Film Restoration of Soviet and Nazi Propaganda Films using Snell's Archangel

Film Restoration of Soviet and Nazi Propaganda Films using Snell's Archangel
Stukas, Aircrew Dora (Besatzung Dora), Ukraine in Flames, The Battle of Sevastopol, A Day of War and Defeat of the German Forces Near Moscow and the British documentary March to Aldermaston. International Historic Films Restoration work in the news.

POST Magazine December 2012
By Christine Bunish

Film Restoration of Soviet and Nazi Propaganda Films using Snell's Archangel...As a film archive specializing in the military, political and social history of the 20th Century, Chicago-based International Historic Films ( finds itself "pretty much restoring everything" that comes in for licensing or theatrical exhibition at art houses, says president Peter Bernotas.

"Until recently, we restricted restoration with software methods like Revival to the more important titles, and we outsourced that work. Then we discovered Snell's Archangel late last year, and since we implemented it in-house in April we've done 14 films, including the Soviet wartime documentaries Ukraine in Flames, The Battle of Sevastopol and Defeat of the German Forces near Moscow , the Nazi propaganda film Stukas and the (1959) documentary March to Aldermaston about the first anti-nuclear protest in Britain."

Bernotas reminds us that "dealing with rare historical documentaries and features we never get ideal elements, we have to work with whatever's available, including banged up release prints" and original nitrate elements.

"We were looking for something that worked in realtime so we could tell in a matter of minutes if it was effective or not. It speeds production, and we can use it to different levels, running it at the auto level as a dirt remover and giving more attention and time to issues at the higher end."

He hails the tool's performance on the big three restoration issues his films require: scratch and dirt removal, and image stabilization. "It does scratch removal on the base or emulsion side - something we used wetgate systems on before. It gets rid of 80-90 percent of dirt on an auto level, and allows us to perform image stabilization in realtime: films often shrink 1-2 percent over time and a shaky image can actually make viewers sick."

Bernotas is also a fan of Izotope RX for audio restoration. "It beats every former system we had and makes everything else unnecessary," he says. "It's similar to Archangel in terms of being a good tool for film people to master. It has a very graphical interface, a very clear spectographic display."

Izotope proved itself on the rare, uncut Nazi propaganda film Aircrew Dora, which had never been seen in the West. "The audio had terrible perf buzz on it, a machine-gun rattling sound. It was a difficult noise to remove with conventional tools; I sent samples to a few audio technicians. But we found we could use an aggressive level of Izotope filtering on it and get rid of 95 percent of the perf buzz."

Izotope also was put to work on March to Aldermaston, which was narrated by Richard Burton. "It just had a bad inherent soundtrack," says Bernotas, "with artifacts of noise gain, mostly during the narration, which was difficult to isolate. "The client applied a telecine transfer with different focal lengths of the exciter and we applied Izotope" and the documentary was greatly improved.

The picture quality of Russian wartime docs suffers from "typical age issues," he reports, including image inconsistency since footage for a single doc was often captured from an array of sources. "We're working on A Day of War, a documentary for which the Russians sent out 240 cameramen, at 140 'filming points' scattered throughout the Soviet Union to capture the action on a specific day on the Eastern Front. Those 140 reels of film were edited in a wartime post production process complete with fingerprints on the footage. There were scratches, dirt and grain differences. So we asked ourselves do we restore it completely to make it all look alike or do we let it go? We decided we wanted viewers to see the variations. We used our restoration tools to maintain the integrity of the original."

Link to full restoration article in POST Magazine
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