The Artists’s lab for eco-friendly, DIY film processing

The Labcaf research project provides a viable substitute to hazardous chemicals and offers a model for moving larger quantities of motion picture film through non-toxic processing baths. With the recent near-universal conversion to digital filmmaking, vast areas of knowledge about non-digital (celluloid) filmmaking practices have been disappearing. This knowledge touches the historical and aesthetic underpinnings of cinema. Such an abrupt disappearance of film therefore threatens to create significant gaps in the transmission of knowledge from one generation of filmmakers to the next, cutting off younger artists and students from an appreciation of antecedent techniques and procedures, which constitute fertile ground for experimentation and reflection. A categorical rupture of this kind thus prevents emerging artists from drawing upon the know-how accumulated over previous generations and of harnessing the aesthetic possibilities and work habits proper to non-digital filmmaking.

These ways of working are in and of themselves conducive to highly productive tensions between creative freedom and structured discipline, and remain a valuable methodological foundation with crossover applications in digital filmmaking. However, with the near extinction of commercial film processing labs, the independent filmmaker faces the dangers of working with the extreme toxicity of standard film processing chemicals that pose a serious concern, which discourages many from experimenting outside of digital filmmaking.

The non-toxic method of the Labcaf allows filmmakers to set up in spaces that do not have sophisticated ventilation systems (like an artist studio). Instant coffee and washing soda are the basis for one formula, which until now has been used by a small group of enthused still photographers. The Labcaf offers a model for moving larger quantities of motion picture film through non-toxic processing baths. My research includes a working prototype for processing film (with inspiring results) and feasible alternatives to reinvigorate non-digital filmmaking.