Lauren Meschter from Henninger Media Services works to digitally restore "By the People, For the People" at their studio in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Dennis Gainer)
Lauren Meschter, a colorist at Henninger Media Services, works to digitally restore “By the People, For the People” at their studio in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Dennis Gainer)

Old films can be just as critical a part of an electric cooperative’s history as original membership applications, photos, tools and legacy hardware. But making decades-old images come alive takes hard work and special skills.

“We have dozens of old films, audio tapes, and videotapes in various formats,” says Dennis Gainer, a digital producer at NRECA. “Many of these haven’t been seen or heard in years, or may have never been edited when they were first recorded.”

One that was used extensively was “By the People for the People,” the first film ever produced by NRECA. It debuted in 1955 and 16-mm prints were distributed to co-ops regularly through the late 1960s.

Gainer found a copy in an old filing cabinet at NRECA’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters in early 2017, so when Madison, South Dakota-based East River Electric Cooperative asked about a dub located in CEO Scott Moore’s office, he was familiar with it.

Color correction was needed to restore the film to its original look. (Photo by Dennis Gainer)
Color correction was needed to restore the film to its original look. (Photo by Dennis Gainer)

The NRECA copy was taken to media restoration company for possible restoration. After it was opened, examined for tears and splices and wound onto a new film core, Gainer viewed it with members of the company’s team for obvious signs of wear.

“The dyes had deteriorated and the images were red, blue, and purple,” Gainer recalls. “The sound warbled, and at times, the images fluttered.”

In less than two weeks it was scanned, the film’s colors were corrected and the optical audio track was equalized. The final product was a digital reproduction that could be shared electronically, downloaded, and copied to a hard drive or other media.

“We gave NRECA a high quality of the images produced more than 60 years ago,” says Lauren Meschter, a senior colorist at Henninger Media Services. “Film will outlast any medium out there, so people should never throw it away.”

He noted that operational viewing equipment is also getting rare.

“Films produced in the 1950s are deteriorating, so if they are historically or sentimentally important to your organization or your family they should be transferred to digital medium,” Meschter suggests. “If you are considering restoration, now is the time to do it.”

A view of the restored film at Henninger's studio. (Photo by Dennis Gainer)
A view of the restored film at Henninger’s studio. (Photo by Dennis Gainer)

Return to “Flashbacks: ‘By the People, For the People'” to watch the film.

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