The Rescued Film Project Scrambles to Save 1,200 Rolls of Mysterious Film

Memory  /  Time Travel
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The Rescued Film Project is an online archive gallery of images captured on film between the 1930’s and late 1990’s, each one recovered from found, unprocessed rolls of film. Since film degrades over time, there’s a race on to develop as many images as possible before they’re gone. To date, founder, photographer, and film technician Levi Bettwieser has rescued over 18,000 images from all over the world.


Every image in The Rescued Film Project at some point, was special for someone.  Each frame captured reflects a moment that was intended to be remembered.  The picture was taken, the roll was finished, wound up, and for reasons we can only speculate, was never developed.  These moments never made it into photo albums, or framed neatly on walls.  We believe that these images deserve to be seen, so that the photographer’s personal experiences can be shared. Forever marking their existence in history.

–The Rescued Film Project

Visual arts blog Colossal recently highlighted an especially large – and mysterious – project Bettwieser has undertaken: processing 1,200 rolls of 1950s-era film shot by a man known only as Paul. Found film always brings its own mysteries and pathos; this batch was particularly puzzling. It came in 66 meticulously labeled bundles, each consisting of a cigar box wrapped in foil and paper, each box packed with rolls of film, each roll itself painstakingly wrapped in foil, athletic tape, and paper. It took eight volunteers six hours to unwrap only a third of the boxes.

Why shoot so much, never to look at the results? And then package the film for what seems deep storage? Affordability? Illness? Some other story yet to become clear?

Tests on some of the film showed it had already started to degrade, so the clock is ticking. Crowd-funding for the project has so far covered the costs of processing the film, with further funds being sought for scanning. Here’s Bettwieser with more detail:

The Rescued Film Project