23rd Oct 2017

CIFF is privileged to be presenting the World Premiere of a brand new restoration of Pat Jackson’s first feature, WESTERN APPROACHES (1944), beautifully filmed in Technicolor by one of Britain’s great cameramen, Jack Cardiff.

David Walsh from the Imperial War Museum, London, describes the restoration process as follows:

The original nitrate masters of this film were deposited with IWM in the 1970s. The original Technicolor process employed a highly complex camera which captured the images on three separate reels of black and white film simultaneously, one for each primary colour red, green and blue.

The digital restoration of the picture was carried out at 2K resolution by Dragon Digital in the UK by scanning the original camera negatives of each of the 9 reels of the film, a total of 27 reels in all. In principle, recreating the original colours is simply a matter of applying the correct colour to each scanned reel and digitally overlaying these to create a full colour image. In practice however, due to imprecisions in the original technology and subsequent shrinkage of the nitrate film, each shot has to be carefully registered across the entire image, something which requires specialised de-warping software. Otherwise, the originals were in excellent condition and very little additional restoration work was required.

The film was primarily shot on location in the most difficult of conditions, and so the colour balance of the original photography changes greatly from scene to scene. This problem is particularly acute in shots that were filmed using an inferior technology known as ‘monopack’ (which used a colour reversal film stock) – this was due to the restrictions on carrying the full Technicolor equipment on an Atlantic convoy. In the original Technicolor prints, these colour variations were evened out by very careful grading in order to remove any distracting discontinuities in the look of the film; fortunately IWM has a very fine nitrate print made in 1944 which we were able to screen for the colourist from Dragon so that she could recreate the look of the original as far as possible.

It is fair to say that the limitations of the original technology meant that although Technicolor prints had very fine colours, they were not able to reveal the full level of detail held in the original camera negatives. Digital scanning of these originals results in beautifully defined images, which, although they may not authentically reproduce the slightly diffuse look of the 1944 print, none-the-less are a faithful rendition of the remarkable level of detail captured in the original photography.

The soundtrack was captured for us from the nitrate optical track masters by the BFI National Film Archive using a system which takes a highly detailed digital image of the track, and then uses software to convert this into a sound file.

David Walsh

IWM 2017