End of the reel as Madrid’s last celluloid developing lab ships out

Test Deluxe Spain moves declining service to Barcelona

A Madrid Film employee checks a piece of celluloid. / SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ (EL PAÍS)

A month ago the last firm developing celluloid film in Madrid decided to close its lab and transfer the service to Barcelona — a move that leaves the hub of the Spanish movie industry without a place to produce 35mm films.

“There’s no demand, 35mm is going to become a luxury item,” says Test Deluxe Spain’s commercial director Vanessa Ruiz as she walks in front of the tables where barely four weeks ago the laboratory technicians sat. Bits of celluloid and other materials rest in the drawers, while in the cupboards the reels of some of the last films to be developed here pile up. Among them is Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited, which, despite being the director’s first digitally shot and edited feature, was also transferred onto celluloid. “Even if you shoot and edit in digital, 35mm copies are made for preservation purposes and to distribute to theaters that still project using the format,” explains the firm’s operations director, Guillermo Peña.

Preservation is one of the big issues that the industry will have to face ahead of pulling the plug on celluloid completely. The material has proved resistant over the years, but digital carries the threat of obsolescence, which endangers the movies preserved only in that way.

Preservation is one of the big issues that the industry will have to face

You would be forgiven for thinking that the lab closures are down to a lack of demand, but nothing could be further from the truth. Many filmmakers still opt to use the format, but “you see the trend is on the downturn,” says Ruiz. “Before there was work for three companies in Madrid; now it is just us, and we have just moved the developing to Barcelona. In general, the new directors opt for digital while the most veteran go for 35.”

The second-to-last company to develop its final reel of celluloid in the capital was Madrid Film in February 2012. The former digital director of this company founded in 1910, Eladio Fernández, is nostalgic but understands that times are a-changing. “Denying that there is a change is to act like an ostrich that hides its head and doesn’t want to know anything,” he says. “You have to accept it and simply modify the way we manufacture dreams.”

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