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EIN HERBST IM LÄNDCHEN BÄRWALDE (1983) is one of a series of graduation documentary films made in the ‘70s and ‘80s at the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen der DDR to be affected by vinegar syndrome, and then restored and digitised in 4K+ resolution by the Konrad Wolf Film University of Babelsberg. This was made possible with funds from the Filmerbe film heritage programme financed by the German Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the German federal states, and the German Federal Film Board. In 2021/22, PHAROS—the Post Group took over the digitisation process.

In his graduation film in directing the India-born Gautam Bora compares the life of three generations of farmers in a collective farm in Brandenburg with that of farmers in his home country. Like many graduation films of the time, it was shot on colour reversal film and commissioned for East German state television. With reversal processing, in contrast with negative processing, a positive image is developed in the layers of the film. East German state television became a partner of the film school in 1969 and was one of the most important presentation platforms for students.

What remains of EIN HERBST IM LÄNDCHEN BÄRWALDE in the depository of the film school’s archive, which is connected to the library, are the reversal original and a separate magnet sound master, as well as the reversal prints that were generated from it with combined magnet sound. The extensive film records provided an insight into the original conditions of the production process, which—given the risk to the material caused by vinegar syndrome and colour fading—was of great relevance for the restoration.

After checking the colour reversal originals we were able to determine the use of two different types of film stock thanks to signatures of the manufacturers in the margins—Orwo and Agfa-Gevaert. Why was this combination used in shooting the film? Questioning to the cinematographer Marwan Salamah and other camera people who worked on films produced in similar fashion concluded that Orwo was not popular with the students. It had a restricted sensitivity and was therefore not that appropriate for use in difficult lighting conditions—in this case, for example, a film was shot outside in changing autumnal weather. Also, the contrast was considered to be too strong. Agfa-Gevaert material, with its high sensitivity, was different. It was provided by East German state television, but with strict quotas and only made available via application to students who had to justify why they needed to film certain scenes. Only about 20 percent of the film could be shot on Agfa-Gevaert.

What characteristics and contrasts in terms of colour had to be restored given the uncertainty in judging the reversal original?

From the perspective of preservation today, Orwo film is superior. The colours are considerably more stable than those of Agfa-Gevaert film, which has a pink tinge. The differences in the raw material and their preservation exacerbates the impression of the colour discrepancies when Orwo and Agfa-Gevaert are both used on one film. The differences in sensitivity are clearly visible in the grain. The greater sensitivity of Agfa-Gevaert film means there is more granularity whereas the less sensitive Orwo material has a finer grain.

What characteristics and contrasts in terms of colour had to be restored given the uncertainty in judging the reversal original? By talking to various camera people we learned that the differences in the parts shot on Orwo and Agfa-Gevaert were always visible, but were accepted because people were happy that they could shoot the difficult scenes on Agfa-Gevaert and get good results.

What matters is how these discrepancies appeared on the reversal prints produced for television broadcast and presumably also for use at festivals and in the cinema. The two reversal prints of EIN HERBST IM LÄNDCHEN BÄRWALDE were made on Orwo film and have a different colour characteristic than the reversal original. The production of prints gave a possibility to balance out the jumps in the material a little. The reversal original has so-called switch notches on the margins, a sign that when the prints were made there were changes in conditions of the copying light. Marwan Salamah wasn’t involved in the interpretation of the reversal originals when making prints. It seems more likely that corrections to the light conditions were made on the television station‘s copy machine. This raised a fundamental question: What should serve as the visual reference for the light of the digital print—the reversal originals or the prints? Despite the balancing out of the discrepancies in the colour character, the results are not necessarily convincing. They seem to be desaturated and bluish.

This raises further questions about authority over the aesthetic values of the graduation film prints, as well as about how to remain faithful to an original during restoration. The scan was made from the reversal original so that it could be replaced with a digital version in case of loss through vinegar syndrome. It could be said that to determine the digital light we decided to use the reversal print as a reference but without losing sight of the reversal original. We worked on the basis of the print without adopting the strong colour fading. It was a particularly important reference for the shots that had faded in the reversal original on Agfa-Gevaert and for the extent to which the character discrepancies between Orwo and Agfa-Gevaert were balanced out without being removed entirely.

Anke Wilkening is the project coordinator of the Filmerbe film heritage programme at the Konrad Wolf Film University of Babelsberg.
Katja Krause is the head of the university library at the Konrad Wolf Film University of Babelsberg.

Translation: Anne Thomas


Funded by:

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