The Film Industry’s Conversion from Nitrate to Safety

Archivists from the British Film Institute set fire to a reel of nitrate film, and then try unsuccessfully to extinguish it. As they note in describing the commemoration of their experiment on YouTube, “if you are nearby you’re pretty much buggered, because if the fire doesn’t get you, the poisonous gases will.” That, in a nutshell, is why the film industry abandoned nitrate as soon as a cellulose acetate film base was developed that matched it for tensile strength and cost.


The Film Industry’s Conversion From Nitrate to Safety Film In the Late 1940s: A Discussion of the Reasons and Consequences


In Roger Smither and Catherine Surowiec (eds.), This Film is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film, Brussels, FIAF (2002), ISBN , 978-2-960029-60-4, pp. 202-212.


This chapter investigates the circumstances of the technical research and development which led to cellulose triacetate film base superseding nitrate in the professional film industry.  Citing evidence in hitherto overlooked files in the UK Government’s archives, I argue that the seizure of equipment and materials in Allied-occupied Germany may have been the catalyst.  If so, this suggests that the Nazis may have made more progress in the development of safety film technology than had previously been thought.


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