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NZFA is Saving Frames

On Monday night at Peter Jackson’s state-of-the-art cinema at Park Road Post in Miramar, Wellington, the Hon Chris Finlayson, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, launched a fundraising campaign for the New Zealand Film Archive.

The Wellington-based Film Archive, which holds the largest collection of New Zealand’s moving image material, has run out of space for its extensive collections of film, television, and other film related items. It also holds hundreds of thousands of photographs, publications and papers providing a unique and priceless record of the history since the year 1896.

The organisation has purchased a section of land in Plimmerton, 15 minutes north of Wellington and plans to build a purpose-built storage facility in 2010.

This new building will enable the Archive to move approximately 150,000 cans, reels and cassettes of film and video out of crowded and substandard vaults and house them in conditions which operate at internationally accepted standards to ensure their preservation.

Film Archive Chief Executive Frank Stark said, “The Film Archive collection currently occupies more than 5,500 linear metres of shelf space but the problem is, all our shelves are full. We have items double-stacked or packed in boxes and we have an urgent need to relocate our precious national taonga. While we don’t want to alarm people about the film they have deposited with us, we are appealing to individuals and patrons to help us ensure we can do the best job possible in protecting New Zealand’s moving image history.”

The cost of the building and the land totals $750,000 with the Film Archive hoping to raise a large percentage of this amount from the community. As an independent charitable trust, the organisation receives funding from a range of sources including the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Film Commission and NZ on Air.

However this funding only covers operational costs and, as the collections increase daily, extra investment is needed to avert the space crisis. As a first step, the Archive has applied to a wide range of funding bodies and at the event the first significant contribution to the project was announced with a grant of $25,000 from the Stout Trust.

In his speech, the Minister spoke about the need for New Zealanders to embrace the idea for charitable giving and his commitment to fostering cultural philanthropy in this country. Changes to the tax system now mean it costs donors far less to donate and it is hoped the changes will encourage sponsorship and other forms of philanthropic giving.

The planned new facilities will provide shelf space for up to 10 years of growth. The site is also large enough to enable another vault of equal or larger size to be built later, ensuring the safety of the national moving image collection until the end of the 21st century. The earthquake risk to the collection is also reduced by storing a large portion off-site outside Wellington.

The basic environmental requirements for safe storage of black and white film and the magnetic tape used for audio and video are that temperature and humidity levels must be strictly controlled with minimum exposure to outside conditions.

The planned building will be a simple and robust open-plan vault building of around 360m2 with walls and roof constructed from a sandwich of steel and polystyrene which was originally developed for horticultural cool stores. Built on a concrete slab with thermal isolation, it will provide more than 4,000 linear metres of shelf space, enough for up to 210,000 reels of film and video.

At the event a segment of unrestored footage from Rudall Hayward’s 1940 feature film Rewi’s Last Stand, was screened to demonstrate the ravages of time on film stock. Problems facing archive conservators include chemical decomposition and physical damage from careless handling by projectionists and others. If they are not stored in climate controlled conditions, even quite recent films start to weaken and fade.

A digital transfer of film maker and artist Len Lye’s Free Radicals by Weta Digital and Park Road Post Production was also screened by Weta Visual FX Supervisor, Matthew Aitken, vividly illustrating the potential for using cutting edge technology to save and restore damaged film material.

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