Behind-the-scenes on The African Queen’s restoration

Humphrey Bogart The African Queen (Image courtesy of ITV Studios Global Entertainment)

Humphrey Bogart The African Queen (Image courtesy of ITV Studios Global Entertainment)

Academy Award-winning romantic adventure, The African Queen, has been extensively restored and is back in UK cinemas from today, 4 March 2011.

Humphrey Bogart won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role as disreputable riverboat captain Charlie, who forms an unlikely alliance with Katharine Hepburn’s straight-laced Rose. Directed by John Huston and based on the novel by C.S. Forester, this wartime romantic adventure sees the pair forced to travel together down a hazardous East African river.

We spoke to Fiona Maxwell, Director of Operations at ITV Studios Global Entertainment, about the reasons for the The African Queen’s restoration and the process involved.

Park Circus: Why did The African Queen need a restoration?

Fiona Maxwell: The original three-strip negative had faded and shrunk and in some cases the colour on the master went to black and white. The existing cinema prints were suffering from registration errors that caused fringing of red and green around the figures on screen and there was a lot of degradation with dirt and scratches on the emulsion.

What restoration technique was used on The African Queen?

It was necessary to digitally scan each reel at high resolution and recombine, using computer technology to get each frame into the correct registration, remove the dirt and repair the scratches. The scanning of the original negative was carried out in London under the supervision of ITV Studios Operations team.

Warner Brothersʼ MPI in the States carried out the digital work under Paramountʼs supervision. The audio tracks also received the digital treatment with restoration by Audio Mechanics in Los Angeles. The files were then output to 2K Digital Cinema files, HD Video tape and also a new combined 35mm negative was made, combining the best of digital and photo-chemical techniques.

How long did it take to restore the film?

The campaigning to fundraise and bring the rights holders together at the right time took Fiona Maxwell, Director of Operations at ITV Studios Global Entertainment, seven years, but the actual restoration was a 12 month process once Paramount Pictures, ITV Studios and Romulus Films were all on board with the project.

Who contributed, financially and/or creatively, in restoring the film?

Financially, Romulus Films contributed to saving and preserving this film, in addition to Paramount and ITV Studios. Creatively, in addition to the in-house expertise at ITV Studiosʼ Perivale Archive and the Paramount team, were Cinesite for the UK scanning, Warnerʼs MPI for the digital picture restoration, and Audio Mechanics for the filmʼs soundtrack restoration.

What was the final restoration cost?

The total restoration, including the protection elements and distribution deliverables for Paramount, ITV Studios and Park Circus, were in excess of $650,000.

What was Angelica and Danny Huston’s involvement in the restoration of The African Queen?

Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen (Image courtesy of ITV Studios Global Entertainment)

Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen (Image courtesy of ITV Studios Global Entertainment)

I first approached Anjelica Huston over five years to ask for her support to publicise the restoration work on her fatherʼs film. Anjelica immediately agreed and was true to her word when the work was completed.

When her schedule was not able to accommodate travelling to the Cannes International Film Festival for the world premiere, Anjelica made the introduction to her brother, Danny Huston, who happily agreed to introduce the film in Cannes. He had wonderful reminisces of his father and was also very generous with his time for the press in Cannes.

Anjelica was then able to support the UK premiere by giving interviews to the UK and world press and appearing on ITVʼs This Morning to speak about the restored film, her memories of her father and working with him as an actress during her own career. Anjelica saw the restored version for the fist time at the star-studded UK premiere at the BFIʼs Southbank cinema complex.

Both Anjelica and Angela Allen, who was the script and continuity supervisor on the film, appeared on stage for a Q&A following the film, and were thrilled with what they had seen.

Who were involved in the restoration process and what were their tasks?

I oversaw and championed the project from the early years of inception, working with Barry Allen of Paramount to interview and film Jack Cardiff, the filmʼs cinematographer, and get his grading advice back in 2004. Keith Tufano, Steve Hilton and Mark Stanborough of ITV Studios Film Services team oversaw the original film inspection and elements research, as well as working with Mitch Mitchell of Cinesite, to meet the technical scanning requirements and oversee the file deliveries to the States.

Daphne Dentz of Warnerʼs MPI was the contact for the digital picture restoration work with Warnerʼs Jan Yarsborough, doing the colour grading, and Valarie McMahon, MPIʼs digital artist. John Ploito of Audio Mechanics was the engineer, who worked on the digital audio re-mastering and Paramountʼs Ron Smith was the restoration supervisor.

Did anything surprising, or particularly interesting, happen throughout the restoration process?

The main challenge was around pulling the project together financially and co- ordinating the many technical partners. Working with Paramount and Warnerʼs MPI was a great joy and we built up a great relationship over the years. When the process began, we hoped to use photochemical technology, but this was not capable of solving the problems the negatives threw up for us. During the time it took to bring the project partners together, technology had moved on and Warnerʼs were able to offer the best solution.

What was the audience reaction when the restoration premiered in Cannes?

The film received a wonderful round of applause, and it was clear that some of the audience members were watching the film for the first time. Danny was particularly moved to see his fathers work looking as fresh as the day it was shot. We were also lucky enough to have the Mason Cardiff, the son of the filmʼs British cinematographer, the late Jack Cardiff, as our guest. He too loved the film and watching it back on the big screen, as it should be seen.

Thanks to Fiona Maxwell

Watch the new trailer for the restored version of The African Queen:

Find out where The African Queen is showing in the UK.

Visit the official Park Circus website for more information on current and future releases and to see what’s showing near you.

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