The French collective of filmmakers known as L’Abominable is currently working on setting up its artist-run film lab in the former Éclair laboratory near Paris, France. The project, named Navire Argo, will include an 89-seat cinema dedicated to the use of photochemical film.
After twenty-five years of collecting and sharing laboratory tools in a non-commercial fashion, the time has come to settle down in a permanent location. For this purpose, the collective has negotiated a 35-year lease at no charge with the town of Épinay-sur-Seine, which currently owns the factory-sized Éclair site and intends to make a cultural complex out of what used to be the biggest commercial film lab in France. This rent-free, long-term lease of over 1,500 square meters is contingent on L’Abominable’s ability to finance and carry out a deep renovation of the designated building, which has been vacant since Éclair closed the site in 2015. After over a year of working on the project, the goal of raising nearly three million euros to bring Navire Argo to life is well under way, with partners that include the Centre National du Cinéma as well as public funding organisms on the regional and departmental levels. However, a large part of the sum is yet to be found, and the collective recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise €50,000 in France and another €50,000 abroad from film lovers who wish to support the project.
Along with the DIY film lab where it will be possible to process color and black-and-white S8, 16mm & 35mm and strike prints (expanding on the lab that L’Abominable has successfully operated since 1996, helping to create over 400 film works), the site will include a screening room that will regularly open for public events. This cinema will prioritize showing works made using film, including historic films as well as those deliberately made in this medium in the digital era. Of course, this will be a perfect venue to present films completed at the Navire Argo lab and by members of the wider network of artist-run labs. A second space will be dedicated to performance and installation works that might require an unconventional cinematic setup, often produced within this network.
The main cinema will be equipped with S8, pedestal 16mm, and changeover-system 35mm projectors in order to provide screening conditions at the archival level. Navire Argo has started bringing together a film print collection that will constitute the core of its programming, and the project includes a specially equipped space to preserve these prints into the future, with a maximum temperature of 15°C and a relative humidity no higher than 30%. Electricity will be provided by solar panels on the roof of the building, so that this gift to future audiences can be ecologically responsible. The team of Navire Argo is currently looking for prints from filmmakers, distributors, collectors and archives, inviting them to deposit works for preservation in exchange for the possibility to screen them here in the future.
When Navire Argo opens, its programming will be eclectic, offering the possibility to discover both contemporary works and recognized masterpieces from the past. Certainly, when a print is available, the choice at Navire Argo will always be to show the work on film (as FilmProjection21 advocates), hopefully making it a landmark place to bring the experience of analog film projection into the future.