Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and Apur Sansar, all directed by Satyajit Ray, are some of the greatest Indian films of all time.
The films, known as The Apu Trilogy, have been painstakingly restored after a fire at a lab in London nearly destroyed all of the negatives. Ironically, this happened while these films were in the process of being restored by The Academy. Back in 1992, producers for an Oscars show were putting together a tribute for Ray, but found the original negatives of the trilogy were in bad shape, and started the process of bringing them back to their original glory. Unfortunately, the fire derailed their efforts for 20 years until a partnership with Criterion Collection and the Italian film restoration lab L’Immagine Ritrovata managed to breathe life back into these incredible films.
Though newer film stocks are far better at resisting fading, this hasn’t always been the case. Film is prone to fading over time, and negatives that aren’t stored properly exhibit all sorts of artifacts (and they can fade even when they are stored properly). With newer scanning technology, we’re able to get the absolute maximum resolution out of even the most damaged negatives — but that’s just the beginning. It takes incredible skill and attention to detail to restore a film, especially one that’s been damaged as badly as these.
The most impressive part in all of this is the human element. There is a fair amount that software is able to correct automatically, but beyond little scratches and dust, a ton of work must be done to restore the thousands and thousands of frames that make up a film. The technique is one part, but there is quite a bit of artistry that comes into play, especially when the creator of a film can’t be involved in the restoration for one reason or another. Deciding how clean and pristine the image should be is a big part of the restoration, though as they say in the video, these films likely look better now than they ever have.
You can get all three films right now from Criterion Collection.