The Lost Picture Show: Hollywood Archivists Can’t Outpace Obsolescence

Studios invested heavily in magnetic-tape storage for film archiving but now struggle to keep up with the technology

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When the renowned cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki began planning to shoot the wilderness drama The Revenant, he decided that to capture the stark, frozen beauty of a Canadian winter, he would use no artificial light, instead relying on sunlight, moonlight, and fire. He also planned to use traditional film cameras for most of the shooting, reserving digital cameras for low-light scenes. He quickly realized, though, that film “didn’t have the sensitivity to capture the scenes we were trying to shoot, especially the things we shot at dawn and dusk,” as he told an interviewer.

The digital footage, by contrast, had no noise or graininess, and the equipment held up much better in the extreme cold. The crew soon switched over to digital cameras exclusively. “I felt this was my divorce from film—finally,” Lubezki said. The film, released in December 2015, earned him an Academy Award for cinematography two months later.

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