The state government is aiming to become self-sufficient in preserving film heritage. A week-long film preservation and restoration workshop, to be held from Thursday in collaboration with Kolkata International Film Festival, will be a step in this direction.
“We will train the staff of the West Bengal film archive. The state government has massive digitisation plans. Five officials are among the 60 students who have enrolled,” said Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder of Film Heritage Foundation, which is conducting the workshop.
How to digitise, repair celluloid, do paper and photograph conservation, scan films — the students will learn it all. A lot of equipment, including the world’s best Arri scanner, have been flown over, said Dungarpur, whose foundation maintains the collections of Mani Ratnam, Vishal Bharadwaj and Shyam Benegal.
Said Vivek Kumar, principal secretary of the information and cultural affairs department: “We intend to have a world-class laboratory for preservation, restoration and digitisation. Once we have trained people, we will set that up. Now, we only have a vault where we store films of the masters of Bengal.”
The vault is housed in the Cinema Centenary Building in Tollygunge, which preserves the 32 feature films produced by the West Bengal Film Development Corporation, including Pather Panchali, in temperature and humidity-controlled environment. There are also 119 digital cassettes and 967 short films and documentaries.
“The feature films figure in the first phase of our digital repair and restoration plan,” said Rabindranath Dash, the maintenance engineer and lab-in-charge who will attend the workshop.
The government has sanctioned Rs 21 crore for a nine-storeyed building coming up near the centenary building. An e-tender has been floated for buying technical equipment.
“Many of our films were ruined as producers lacked awareness about preservation. Most labs that used to preserve films have shut down. Even digital films need to be preserved on celluloid as the digital format has limited life,” said film-maker Goutam Ghose, a member of both the film festival committee and the government’s expert committee.
Ghose rued the loss of Hiralal Sen’s films to a fire in 1917. “Because Raja Harishchandra existed, we regard Dadasaheb Phalke as the father of Indian cinema. But it was Sen who was projecting films much earlier, in 1899. From 1905, he was making his own films like Alibaba.”
“Once the project starts, we expect private producers to offer their films to us,” Kumar said.
Construction of the government’s film lab under way in Tollygunge Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Inside the film vault at the Cinema Centenary Building. Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya