Where Is Our Vault Located?
The CFMDC Film Vault is located on the third floor of the Toronto Media Arts Centre (TMAC). Although the vault is not open to the public, every tour of the building includes a quick stop outside of the vault where you can often see our staff and interns working on inspecting films.
What Do We Have in Our Collection?
Our historic film collection contains approximately 1.5 million feet of film (around 457,000 meters)! This includes over 2000 reels of 16mm film, nearly 200 reels of 35mm, and 30 reels of Super-8, representing 1000+ titles from as early as 1955. Most of the films in our collection are prints but we also have a small number of reversal films, as well as a few negatives and other printing elements that need to be handled with additional care.
There are also 1600+ videotapes in our collection, including ¾” U-Matic, Beta SP, Digi-Beta, HDCAM, and VHS. Most festivals no longer accept videotapes for submissions but these tapes can be valuable archival objects. In 2017, CFMDC conducted a full inventory of our videotape collection and identified 500+ tapes that have not been digitized or copied to another format. We are now working toward digitizing these tapes so that we will have a more accessible format available for programmers, allowing them to preview and ultimately programme these works on their original formats.
We have two fully-equipped inspection benches where we inspect and repair the films in our collection. We have manual rewinds, tape splicers, and all of the supplies needed to make a film ready for exhibition. Most importantly, CFMDC was able to purchase a film shrinkage gauge in 2011 after a successful fundraiser. This piece of equipment allows us to monitor the shrinkage that occurs naturally in some film stocks as they age. This can be very problematic during projection and needs to be monitored closely during inspections. Even a 0.1% difference can sometimes cause major problems for a projectionist.
We also have 8 filing cabinets full of artist files relating to our members. These files include articles, essays, film programmes, correspondence, film stills, and distribution paperwork. If you’re interested in accessing these files for research purposes, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
What Do We Do in the Vault?
Our staff and interns inspect the condition of every film before sending it out for a screening. We take notes and keep track of any changes that occur over time so we know exactly when new damage occurs or when a film is beginning to degrade. We also prepare detailed projection notes so that projectionists will know what to expect with our older and more fragile films.
On top of our day-to-day inspections, we conduct a full inventory of our collection every 4 years to identify at-risk prints. Some films are not rented very often and don’t get inspected as frequently, so this helps us stay on top of their condition. We use A-D Strips (click here for more info
) from the Image Permanence Institute to test for acetate deterioration, more commonly known as “vinegar syndrome” due to the acidic vapor produced by decaying film. If the vinegar syndrome has reached a certain stage of deterioration, the affected films can actually accelerate the deterioration of nearby films by producing more acidic vapors. For that reason, heavily affected films need to be stored separately from the rest of the collection.
Archives often freeze films or keep them in “cold storage” to slow down the process of decay but unfortunately this would cause problems for us as a distributor. We sometimes need access to our collection on very short notice (we occasionally receive same-day requests!) and it would take a full day to safely move a film from freezing to room temperature for the outgoing inspection. Instead, we keep the temperature of the vault below 65°F (18°C) at all times, which is sometimes referred to as “cool storage”. This helps us slow the process of decay while also keeping the collection readily accessible for festivals and programmers.