The industrially-produced and processed film that we experimental filmmakers have traditionally relied on is one of the crowning achievements of industrial science. It depends on science that ranges from the readily available and easy to grasp to the highly technical that is obscure and difficult to find, or that is proprietary and known only to the manufacturing companies themselves.

As commerce turns increasingly away from photochemical film and towards digital technologies, the major sources of financing and interest in supporting and refining photochemical film are going away. The commercial world can no longer make (a lot of) money at it, and the scientific community has been uninterested in photochemical filmmaking for decades — there aren't many great discoveries waiting to happen in this field, not the sort that might win a Nobel prize!

Thus, at the turning of the millennium, we must realize that the knowledge and forces that created and supported film for more than 100 years can no longer be taken for granted. It is vital that this information and ability not be lost but that it be brought into the public sphere: we the filmmakers must know it ourselves.

This research site represents a commitment by the Handmade Film Institute to offer a means of coordinating the dispersed energies of the global experimental film community, so that experimental filmmakers can work together to maximum effect without constantly repeating the same things. This is, in effect, an organizational platform for a twenty-first century amateur science, a replacement for the institutional organizations that are now diminishing.

Progress can be made here by virtue of our collective energies as a creative community, a nucleus where information can be collected, codified, elucidated and made available to the individual artist working on an artisanal rather than at an industrial level.

To this end, many avenues of possible research questions suggest themselves. To describe a few:

1) Revealing and elucidating things that are already known. There are many things that either have not been adequately described in public, or that have not been adequately adapted to the non-industrial scale of individual artist/filmmakers. How is emulsion made? How is a developer or fixer or bleach best used? What are the limits of using a particular film stock? Et cetera.

2) Questions that have never been asked. Photochemical film is actually a young medium, less than 120 years old. The logic that determined how it worked and how it represented was commercially motivated to follow conventional utilitarian ideas of representation. Like everyone else, artists treated it as a "black box" in just the way that George Eastman pioneered: they just pushed the button and Kodak (et al.) did the rest. But we artists have a diversity of aesthetic and social goals that were never part of either the commercial or scientific paradigms, that lead to a very different set of questions. This site is a place to ask them.

3) Ecological questions. Film as a sustainable medium? Environmental impacts have hardly been a consideration in coming up with photochemical processes. Reworking the ideas about film processes to take environmental impacts into account is something that we can do.

In the end, this site is intended to be participatory, to encourage and empower inquiry. If you'd like to participate, please register. If you'd like to join an existing research project, or would like to propose a new research project, please contact us.

All results are to be in the public domain, freely shared to all who might be interested (and participation in these projects must honor this requirement!). The knowledge is a tool to creating art: it is the art and the process of discovery itself that are the measure of our success!

Join us!

Back to About this site

Back to Film Research Community