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Traveling overseas with film: carry on luggage or postage?


Maxim Lequeux
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Next year I will be shooting in New Zealand on 16mm, and am currently wondering how I can best get my material back to Europe (as I can't get it developed in NZ, no labs).

I can get the raw film sent directly from Kodak to NZ, so no problem there, but I need to sort out how to get it back - without it getting damaged by x-rays or similar problems.

I flew once before (EU-NZ) with film in both directions and you can see it on the material, it's ok, just some weird red pulsing, but I would be keen to avoid any damage. The previous shoot was with 50D, and now I'm planning on shooting with 250D, which probably makes a difference x-ray wise?

My current 2 options as I see it are 

- shipping it directly to the lab from NZ (to Germany) with some super safe option (DHL or FedEx?), but then I'm not sure if customs would be a problem?

- taking it on the plane with me and hoping that I am lucky enough that they will inspect it by hand.

Does anyone have any experience / tips? (student film btw)

Many thanks, Max

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Hand luggage is your best option. 250D should be safe to go through X-ray but you can always ask the security staff not to put it through the machine. If they tell you that it is safe to x-ray up to ASA 800, tell them that it is Cine film. That always works for me. 

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Ive gotten fresh film shipped to the USA from frame 24 in the UK before via DHL and never had any signs of x ray exposure or damage. Unfortunately I've never tried to travel with or ship exposed film from one nation to another, but it might be worth seeing if there is public info and/or a contact for NZ's airport security to find out if they even know what to do with motion picture film anymore. You could probably also contact DHL to see how they handle stuff clearly labled as exposed film (I'd ask it that way, not "do you xray packages going out of NZ?" Asking that way might not go over great)

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In 2018 when I last checked there were two labs running in NZ, but neither were normal commercial labs.

Archives NZ don't advertise their services, but they may be obliged to help if asked nicely. You would need to telephone and find the right person.  64 4 499 5595.  I can't easily find my notes. The website is easy to find but I don't think you will find a lab contact there. My emails only got an auto reply.  

Ian Powell is (was in 2018) a cameraman in Auckland with a passion for film. He had B&W and colour machines running and was importing another machine. He didn't have a regular commercial lab but as long as he still runs the machines he may help.  http://reversalcine.com/

phone and email are there.  I'd try phone.

Good luck.

 

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Thanks for the replies.

4 hours ago, Gregg MacPherson said:

In 2018 when I last checked there were two labs running in NZ, but neither were normal commercial labs.

I got in touch with both Ian and the Archives, neither can help unfortunately. Ian is currently not able to do ECN2 for 16mm, and Archives NZ told me that they aren't offering any outside development: "I'm afraid the Film Preservation Laboratory is not providing services for rushes/dailies processing as it has a specialised set-up for preservation copying only." Maybe I can try again when I'm in NZ and call, it would be the best outcome to get it done in a place like that. 

 

13 hours ago, Heikki Repo said:

Just make sure they don't use new CT scanners for hand luggage at the airport. That'll damage even low speed film.

This is what I'm afraid of, I would like to try take it with me, but goodwill with airport security seems like a gamble, especially with 20+ rolls (100ft).

 

I'm thinking shipping might be my best bet, with some guarantee from DHL or the like. Maybe to a lab in Australia for the development and then onwards to EU to keep the shipping as short as possible before development?

On that note, any tips for development in Australia? A cursory google search shows Neglab and Rewind Photo Lab. I don't know much about the Australasian analog film scene, but in Germany the last big lab (Andec) offers student discounts.

 

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3 minutes ago, Maxim Lequeux said:

This is what I'm afraid of, I would like to try take it with me, but goodwill with airport security seems like a gamble, especially with 20+ rolls (100ft).

Never had a problem with airport security anywhere, they have always been helpful when I explained what the potential problems are. Btw, last month I forgot to take out two cans of 400 ft 250D 35mm film out of my carry-on bag and it went through a scanner in Germany. Once developed, I could detect no issues. It wasn't a CT scanner, though. There aren't that many airports that use them.

Also, you may want to get in touch with Kodak and ask for their advice.

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Just now, Uli Meyer said:

Never had a problem with airport security anywhere, they have always been helpful when I explained what the potential problems are. Btw, last month I forgot to take out two cans of 400 ft 250D 35mm film out of my carry-on bag and it went through a scanner in Germany. Once developed, I could detect no issues. It wasn't a CT scanner, though. There aren't that many airports that use them.

Also, you may want to get in touch with Kodak and ask for their advice.

