Reading the Filmstrip: A workshop with Kelly Egan

Photo by Keila MacPherson.


For all you out there who are interested in learning more about film, on Saturday March 7, Trent University Professor Kelly Egan will be running a workshop titled Reading the Film Strip: Basic Techniques for Identifying and Preserving Film. This workshop is part of a series called On The Edge that has been organized by Artspace and supported by Trent’s department of Cultural Studies and Media Studies.

“We are at a point where people have old films from their grandparents or old films that they just don’t know what to do with. Part of the workshop is to help people know how to conserve these films,” explains Egan.

This will include learning how to properly store the film and how to identify what kind of film stock you may have. “Different film stock require different types of conservation,” says Egan.

Much can be learned from a strip of film. Along with the images or story the film is projecting, the actual film itself is telling its own story.

When looking at a film strip you can discover when it was made, how many times it has been projected, the condition of a film strip can tell how well the film has been stored, and so on. All of this and more will be taught at the workshop.

While there will be samples of film provided, Egan encourages anyone who wishes to attend to bring in their own film strips and discover what stores may lie within the images.
In this day and age where digital media has commandeered the television and movie industries, one might wonder why film continues to remain relevant.

“While I can recommend places for people to go to get digital copies made of their film, I wouldn’t suggest tossing the film afterwards because the digital copy is harder to preserve,” says Egan.

Why would this be? Egan has all the answers for you at the workshop. “100 years after the film has been made, even without the projector you can still hold the film up to the light and see the images.”

There is an economic aspect to film. Nowadays it is very easy for anyone to take out their phone or digital camera and make a video recoding, and we can easily take for granted this freedom to capture every single moment.

However this is not the case with film. One has to be very aware of the fact that there is only so much film, which forces the person shooting the film to be very conservative.

“There are things you can do with a film strip, with a material object that you cannot do with an ephemeral object,” says Egan.

One can collage on a film strip, colour a film strip or even write sound on a film strip, this cannot be done for instance with a DVD.

“Film is often thought of as a precious object and people are often scared to take it out of their reels. Film actually needs to breath, it needs to be unwound, it needs to be looked at in order to live. In order to read film it is just a matter of becoming comfortable with how to handle and I will show people how to handle it without damaging the film strip,” Egan says.

Egan is going to talk about how to store your film, what proper cans to use and how to recognize when those cans are in such bad condition that they may actually be detrimental to the film strip.

“Films can catch disease; they are alive. The two most common diseases are vinegar syndrome and butter syndrome. Vinegar syndrome is the most common and is easily recognizable because it smells like vinegar,” explains Egan.

An interesting aspect of film is the personal relationship that is created between the film and the person using it, and the material engagement. Unlike with digital, film allows for more room to play, film can be manipulated; in a way film is a work in and of itself.

Egan will show attendees how to identify film, how to date film and how to preserve film while learning do-it-yourself methods for preservation. She will also be teaching about how to determine the condition of a filmstrip based on the symbols, signs and structure embedded in the film. Essentially Egan will be going over the basic entry points on learning how to handle and deal with film.

Film continues, and will continue to be relevant simply because of the history that it offers, says Egan. “Film gives you a visual history of life. You can tell a lot by what people are wearing. You can tell a lot by how people are interacting. You can tell a lot about the social history, about the political environment just by looking at filmstrips. So these are very important cultural objects to maintain.”

Even if they are just your family’s, you never know what is on your filmstrip.

“Film is pretty cool, even if you don’t know anything about it, this is good way to get a basic understanding of it and to really touch it or see it if you’ve never done so before. You can learn a lot from just touching it and seeing it.”

This workshop is presented by Artspace in partnership with Gallery in the Attic, where the workshop will be held on Saturday March 7 from 1-5pm. The cost is $10 at the door or pay what you can.

About Caleigh Boyle 32 Articles
Caleigh Boyle, double major in English Lit and Cultural Studies is passionate about the arts, words—both spoken and written—and can often be found at Chapters buying more journals than she needs.