Natalia Bianchi

Natalia Bianchi

Last updated on 9 November 2022

Natalia Bianchi is a Digitisation Technician working with time-based media in the Access Team at Imperial War Museum. She attended the FIAF Film Restoration Summer School this year with support from the DPC Career Development Fund, which is funded by DPC Supporters.

Even if film archives and cultural heritage institutions around the world are aware of the comprehensive film preservation policies that should be put in place, many analogue film collections are slowly deteriorating over the years due to a lack of resources and unfavourable climate conditions, among other reasons. In this context, thinking about strategies of mass-digitisation programmes and long-term digital preservation is therefore fundamental for future generations and the protection of the audio-visual heritage.


When archives are digitising their collections, they are shaping the future; the conversion from grain to pixel involves the creation of a new element that could potentially be the only one available in the coming years. Moreover, digitisation is also an incredible tool for rewriting, revisiting and rethinking our history and cultural identity, given access to moving images that have sometimes been overlooked in the past.


Part of this immense responsibility is to preserve not only the content of the films but also their physical nature. In this perspective, the practice of film restoration aims to generate a new copy that is closer to the one originally intended to be shown for the first time in theatres, closer to the one conceived by those who created it, closer to the one first seen by the public. The digital tools and technology that are available nowadays allow us to manipulate the image frame by frame, as never before. One can compensate the damage and deterioration that use, time and inadequate storage conditions had produced on the film, achieving a copy that reproduces the photographic qualities of an original element as closely as possible.


Thanks to a DPC Career Development Fund member self-identified grant and the support of Imperial War Museums, I was able to attend the 2022 FIAF Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF) Film Restoration Summer School edition held by L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna. This course provided the opportunity to experience the everyday work of a highly specialized laboratory, following the entire workflow of a film restoration step by step, while meeting and sharing experiences with people from other film archives all around the world. The course also served to develop a better understanding of how to restore films using photochemical and new digital technologies, thus providing me with practical ideas that could be applied in my work as a Digitisation Technician of time-based media at IWM. This ranged from the way we handle film to the technicalities to consider when digitising, to achieve an outstanding quality asset. At the same time, it was a wonderful opportunity to delve into the challenges of digital preservation practices in the field: how digital restored copies are digitally preserved, what format of delivery they use, the long-term archiving on LTO data tapes, the constant necessary migration between generations of data tapes, and the evaluation of keeping equipment to avoid technological obsolescence as part of a strategy for ensuring durability, readability and usability of digital assets.


Restoring time-based media is a complex operation that involves technical and intellectual expertise, in which ethical implications are always in play. Some of the key aspects involved in the process that I have gleaned from the L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory are:

  • Researching the film in the context of the history of moving images - understanding the technology used for capturing, the history of the material (stock, colours system, etc), but also what happened with the film during exhibition, how people perceived the film, how it looked at the time.

  • Identifying the copies available and the genealogy of the elements, to understand the quality, condition and situation of the film to be restored.

  • Evaluating and establishing a workflow according to the condition of the film to be restored, choosing the best practice, how the film is going to be treated, repaired and cleaned (if needed) and digitised.

  • Considering the public that will see the material (maybe for the first time) and looking for ways to engage and reach new audiences, thinking about the access strategy that would impact the purpose and kind of restoration.

  • Understanding what kind of restoration will be done, the methodology, what tools and technology will be used, what actions will be taken and why, and documenting every decision made and every intervention carried out.

  • Being aware of the ethical implications in every decision made.

  • Analysing the technical implications - thinking about output formats for the new digital asset and the backup, to ensure playability and durability.

  • Assessing every intervention to guarantee that no artifacts were produced in the process and the restoration is a faithful reproduction of the original.


The digital asset resulting from the restoration will always depend on the contingency of technology and resources available at the time of the practice.  Moreover, it will rely not only on the historical circumstances but also on the conjectures and subjective individual decisions made by archivists, curators and technicians involved during the restoration process. It is therefore critical for the practice to understand that the new digital asset could never replace the original version and there are yet risks of being outdated in a matter of years. Thus the importance of preserving the original element for safeguarding the nature of the film, without which no restoration would ever be possible.


It is difficult to predict how digitisation and restoration tools will evolve over the coming years. However, if the result is the closest possible to its analogue parent, is well documented, and follows the guidance and standards, then the long-term digital preservation efforts will be worthwhile, as future intervention and manipulation of the physical film may not be necessary, and resources may not be wasted. This demonstrates the importance of both a comprehensive restoration and the necessary guarantee that the resulting digital asset can be safely stored, managed, and accessed over time.


According to the FIAF Basic Principles of Digital Archiving document “in order to comply with the international best practice for the long-term management of digital assets, an archival preservation system needs to fulfil a number of important requirements”[1]. In this sense, the FIAF recognises the adoption of the OAIS (Open Archival Information System) ISO 14721:2012, as the most widely adopted model, linked to ISO 16363: Space data and information transfer System - Audit and certification of trustworthy digital repositories. This reference model as open framework underlies the principles of digital archiving, including the monitoring and updating of the preservation strategy in response of the changing environment (Preservation Planning) and the day-to-day operation of the archival system (Administration).


A survey on long-term digital storage and preservation done in 2019 by the FIAF Technical Commission to FIAF members[2], reveals that even if there isn’t an universally adopted standard for digital preservation, most of the archives surveyed use tape system for long-term conservation, consider regular migration of their LTO magnetic tape data storage and have a LTO library system. Simultaneously, they have in place an access storage that allows direct access to the assets and a Digital Asset Management software to provide public access to the collections.


As the digital rollout continues its path in film archives around the world, the hybridity between analogue and the continuously evolving digital technology obliges us to constantly review our practices. Having been able to watch the newest restored version of “Foolish Wives” during Il Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival, in a digital projection with live music alongside six thousand people, as another event in the continuous life of the 100 year-old film, was a warm and kind reminder of the reason behind this effort.



[1]    FIAF Basic Principles of Digital Archiving: (verified June 2021).

[2]    FIAF Digital Statement Part V, Survey on Long-term Digital Storage and Preservation: (published April 2019 - verified June 2021).

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