‘Film, the Living Record of Our Memory’ Review: How to Save the Movies

A canard of the internet age is that more movies are accessible than ever, but “Film, the Living Record of Our Memory” reminds us that our cultural heritage is ever-vanishing and requires constant care just to survive. In this multifarious introduction to motion picture preservation, a crowd of devoted professionals in the field hold up film as not just a vital art form but an essential record of humanity.

Film history is scarred with moments when nobody was minding the store, and when many in the industry were actively burning the store down. Preservationists from across the globe — including rarely represented African, Asian and Latin American archives — here walk through the delicate process of preservation. Obstacles range from epochal shifts (the dumping of silents, the worship of digital), hostile governments (the neglect of Cinemateca Brasileira that led to a fire), and the weather (humidity kills!). Images of rotting reels keep recurring in the film, like a haunting vision.

The film’s director, Inés Toharia, illustrates feats of preservation with lovely clips from obscurities and classics (like “Lawrence of Arabia,” whose sprawling prints were divvied into quarters for restoration by different work groups). Ken Loach, Wim Wenders, Jonas Mekas and Ridley Scott testify, and Martin Scorsese, mastermind of the Film Foundation, is confirmed to be a prince.

Even if you know the basics, you’ll pick something up (like Detroit’s massive industrial film output, or how Satyajit Ray’s work was restored with burned reels). For a documentary largely about archives, it should be better organized, but its breathless profusion of information underscores the scale of the task at hand.

Film, the Living Record of Our Memory
Not rated. Running time: 2 hours. In theaters.

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