Small-town Sask. film processor gets photo development requests from around the world
Made to Last is a series of profiles of Regina-area artisans who have a passion and talent for hands-on jobs creating or repairing unique, high-quality pieces that require time and personal care. These arts stand to be lost in the age of mass production and planned obsolescence.
Photos taken on film are meant to last but when they’re forgotten about and sit undeveloped, especially for a long period of time, it gets trickier to recover those memories.
That’s where Greg Miller, of Film Rescue International in Indian Head, Sask., steps in.
“It’s great work. We’ve never got rich doing this work, but we’ve always been highly entertained,” Miller said.
The stories customers tell him tend to be similar: a family member died, then they go through their belongings and old rolls of undeveloped film are discovered.
Sometimes, the photos are “a bit naughty” or sexually explicit, but Miller said, for the most part, family members are excited to see them and rarely ask for those to be withheld in their final package of images. He noted the company is intensely private the images they process, so they can’t accidentally be leaked.
Because regular film processing labs, which are increasingly rare, don’t always have the right chemicals or materials to process those rolls of undeveloped film, this business 70 kilometres east of Regina, fills that niche.
When he started the business in 1999, Miller would get two or three phone calls a week from prospective customers.
That changed when he was put on Kodak’s referral list; he then started to receive 20 to 30 calls a day.
Miller said the company has worked with film dating as far back as the 1920s, and has done work with various law enforcement agencies, two presidential libraries, the Smithsonian Institution and for customers from around the world.
“It’s opening time capsules for a living, basically,” Miller said.
“That’s fun work. To this day, I love the job. I like getting up in the morning and seeing what we’ll discover.”
In particular, Miller said he enjoys working with old, high-quality photo negatives. He said they’re similar to antiques, and he likes seeing how careful people were about taking photographs because they were expensive and more difficult to make.
Miller said the company is working to future-proof his business. The company is relaunching its website soon, and it will be shining a light on the business’s film scanning and archive digitization services as well as their film recovery work.
He said it’s not always the most exciting work, but it’s work that will keep the business alive as there becomes less and less old film to process.
“We’re always trying to innovate and do that type of work better than other people,” Miller said.
Read other pieces from the Made to Last series: