There is a common misconception that with today’s advanced technology, older films can easily be restored to their former glory. This cannot be further from the truth. Karen Chan, the executive director of Asian Film Archive (AFA), a subsidiary of the National Library Board, explains that not all films can be restored, and restoration only aims to bring the film back to as close to its original state, if not better.
“There have been cases where film elements are so deteriorated by the time they arrive at AFA that there is nothing that can bring it back to its viewing condition,” shares Chan. “It breaks our hearts when we have to dispose of film that cannot be salvaged. Ultimately, the film needs to be well taken care of and preserved in the best environment possible to ensure that their condition is good enough for potential restoration.”
Her role keeps her focused on building awareness for the organisation’s efforts. Being part of a team that is passionate in its mission to preserve, restore and screen films for new audiences, Chan highlights, “Films document the history and culture of a particular society at a specific point in time as captured by the filmmaker. It provides a perspective and becomes an inspiration for future generations. If films are not preserved, the stories and memories of the country will be lost. Restoring the preserved films breathes new life into them and enables them to be accessible again for new audiences.”
One of AFA’s main objectives is to “grow the archive’s unique collection of Asian films that have not already been preserved, particularly by the home country where the film is from”. Singapore-released films such as Ring of Fury (1973) and The Teenage Textbook Movie (1998) are great examples. Chan led her team to successfully restore and screen the films to help audiences here better understand the country’s film history.