Reviewed by: Sunil Chauhan

"Grain is a passionate tribute to the camera men and women eschewing digital convenience for film’s time-honoured texture."

Named after the aesthetic quality photographers are embracing in pursuit of analogue imperfections, Grain is a passionate tribute to the camera men and women eschewing digital convenience for film’s time-honoured texture.

Alex Contell and Tommaso Sacconi’s film is a triumphant addendum to the digital-analogue format wars of the past decade, a summary of how threats against film appear to have been surmounted. No longer a rescue mission, no one here suggests that analogue will return as the standard, but Grain presents plenty of evidence to suggest that heated analogue versus digital debates were worthwhile to get to this point where film can have a secure life as a viable medium, one with unique properties that digital can only emulate.

Film is emphasised as an artisanal choice in image-making, one imbued with a mysterious unpredictability, a format with its own mind, while also being one you don’t have to think so hard about, thanks to its more finite options. Analogue cameras, with their own unique characteristics, are presented as a warm refuge from the digital domain with all its cold, exacting, endless manipulation, not just for reasons of traditionalism or authenticity (though for some those are key motivators). The potential of Instagram as a place where networking and connection can happen is acknowledged but greater affection is reserved for the real-world communities that can be fostered in darkrooms as you work side by side with others in a physical space.

Featuring photographers like Bruce Gilden and Renato D’Agostin, darkroom owners surprised by the take-up, festival organisers and young students working with film for the first time, it’s the latter’s enthusiasm for the medium, free from format politics awareness, that signal something in the sheer physical properties of film will continue to convert photographers, even if it remains a niche. After all, as the film reminds, 80% of photos today are taken on mobile phones.

A partisan, romantic tribute to its chosen medium (the cost of working with film is only briefly touched on), Grain might still cause photographers raised on digital to pause for thought. It marks a newly assured stage in resistance to all-engulfing digital dominance, marking a point where photographers are freer to choose. Reassuring us that photography on film is alive and well, Contell and Sacconi’s film will be heartening viewing for all analogue heads.

Reviewed on: 20 Nov 2021
Share this with others on...
Grain packshot
Explores the stories of those committed to using physical film in the digital era.

Director: Alex Contell, Tommaso Sacconi

Year: 2021

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US, Italy, Spain, Switzerland


DOC NYC 2021

Search database: