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Scott epic restoration wins Focal award

The restored version of a silent documentary recording Captain Robert Scott's doomed 1910 expedition to the South Pole has won a coveted Focal International Award.

The restored version of a silent documentary recording Captain Robert Scott’s doomed 1910 expedition to the South Pole has won a coveted Focal International Award, writes Adrian Pennington.

The British Film Institute’s remastered version of The Great White Silence beat competition from Sony Pictures restoration of David Lean’s Bridge on the River Kwai and Fritz Lang classic Metropolis 27/10 by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung Foundation to the Best Archive Restoration or Preservation Title award at a ceremony in London last night (Wednesday).

A record of Scott’s legendary expedition was made by official photographer and cinematographer, Herbert Ponting, who re-edited it into a remarkable black and white silent feature in 1924. Ponting even filmed some sequences using models and stop-motion photography to show the various journeys of the polar teams. The final film was tinted and toned using bath colour dyes to express lighting effects.

The BFI National Archive, custodian of the expedition negatives since 1940, first had to identify the original negative pieces and early nitrate prints and then physically repair scratches and tears before scanning them on an Arriscan as a 2K digital intermediate master at Deluxe Digital London.

The conform of the scans, stabilization and colour correction was performed in Baselight with MTI Correct for clean-up work. The 2K master was used to record a colour negative for new 35mm prints, an HDCAM SR master and a DCP for a theatrical run that starts in the UK next week (May 20). The BFI commissioned Simon Fisher Turner to compose a new score for the 106-minute film for a UK Blu-ray release in June.

According to BFI film conservation manager Kieron Webb, the film’s 250 interstitles had to be digitally recreated “since where they existed in film rolls the frames were not long enough to be readable. In addition no colour print had survived, but we were able to be recreate the film’s tints and tones faithfully thanks to written colour instructions printed between certain shots.”

Hitchcock presents

The BFI’s current project is the restoration of nine surviving Alfred Hitchcock directed silent films, which he made in Britain between 1925 and 1929. The project received a $275,000 donation from Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation in January.

According to Webb the conditions of the Hitchcock films varies, with some existing only by a very slim margin. “We only have camera negatives for two of them (Blackmail and The ManxMan) and part of one other (Champagne). The others exist only as nitrate projection prints or we have to use early preservations that the archive made in the 1950s.”

However, copies of the films, which include the classic The Lodger, are still coming in from archives around the world. The BFI hopes to have all nine ready for release in 2012.