Motion Picture Film Guidance: Emergency Preparation, Response, and Recovery

What Can I Do To Prepare For, Respond To, and Recover From An Emergency?

What can I do to prepare for a disaster?

Proper storage is the best defense against disaster. Ideally, motion picture collections should be stored in a stable environment that is cool and dry. In case of a weather emergency, where a collection is stored may be more important than the humidity and temperature settings. Archival collections should be stored so that the elements are unlikely to get in. Most importantly, if the worst happens, be sure that there is a plan in place to respond quickly. It is helpful to keep an up to date inventory of your film items, along with where they are located, and information about their current condition. This will help with identifying priorities during an emergency.

Personal collections should be stored on a climate-controlled floor, in breathable plastic containers, in an area that is not exposed to large swings in temperature. Basements and attics, the most common storage areas in homes, are more likely to experience the effects of a weather emergency. Basements flood and roofs leak. Avoid storing motion picture film in a non-climate-controlled basement or on the floor where it could be exposed to water. A damp environment may accelerate conditions such as vinegar syndrome or encourage mold growth on the film. Ideally, institutional collections would be stored in a climate-controlled vault, but realistically, most organizations will not have the resources to build film storage. Follow general guidance, and as much as possible, try to meet temperature and humidity requirements for motion picture film.

How can I salvage my damaged materials?

Above all, safety should be the first priority. Do not attempt to recover damaged materials if a structure is compromised. 

Should a disaster occur, and there is a full-service film lab nearby, follow the steps below. You will need: distilled water, plastic bags, and sponges. If possible, motion picture film on reels or cores should be delivered to a professional film lab to be rewashed and dried within 48 hours.

  • Wipe outside of film cans before opening. Film cans that are wet on the outside may contain dry film that should be separated from wet material.
  • In most cases, wet film must be kept wet until it can be rewashed
  • Wet film should be packed in a container lined with plastic bags to keep it wet for rewashing. You may add distilled water to ensure that it stays wet.

There are two important exceptions to this guidance. Previously deteriorated acetate film has a low recovery rate, so these reels should be frozen or air-dried immediately. In addition, film emulsion with mold damage is soluble in water. Dry the reels as best you can, but do not let these reels remain wet.

If there is not a professional film lab nearby or your organization is not able to perform these tasks, consider contacting a vendor that specializes in disaster recovery. If it is safe to do so, remove all unaffected items from the disaster site and relocate them to a dry, secure space.

Where can I find more information?