REWIND DVDCompare Interview with Ross Lipman on “Film” / “Notfilm”

Ross Lipman is a filmmaker, essayist, and film restorationist. His work in restoration has helped reconstruct and preserve a large amount of titles that may have been lost over time. From acclaimed independent works such as “The Exiles” (1961), “Killer of Sheep” (1977), the early works of John Cassavetes, documentaries from Orson Welles, short films by Kenneth Anger, a great amount of cinema history can now be seen in preserved form thanks to his work at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. “Notfilm” is a documentary directed by Lipman on the restoration of the 1965 short film entitled “Film”, the only screenplay written by one of the most important writers of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett. Long thought lost, the avant garde short starring Buster Keaton has now been restored and released on Blu-ray and DVD in the United States by Milestone Films and in the United Kingdom by the British Film Institute. REWIND is honored to have this opportunity to interview Ross Lipman, conducted by James-Masaki Ryan.

Ross Lipman

JMR: First of all, thank you for your time. You’ve been part of restorations of many amazing films. How did you get into film restoration?

RL: In 1993 I moved back to the US from London and took a cross-country train journey to San Francisco, where I was then moving. On the journey I thought about the future of film, and imagined that 16mm (the format I was working in back then) would have a good ten or so years left, but I couldn’t predict much further. I recalled a place I’d heard of in London – perhaps called the Film Clinic, or the Film Hospital? – that physically treated decaying film. Extrapolating from that, I realized there would need to be an effort to save classic films at an artistic as well as clinical level. At that time I knew of Kevin Brownlow’s work, and that archives existed, but had no idea preservation was in fact an established practice. So, in a sense I “invented” it in my mind; blissfully unaware that it already existed. From there, it took a few years but I was eventually hired by the Pacific Film Archive and later by UCLA.

JMR: Brownlow’s work in restoration work is undoubtedly influential and important to the archiving of film history. The restoration of the 1927 “Napoleon” which he supervised was one of the most challenging due to the length, multiple cuts, and the famous multi-panel ending scene. As for you, what were some particularly challenging films to restore?

RL: Every film presents its own challenges.

JMR: After a film is restored, it can be screened in special events like festivals and other special presentations, which reaches an audience but in limited form. With the advent of home video, these works can reach a larger audience. How important is physical media in conjunction with film restoration?

RL: It’s a question of parlance. If one wants to use the term “restoration” for a film-originated work, it needs to go back to film, maintaining “medium integrity.” Otherwise it’s an oxymoron, because one can’t “restore” something to a state in which it never existed. The term I use when returning to film isn’t viable is “digital remastering.” Which is to say one’s translated the work to a different medium. But of course others use the word “restoration” for this; it’s quite common. In those cases I’d clarify that they’re modifying (and perhaps restoring) the image, not the medium. Both practices are valid, but it’s important to know the difference.

Samuel Beckett and Richard Seaver

JMR: ”Film”, the 1965 short which was Samuel Beckett’s only screenplay was one of those nearly mythical films that people had heard of but had not seen due to circumstances. What was your first encounter with Samuel Beckett’s “Film”?

RL: I first came across “Film” in my late teens, reading the Grove Press script long before seeing the movie. Its cryptic diagrams and self-determined structure showed an engagement with cinema that my younger self recognized as completely divorced from convention or expectations.

JMR: Heading the reconstruction and restoration of “Film”, it also led to a lengthy documentary directed by you entitled “Notfilm”. How much time and effort was invested in making the documentary?

RL: If one skips the early days of restoring FILM, but traces the early thoughts of NOTFILM to the conclusion of the DVD and web material, it was a little over 7 years.

Buster Keaton on the set of "Film"

JMR: As we are a home media website, we’d like to ask this question. What are some of your favorite DVDs and/or Blu-rays?

RL: I’d like to recommend an underappreciated and almost unknown gem called “A Century of Sound”, which is a definitive technical history of sound in cinema by the brilliant founder of UCLA Film & Television Archive’s preservation department, Robert Gitt. I believe it’s available through UCLA and perhaps Chace Audio, which is now part of Deluxe Labs.

JMR: Thank you for your time with the interview. Finally, are there any additional comments you would like to add?

RL: I’d like to thank my wonderful producers and distributors, Amy Heller and Dennis Doros of Milestone Films, who made NOTFILM possible.


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