It would be good if we had a list of the airports using latest CT scanners, so it would be possible to plan trips differently.

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I’ve done two 16mm jobs overseas and when production asked camera crew to fly back with the shot stock we all pretty firmly put our foot down and opted for them to ship it, there were just too many failure points in the chain and we didn’t want to have to carry it on like a briefcase handcuffed to the president. No issues with shipping and while I’m sure both work I just see less apparent problems with shipping vs airport security, also it’s getting dicier and dicier asking for hand checks as airport security seems to be going down in quality rather than up, best of luck in whatever you pick.

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7 hours ago, Maxim Lequeux said:

"I'm afraid the Film Preservation Laboratory is not providing services for rushes/dailies processing as it has a specialised set-up for preservation copying only." Maybe I can try again when I'm in NZ and call, it would be the best outcome to get it done in a place like that. 

I think duplication stocks are ECP process, so it's quite possible they don't have an ECN line at all. But if they hadn't, you'd think they'd just say so outright.

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Years ago in airports I always used those special lead bags for films.  Then someone remarked that the X-ray operator probably turned up the dose to see what's inside !  I don't know if that was true or not.  I wonder if they could be a help against CT scanners, or the normal ones,  potentially damaging movie films after a few doses.

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On 11/4/2022 at 9:41 PM, Maxim Lequeux said:

 

On that note, any tips for development in Australia? A cursory google search shows Neglab and Rewind Photo Lab. I don't know much about the Australasian analog film scene, but in Germany the last big lab (Andec) offers student discounts.

 

Hi Maxim - I'm one of the few film shooters here in New Zealand. I send most of my projects to Neglab in Sydney via DHL and have never had a problem. Werner at Neglab does a very good job of processing. I usually get him to forward the negs on to Memorylab in Melbourne  for scanning. Memorylab is really good and affordable. 

I recently flew from Auckland to LA with about 6x rolls of exposed 16mm and managed to avoid the airports scanners, but it did seem like I got lucky with security staff - it's a bit of a risk. 

Enjoy Aotearoa, 

Ezra 

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11 hours ago, Ezra Simons said:

Hi Maxim - I'm one of the few film shooters here in New Zealand. I send most of my projects to Neglab in Sydney via DHL and have never had a problem. Werner at Neglab does a very good job of processing. I usually get him to forward the negs on to Memorylab in Melbourne  for scanning. Memorylab is really good and affordable. 

I recently flew from Auckland to LA with about 6x rolls of exposed 16mm and managed to avoid the airports scanners, but it did seem like I got lucky with security staff - it's a bit of a risk. 

Enjoy Aotearoa, 

Thanks for the info Ezra, Neglab sounds like a good option, I'll get in touch with them. I'm looking forward it, haven't been home since before the pandemic!

I just got a reply from the Civil Aviation Authority NZ, I asked if I could get the rolls hand inspected, (as recommended by Kodak: If it is unavoidable that film is carried, passengers should contact the airport in advance to request hand-inspectionwith reference to Kodak's guidelines, and the short answer is no. So if I managed to convince someone at airport security then it would be them going against their guidelines, which doesn't give me much hope...

---

Answer from CAA: 

We can advise the Aviation Security Service in New Zealand does not provide the option of hand inspection of film material due to the risk associated with items not being X-rayed. Any unprocessed film presented in hand luggage [carry-on] will be subject to screening by X-ray.  X-ray is an effective security measure to identify threats to civil aviation and provides the additional benefit of deterring persons from using passenger aircraft for other criminal activities.

We accept there are risks that any unprocessed photographic film may be damaged by our X-ray equipment and we are aware of the recent advice provided by Kodak that your referenced.  However, due to the risks of not X-raying items we  recommend passengers follow Kodak’s advice of 2003 to photographers to take steps to prevent their unprocessed film from being damaged.    Please refer to Kodak’s Technical Information Bulletin – Baggage X-ray Scanning effects on Film recommends:

• Having film processed locally before passing through airport security.  Photographers can purchase unprocessed film after they arrive at their destination.

• Using lead lined bags to reduce potential harm.

• Using shipping carriers that do not use x-ray.

---

So a kind of generic reply I guess, and maybe the airport security staff on the day could be convinced otherwise, but that feels like a big maybe...

Odd that they would recommend using lead line bags, I would have imagined them just increasing the power of the x-ray to see through it, I mean, if they need to see what's in the bag then why recommend a method of preventing them from doing that?

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On 11/3/2022 at 7:18 AM, Maxim Lequeux said:

Next year I will be shooting in New Zealand on 16mm, and am currently wondering how I can best get my material back to Europe (as I can't get it developed in NZ, no labs).

I can get the raw film sent directly from Kodak to NZ, so no problem there, but I need to sort out how to get it back - without it getting damaged by x-rays or similar problems.

I flew once before (EU-NZ) with film in both directions and you can see it on the material, it's ok, just some weird red pulsing, but I would be keen to avoid any damage. The previous shoot was with 50D, and now I'm planning on shooting with 250D, which probably makes a difference x-ray wise?

My current 2 options as I see it are 

- shipping it directly to the lab from NZ (to Germany) with some super safe option (DHL or FedEx?), but then I'm not sure if customs would be a problem?

- taking it on the plane with me and hoping that I am lucky enough that they will inspect it by hand.

Does anyone have any experience / tips? (student film btw)

Many thanks, Max

 

The photographers at the Large Format Forum are always traveling with big sheet film. You should query them. Still, with the ways things are going, it may be a crapshoot as regs and rules change quickly. 

Good luck!

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@Maxim Lequeux DHL actually has this special film service that garanties that the shipments won't be X-Rayed. We contacted them for a shoot that we had in SE Asia and the quote they gave us was nearly the same price as a normal person flying back and forth between SE Asia and Europe. 

But I guess if the production does have the money for it, this would be the safest bet. 

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On 11/4/2022 at 9:41 PM, Maxim Lequeux said:

...I got in touch with both Ian and the Archives, neither can help unfortunately. Ian is currently not able to do ECN2 for 16mm, and Archives NZ told me that they aren't offering any outside development: "I'm afraid the Film Preservation Laboratory is not providing services for rushes/dailies processing as it has a specialised set-up for preservation copying only.".....

... 20+ rolls (100ft).......

......Maybe to a lab in Australia for the development.....

Sounds like Neglab in Aussi may be the best idea.

Re the response from Archives NZ. Based on my phone call (2018) they won't want to process small increments of dailies, but they might batch process. But 20x400' rolls vs 20x100' rolls..? The 100' rolls are 4x less attractive when they are looking for excuses not to take the job. The 16 vs 35mm may be another hurdle. Did they say how often they were currently processing 16mm? Any other issues, perhaps intrinsic to the chemistry, the film stock...?

What machines/format was Ian running...?

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On 12/20/2022 at 10:23 PM, Gregg MacPherson said:

Sounds like Neglab in Aussi may be the best idea.

Re the response from Archives NZ. Based on my phone call (2018) they won't want to process small increments of dailies, but they might batch process. But 20x400' rolls vs 20x100' rolls..? The 100' rolls are 4x less attractive when they are looking for excuses not to take the job. The 16 vs 35mm may be another hurdle. Did they say how often they were currently processing 16mm? Any other issues, perhaps intrinsic to the chemistry, the film stock...?

What machines/format was Ian running...?

Yeah I'm thinking Neglab is what I'm going to do, had a good chat with a Kodak rep in Germany, but there seems to be no definitive answer, many options with their advantages/ disadvantages. I think I'd feel more comfortable getting it processed as quick as possible.

Archives NZ gave me a very simple answer that they don't offer any development for dailies, only copying for film preservation. I guess if I had more material they might have given me a different answer. I'm still in Germany atm but I might try give them a call when I arrive in NZ, you never know...

Ian didn't tell me what his set up was, just that he could only do 16mm reversal, or 8mm neg/reversal during the time that I'd need my footage processed.

 

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We do many shipments of both exposed (inbound) and unexposed films (outbound) all over the world.

Probably over a thousand per year;  never had any problems with DHL/Fedex/TNT.

We tested the X-ray machines at the local Fedex facility and sent different boxes with 500T stock through the machine (1x, 4x, 8x). Even at 8x there was no visible or measurable fogging. Measured by densitometer and confirmed by scanning the negatives.

All the X-ray problems we have seen are always when the customer brings the stock as checked luggage, but hand luggage is not much safer. Also, x-ray exposure is cumulative, a low dose multiplied by 6 or 10 may become visible. Remember, each time you change passenger flights, a new security scan is done. On the Fedex/DHL type of shipping only one scan is done at the beginning of the journey.

You want to limit the number of sectors and shipping.

In the last two weeks and next two weeks, I have shipments of rawstock to Chile, Japan, Greece, Kosovo, and most of the EU. Contact me if you want more info.

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