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Ben Model: Film Preservationist?

I am flattered when I read comments in social media or in people’s blog posts mentioning me as a film preservationist. It’s an honorable and lofty title, and there’s something beyond modesty that makes me think “Aww, no, no…you’re too kind”. Because, after all, what I’m doing is producing and releasing films for the home video market.

I am preserving something, and it is something related to film. I am working with archives and with classic film, and with the intent of providing these films to the fans who want to see more of what they like. The term “film preservation” is an easy phrase to grab on to and is probably the most familiar and accessible for most people.

Where I get stuck is my own understanding of the term, one which I think is also shared by people who work at film archives. Which is, namely, the actual preserving of a motion picture element – either photochemically or, in some cases where it’s considered an acceptable equivalent, digitally. The copying of an original vintage film element to another newer and more stable element or medium, so that it can be accessed and used for either restoration and/or exhibition or distribution.

That second half of that statement is where What I Do comes in. Accessing an archival element and helping get it out to fans either on disc (Blu-ray or DVD) or in a theatrical format (DCP) does feel like it’s some form of preservation. Even though I’m not technically, actually, preserving any film. I often talk about the concept of Audience Preservation, especially when it comes to presenting silent film shows for students and kids/families. But “Audience Preservationist” sounds more like it’s about the people who come to the shows and who buy Blu-rays to watch at home as opposed to the Blu-rays and the production thereof.

My making films available for theatrical screenings is about exhibition. In the silent era, movie theater owners were actually referred to as Exhibitors. There were exhibitor trade journals, there were annual national and regional exhibitors’ conventions. But , referring to myself as a “film exhibitionist” doesn’t quite sound right.

I’m indebted to the work of film preservationists past and present, and that of the work to come that will be done by graduates of film preservation programs like the ones at NYU and the George Eastman Museum. It’s that part between film preservation and watching that film in your home or at an art-house that’s what I’m involved with.

But what the heck do you call that? How do you label that in an easily recognizable term that’s just a couple words? It’s a head-scratcher, and maybe there isn’t a better term than “film preservationist”. And so, it may just be what gets used for the time being. Just keep in mind that in producing a film or films for Blu-ray release, I haven’t actually preserved any film.

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