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Serge Bromberg and Lobster Films: Bringing Lost Cinema Back to Life

The former Annecy Festival artistic director loves movies, even when they are in pieces, and his passion for saving vintage films, and touring the world playing piano as they’re screened for live audiences, continues to grow, as does his restoration team and the importance of their work.

Many of you in the animation world know Serge Bromberg, the former Artistic Director of the Annecy International Animation Festival. He left the festival several years ago to devote full time to Lobster Films, which he founded in 1985, and has grown in scope from a solo passion project to a team of 25 people who restore vintage films.

Serge also indulges one of his other passions, traveling the world performing improvised piano music to accompany the silent film screenings, helping audiences experience these incredibly rare movies in the same manner as when they were originally screened.

I visited Lobster Films recently in Paris with my husband Nik and sat down with Serge to talk about his love of cinema, which extends beyond animation to film in all its forms. We began our conversation with Serge telling us, “I’m not interested in restoring films, I’m interested in showing films and sharing films. Today you cannot share films that you’ve downloaded and, in a way, if nobody preserves the films, then they will not be available for showing in theaters.”

“So, let’s say that the starting point is my passion for showing and sharing and finding films,” he continues. “The way to get there is before we show the films, to restore them, so it went naturally… it’s like your mechanic who likes to drive cars. He’s a mechanic because that’s a way he makes money, and he fixes his car so that he can drive it.”

He went on to tell us that from the age of 10 he has always loved classic films. He considers himself a “cinevore.” “I don’t have a specific genre and I like to know everything there is to know about the classic films.”

“When I was ten my father brought home a super 8 projector and the print of a 1915 film, A Night in The Show, which was an Essenay (Studio) comedy with (Charlie) Chaplin,” he adds. “I saw that film and my destiny was struck.”

Speaking of his time as Artistic Director at Annecy he says, “When I started at Annecy, I was not a specialist in animation at all, but (now) I have seen so much animation that at the end of the day I have seen more animation than most people who said they are specialists in animation.”

He notes, “So, it was just me coming with my background and my passions, also not being obsessed by this genre or any other genres, and being ready for more discoveries, openings, and meeting new people. You know, cinema is just an excuse to meet people. It’s really an excuse. It is!  So, at the end of the day, you remember the lunch you had with this director or this friend or this girlfriend. You forget that film you just saw, but you remember the moments you share… cinema is an achievement, but at the end of the day it’s all about sharing film experience.”

Nik comments, “Which is why the streaming thing is not the real thing,” to which Serge answers, “You stream more and more because you miss something and you don’t know what it is, and at the end of the day you still have an empty feeling because you’re by yourself and you want more.”

On the topic of film restoration, Serge tells us, “I always wanted to show Nosferatu theatrically. There is one version that is owned by the National Archives d’film, but we wanted to do our own restoration that we can show whenever we want, so we are working on that.”

According to Serge, “When we find a film, we scan it so that we can have a digital file of what it is that will be immediately available; I generally scan in 2K. When we do a restoration, we may have two, three, four or five different elements and we will scan them all on the same machine. So, we will take what is the best element and we can do a diagnosis for every shot. Then we may do a better scan at some point if needed. The secret of a good restoration is to start with the best transfer of the best material.”

“If you find good material, but you blow the transfer, it is useless,” he continues. “If you make a wonderful transfer of a shitty element, then it makes no sense either. So, you need expertise for everything that you find. Sometimes, as for the Charlie Chaplin films, there are so many prints around the world that we spend months capturing, frame by frame, on the same film just to know which is the best.”

Serge goes on to point out, “Along with our scanner here we actually have a subsidiary in Burbank (California) where we have three more scanners of even higher quality level than the one we have here.”

On our tour of the studio, we visited the restoration department. Serge explains that the room is dark because it is better to see all the details in the dark. “Here you have a series of frames, and the system basically compares every single frame with the one before and the one after. It identifies when there are spots and problems that need to be cleaned up.”

He adds, “The next step is stabilization, grading, reconstruction. At the end of the day, you have an original, fine grained from the camera negative, but then the next shot is film from a different camera, with a different frame and it isn’t as crisp. It is two generations down but once it is graded it will be better. We can spend maybe 20 or 30 weeks on a film. Some films are really sparkling nice. Some others are in terrible shape. Some films in terrible condition can be done fast because software reacts well to them. When the original film is in perfect condition you see many minor defects that you become obsessed with and spend even more time on.”

In 1998 Lobster Films was the first company to restore sound in films. Since its beginning Lobster Films has produced programs and films for cinema, television, and companies. In 2010 their feature film L’Enfer by Henri-Georges Clouzot won a César. The studio has four editing units, a recording studio, two mixing studios, a screening room and an ultra-highspeed link. They also have an online catalogue with hundreds of titles on their website.

Their beautiful location in Paris’ 11th arrondissement is home to nearly 50,000 rare movies on more than 210,000 reels of film. Along with their César, Serge and his team have won numerous international awards for their contributions to the world of cinema.

Find out more about Lobster Films, the services that they offer, and their vast catalogue of films at