Jean-Pierre Verscheure, a film history professor at the National Institut of Performing Arts (INSAS) in Belgium, came to Ha Noi last week to help the Viet Nam National Documentary and Scientific Film Production Studio (DSF) as it works to preserve old, decomposing films.
Jean-Pierre Verscheure spoke with Culture Vulture about the project.
Why did you take part in this project?
I came here on the invitation of the Minister-President of the French speaking community in Belgium, Rudy Demotte.
In April 2013, during his official visit to Viet Nam, he came to the DSF and worked with the studio's representatives.
He visited the studio's archives and witnessed with his own eyes a collection of films being preserved in unsafe conditions.
The Minister-President decided that he would finance a trip to evaluate the status quo of the archives depot and the necessary investments to improve it. He then invited me.
I went to the DSF for the first time in August 2013. After my working trip here, I made a report on the status quo and the necessary investments, which was later sent to the studio. Based on the report, the studio built a project to improve the quality of the film storage area. The project was ratified by the Vietnamese government and part of it has been carried out.
Now I have come back to evaluate the results of the project and train the people working in the studio's archives.
What is the status quo of the documentary films owned by the DSF?
The status quo is very different than it was two years ago.
When I first came in August 2013, I saw that the temperature in Ha Noi was so high and the climate so humid that the films had strongly degraded. The situation was critical. If awareness about preserving those films hadn't improved, they would have been lost in 10 to 15 years.
Now, thanks to the studio's employees, the situation has been stabilised. They have saved 4,000 film rolls with the Viet Nam Film Institute's support.
But they have 10,000 more that need to be saved. We need a lot more time to finish the job.
What do you still need to do?
The work should be done in several phases.
First, the studio has to wash the film rolls and take out any traces of contamination.
After, those washed films rolls should be conserved in an archive depot where the temperature is only around 10oC, which can help save the film.
Therefore, the studio still has to build another floor that can house refrigerated, specialised rooms to preserve the film.
Black-and-white films and colour ones should be stored in different rooms.
In fact, I don't have a lot of experience. I am telling you the advice given to us by university experts and the results of diverse studies made by different well-known associations specialising in film research around the world. My own experiences are not much.
Before Viet Nam, did you ever work with any other country where such important films were being ruined?
No, I did not. Before coming to Viet Nam I heard about and read several documents on saving degraded films in different cinemas across the world. But it was in Viet Nam (at the DSF) that I saw for the first time with my own eyes such strongly degraded film rolls.
The first time I came to the DSF, I saw a roll of film that was totally destroyed after only three years of use. In my house in Mons in Belgium, I have collected many film rolls for 30 years and they stay intact. The temperature in Viet Nam has really affected them.
But don't be too worried. Viet Nam is not the only country facing the problem. The most important film archives institutes in the world will one day face the degradation of film due to bacteria.
I am happy to see big efforts by the studio's employees to conserve the films during the year and a half since my first trip. I am optimistic that it will turn out well. — VNS