Éléphant Classiq’s Claude Fournier explains the importance of investing in film preservation
As the Roman aphorism goes, “art is long, life is short.” While most art will in fact last longer than a human life, it will eventually decay, which only restoration can prevent. When you think of restoration, you might think of paintings or monuments, but you might not immediately think about film.
Claude Fournier, the co-director of the “Éléphant: mémoire du cinéma québécois” film restoration project, estimates a film’s lifespan to be a hundred years if properly stored. Éléphant, named in reference to an elephant’s exceptional memory, started in 2008 as a means to preserve Quebec’s cinema.
“[We began the project] when we realized that 90 per cent of all silent films, American or foreign, had been lost forever. As far as sound films go, 50 per cent of films made before 1954 have also been lost,” said Fournier. Since its launch, Éléphant has been responsible for the full restoration of over 225 Quebec films. It has also made these films accessible countrywide through Illico and iTunes—most of them had previously been impossible to find.
Éléphant is fully subsidised by Québecor, which according to Fournier has invested close to $20 million in the project since 2008. “If the Quebec government could fully grasp all the work we’re doing, they would pay for us to produce new restored film prints,” said Fournier.
Film prints are preferable because digital copies are often unreliable, he said. “Not many people in the audience know that the films they watch, which are now mostly shot digitally, are even more perishable than those shot on film stock,” said Fournier. Digital files for films are so massive that data is likely to get corrupted within five or six years, which means they have to be regularly updated.
While Éléphant started as a means to preserve Quebec films, it has since entered the international scene after being invited to the Cannes film festival’s Cannes Classic section.
It has now evolved into a film festival of its own, known by the name Éléphant Classiq. The festival will be dedicated to restored international films—the first event of its kind in Canada. “Our purpose is that, at least once a year, people can discover restored films from foreign countries on a big screen,” said Fournier.
The first edition of the festival, which opens on Nov. 19, will have francophone cinema as its theme. Next year’s theme has already been announced to be Italian cinema. Many films in the programming were made in the ‘70s or even ‘80s. “A new definition of a classic film is emerging in the industry … [They say] a film must be 20 years old,” said Fournier. After it’s reached that age, it is eligible for restoration, which it might very well require, he said.
To express the importance of film preservation, Fournier paraphrased a quote from French director Claude Lelouch, saying “no film is completely empty … Within any film, there is something valuable, even if it’s just one scene or one shot.” For that reason, Éléphant’s present goal is to restore as much of Quebec cinema as can be saved—about 800 more films.
Éléphant Classiq runs from Nov. 19 to Nov. 22. For more information, visit elephantclassiq.canoe.ca