Thursday, 24 June 2010
Some thoughts on hand-processing film
I really recommend hand-processing your films. Commercial labs are expensive, and mean that you can't intervene in the process to get effects you want or try things out. The exception to this are artist-run film labs, which I wholeheartedly love and support!
Places like L'Abominable in Paris, MIRE in Nantes, MTK in Grenoble, no.w.here lab in London, Sector 16 in Hannover, LaborBerlin in ... er... Berlin (!), WORM Filmwerkplaats in Rotterdam, LABA in Athens, Super 8 Picnic in a Hand in Vilnius. At the moment Cherry Kino is based at East Street Arts in Leeds and is trying to make a film lab! EXP24 started it up as a resource (which I was part of), but has since kind of disbanded as we've all gone on to do our own projects etc. so Cherry Kino is going to keep it running and build it up. There's film processing capacity, chemicals to use, films for sale, Super 8 and 16mm cameras to borrow, projectors, and a big 6-plate Steenbeck editing table for 16mm film. There's also a library of useful resources, and various booklets on different processing/toning techniques. Watch this space, coz the lab will be opened up to the public for one day a month starting on 13th August (and on the 2nd Friday of every month thereafter), so people can use the resources to make films!
Artist-run film labs are absolutely awesome resources where artists/filmmakers use the equipment themselves, and work on every stage of their film. It's a move away from the "service" idea of a film lab (which can sometimes be useful, sure), to a resource where the filmmaker's agency is paramount. With a lot of personal "wondermental" films, they are often made by either one person or a small group, not like big budget films, and so the roles don't tend to be neatly separated into "director" "producer" "editor" etc. I don't know what defines an "artist" as separate to a "filmmaker", but I guess I mean films made with artistry in mind, not commerce or industry.
Anyhow... process your own films! Once I've got the website up and running I can put resources on it to show you how to do it. Depending on how many different film stocks you use, it can be a little perplexing to get your head around the different processes, but start simply by getting to grips with one film stock, learn its process, and the rest will follow.
Strangely enough, with Super 8, processing colour reversal film (this means film that is projectable when it's done - not a colour neg) is easier than processing b/w reversal film! You just need to heat the chemistry up to roundabout the right temperature. Professional labs would have you believe that it is an absolutely exact science, but this is more if you're after an absolutely pristinely correct image. My guess is, if you're using Super 8, you like it for its quirks, its grain, its dream-like beauty, and all of these things can be enhanced by the freedom which hand processing gives you. Don't be put off by things that tell you "you MUST have the temperature to this precise degree" or "you MUST process 64T in E6 chemistry" (try C41, like I suggest in my earlier post, for example). There are some hard and fasts, for sure, but the process of image making is way more open than we are told by "professionals"! And it is the exploration of these beautiful, solarised vistas that will help you find some truly magical visions.
I like to think of developing film as a "revelation" - the latin-derived term for film developer is (in french) "revelateur", meaning "revealer" - I like it better than "developer" or "processor". Somehow, this term suggests the film itself has some agency, and can surprise you, and that the chemicals don't just act on the film in a predetermined way but they are like an aid to revealing something magical which lies not just in the chemicals and not just in the film, but in the synergy that comes from their combination with your own vision, pleasurable union and circumstance. Even though I've never given birth, processing film is a bit like that! You conceive the film, you "labour" (ie the term "lab" work), and you "reveal" it when it's born. And it's part of you, but has an essence that comes from the synergy of - chemicals, material (film), vision, pleasurable union and circumstance!
Ah, that was quite a long post!
I'm so utterly thrilled by film, it speaks to me so strongly. I really like the idea that film isn't a "language". That term just limits it. Nor is it a "visual medium" but it is a "temporal" one. Film is rooted in time. And rhythms. I am in love with it!