March 4, 2000
RARE 9.5MM MOVIES MAKE COMEBACK WITH NEW U.S. FILM CLUB
Writer: Kathleen Phillips, (979) 324-4302, ka-phillips@tamu.edu
Contact: Kevin Phillips, (979) 229-8954 (mobile), kh-phillips@9-5usa.org


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Film hobbyist Kevin Phillips is adamant that movies are best watched on a screen rather than TV and that "film" and "video" are not interchangeable.

But another passion, rarely known even among those who know the difference between 16mm and 8mm, Phillips says, is a rare 9.5mm film with its sprocket holes down the middle rather than on the side and still vibrant in France, England and other European countries.

Now at least a few more Americans could learn of this traditional European film when Phillips and a handful of U.S. film fans, organize 9.5USA in Monterey, Calif., May 5-7.

"It was a matter of economy and convenience to have the 9.5mm film," said Phillips of College Station, Texas. (The film is correctly called nine-five, nine-and-a-half or nine-point-five).

In the 1920s, film companies worldwide realized that more money could be made if families could both make home movies or rent commercial movies to show at home. They scrambled to develop something easier and cheaper to use than the 35mm films shown in theaters.

In the United States, 16mm cameras and projectors were developed and eventually became the mainstay. Later, after the Great Depression made even greater economizing necessary, the 8mm format shared a bit of the at-home market. But the French company Pathe came up with a unique offering in 1922 just before Kodak introduced 16mm, Phillips explained.

"They took 35mm movie film before it was perforated on the sides and split it into three sections, each being 9.5mm," he said. "Then, rather than use up part of the picture frame by perforating the sides for the projector sprockets, they put one sprocket hole down the middle, in between each frame."

The result is that the individual frames are almost the same size, 75 percent, as a 16mm frame using 71 percent of the total film area available. This makes 9.5mm the most efficient film format, according to a Web site hosted by Cine Club 9,5, the French 9.5mm film club.

The idea caught on in Europe where some bought cameras and began making home movies. Film makers there produced prints of theatrical movies, cartoons or short educational films at first and later full features that people could rent or buy to watch at home. Subsidiaries of Pathe sprang up in England and, by 1925, in the United States. The 9.5mm format was marketed throughout Europe and even in Japan where the first non-Pathe 9.5mm camera was made, according to International Movie Making magazine. The British 9.5mm club believes that as many as 500,000 cameras were made.

But the notion failed in the United States for several reasons, Phillips believes. Kodak dominated marketing its own idea of home movies via the 16mm format. U.S. consumer attitudes at that time were largely "buy American" for their superior quality. Then the Great Depression hit in 1929 meaning little money was available to families for the luxury of any film format.

Ultimately, of course, even the 16mm cameras, films and projectors gave way in the home consumer market as new technology brought movies via video that could be watched on TV screens. But Phillips and other film fans say there is more reason than nostalgia to keep movies on 9.5mm and other formats healthy.

"The quality of film is still superior to that produced by average consumer video products. Film is not as fragile as videotape and, when properly cared for and stored, will last for decades. Motion picture film has now been around for over 100 years. Many early theatrical films were made using nitrate-based film which is highly flammable and becomes chemically unstable over time. Because of this, many of these early films have been lost in their original 35mm prints. However, some which were printed on 9.5mm 'safety film' for the home market have survived thus making 9.5mm important as a film preservation 'archive'," Phillips said.

With that in mind, Phillips and a handful of other 9.5mm film enthusiasts in the United States will lug their projectors, cameras and films to Monterey, Calif., to shoot some scenery, watch some old movies, perhaps trade equipment and techniques and, most importantly, decide how to maintain and grow interest "on this side of the big pond." They have the 9.5USA website at www.libertyship.com/pathe and may start a 9.5mm film festival and contest soon.

Phillips said 9.5USA members also hope to find ways to make the supplies more available in the United States. Cameras and projectors have not been manufactured for more than 40 years, he said, but film still is being made in Europe. Used cameras and projectors also can be found reasonably priced, he said. Two companies in France and England convert 16mm cameras, projectors, and editors to 9.5mm so providing what is essentially "new" equipment, he noted. Plans for building a film perforator in the United States are also under consideration. Such a move would provide some independence from film companies and European suppliers, he said.

"It's difficult to predict what will happen with this but what I would like is for people to get together for support, and then to interact with others and exchange ideas," he said. "Hopefully, the numbers will grow as we encourage others to learn about this unique format and what it can offer film makers."

For more information about 9.5USA or the organizational meeting, contact Phillips at kh-phillips@9-5usa.org, 979-229-8954.



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