Until recently, The Russian Film and Video Studio Archive at Krasnogorsk – which houses one of the former Soviet Union’s most important visual history archives – was in danger of fade-out.
The archive documents the history of film in the U.S.S.R. beginning with footage of Nicholas II’s 1896 coronation. This year, Russian President Boris Yeltsin officially decreed the collection a national treasure.
While it is impossible to peg its value, sales of comparable historical documents place items such as the czar’s family albums alone in the tens of millions. Almost 51,000 of the films were on extremely unstable and dangerous nitrate stock, with upconverting a costly measure. With the support of the United States Agency for International Development and Internews (a non-profit media-support program), a restoration initiative was undertaken, but more investment was needed.
This was found in Abamedia, an American prodco out of Fort Worth, which, along with the Russian Film and Video Studio, formed The Archive Media Project.
Started last October, the massive project – cataloging and digitizing the entire collection – employs 20 archivists, historians, film editors, linguists and computer scientists. Completion time is pegged at five years. The catalogue for 1938 is finished, complete with scene descriptions and thumbnail photos.
Part of the problem is the scarcity of modern technology in the former Soviet Union. The effort required almost $1 million for new equipment and Abamedia is getting estimates for the installation of a new lab with film restoration equipment.
While the Russian government retains ownership of the archive, and the collection is open to whoever can manage the trip to Moscow, Abamedia has gained exclusive international trade-manager rights for its role in the preservation effort.
Contents of the Krasnogorsk Archive:
30,000 titles, including:
-46,536 original negatives
-31,683 duplicate positives
-51,825 working positives
-86,386 duplicate negatives
-14,655 magnetic film soundtracks
-26,754 optical soundtracks
-80,000 meters of wwi footage
-40,000 metres of Spanish Civil War footage
-20,000 metres on the Russian Royal Family, 1902-1916