Incredible Story Behind the Restoration of the Landmark Indian Films 'The Apu Trilogy'

Apu Trilogy
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.

In this fantastic Academy Originals video, we get a look behind the scenes at the painstaking process of restoring the trilogy:

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.     

Your Comment

7 Comments

I love hearing about classic films of historical significance being restored or saved for future generations. I can't wait to watch these films.

December 22, 2015 at 11:17AM, Edited December 22, 11:17AM

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Sean Pettis
Director/DP
703

But where did they get those parts from which were destroyed in the fire???

December 22, 2015 at 1:48PM, Edited December 22, 1:48PM

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DingDong
2308

It was my understanding, that the original negatives were severely damaged, but there were some second-generation prints available.

December 23, 2015 at 5:49AM, Edited December 23, 5:49AM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1643

Wow, can't wait to see the new collection !

December 22, 2015 at 1:59PM

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Martin Flament
Director of Photography
163

@mariano von trani

usually, you can rely on various kind of sources.
The original camera negative is the first choice quality-wise, that´s why they got back to it, though being damaged by the fire.

Then you move down the line, going through inter negatives, prints, or whatever you can get your hands on and decide, which scenes you´re gonna use from which kind of material.

December 22, 2015 at 2:20PM, Edited December 22, 2:23PM

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I'm so thankful I was able to see this restoration on the big screen, in 4k no less.

December 22, 2015 at 3:23PM

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Kory Gasser
Filmmaker
251

For me the Apu trilogy is there with Citizen Kane as a masterpiece of cinema. Wonder why the lists of best of movies do not reflect this choice?

December 24, 2015 at 1:46PM

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