin of this phrase but for many years I thought it an Australian one due to the dim memory of a tv documentary I saw in the mid 80’s depicting the hunt for lost nitrate films in what was thought to be their final hope of discovery before chemical oblivion. As a young man the thought of lost recorded images that could bare witness to a reality of the distant past touched something in me; something that revered such artefacts as singularly precious. I found the film utterly captivating.

So as I make this documentary it’s interesting to discover that, ‘nitrate won’t wait’ seems to have been used all over the world to describe the same celluloid plight. However what does seem to be uniquely Australian is the preservation initiative it stood for here. Run be the NFSA (National Film & Sound Archive) between 1982 and 1984, The Last Film Search saw a young film maker, Michael Cordell traveling country Australia looking for old lost nitrate films and recording the process as he went. This is the documentary of the same name I saw in 1985.

Recently we found & interviewed one of the film collectors visited by Michael Cordell all those years ago to discuss the common preservation traits in those who hoard cinema’s lost celluloid treasures and why.


Mike Trickett is the secretary of CATHS (Cinema and Theatre Historical Society, editor of 25 year old collectors publication, ‘Reel Deals’ ( and facilitator of the CATHS Cine Collectables Fair, Australia’s only film collectors swap meet held annually in Seddon Victoria.

We had a long, frank and sometimes delicate conversation about the grey area’s surrounding ownership of discarded or ‘junked’ film prints and the critical role collectors play in saving long lost film assets.

Nitrate films are still turning up 30 years on from The Last Film Search but it is largely due to the care of collectors and the symbiotic relationship they are forging with conservation body’s world wide. So many fascinating stories, not always with happy endings.

Oh, and I also found a copy of The Last Film Search on Youtube. It’s still a fascinating watch.

Bert Murphy