For photochemical cinema

While the film industry’s digital turn has taken place, many filmmakers continue to take the less trodden path.


The film industry’s digital turn has taken place, but the world of tomorrow is not what we expected. Many shoots still take place on film, venues persist in showing film prints, and a number of filmmakers — young filmmakers in particular — are drawn to the medium of photochemical film.

Now that it has become the norm, digital technology has lost its glamour: bookstores are popping up everywhere; vinyl has been resurrected. Films are now released simultaneously in theaters and on mobile devices. Meanwhile, like engraving and lithography in the last century, the medium of photochemical film, once used on a large scale by moving-image industries, has become a less trodden path that persists as a means of creative expression.

We are not alone in defending the path less taken. Navire Argo will play a key role in several international networks: the artist-run film labs of (), the alternative screening venues in Europe that are part of (), as well as the website (), which brings together cinematheques, festivals, cinemas, programmers, archivists, and filmmakers from around the world who work to keep film-based projection alive.  

In an industry guided by profit, where one technology stamps out the other, there is an ever-present risk that the creative possibilities and skills related to photochemical film will be lost forever.

Yet who would argue that it is illegitimate to cross the Atlantic on a sailboat simply because New York is but a short flight away from Paris? 

Perhaps this is why the image of a ship (navire) came to us… An adventure that began at a time when photochemical film was in its prime now takes a more unusual, but thus all the more vibrant turn.

A group of technician-filmmakers, we have been able to clear out a path on the margins of the industry and its tribulations. We have pieced together a technical infrastructure that we wouldn’t have dared to dream of twenty-five years ago. As the keepers of a technical and artistic know-how, we feel that this imparts an ever-growing responsibility upon us.  

Are we dreamers? Perhaps. But sometimes dreamers can have real-world effects. The cinematheque movement was driven by a few obstinate collectors working to save prints of no-longer-profitable silent films from wholesale destruction by the very industry that had produced them. 

With the scraps of the film industry and the hidden gestures of its technicians, we have built a modest yet sea-worthy vessel. We have set out towards the future of our medium. 

“We have embarked…”

This is why, at this turning point in the history of the moving image, in order to keep the panel of choices available to filmmakers and spectators from being irrevocably diminished, we think that it is crucial for Navire Argo to see the light of day.

“To keep creating with this medium”

From L’Abominable to Navire Argo —
Histoire(s) de cinéma

The artist-run film lab L’Abominable was founded in 1996 in a basement in Asnières (a suburb of Paris) by a handful of enthusiasts eager to make films outside of accepted norms and genres, by hand or with machines, taking advantage of the whole spectrum of photochemical techniques during the development and printing stages of working on film. 

Fifteen years later, at the end of 2011, L’Abominable moved into a temporary space thanks to the municipality of La Courneuve (to the north of Paris) — the town’s former central kitchen located under the Joliot-Curie school at the heart of the “4000 Ouest” neighborhood, which is currently undergoing major restructuring. 

The years from 2012 to 2017 were marked by an acceleration of the digital changeover..

The history of L’Abominable thus intersected with the history of the film industry, as most of the big labs were closing their doors one after the other: LTC (1936 – 2011), Cinédia (1977 – 2013), Arane-Gulliver (1976 – 2014), the Eclair laboratories (1907 – 2015).  

Overnight, men and women with precious knowledge and skills were discarded and made invisible. Overnight, machines that had cost hundreds of thousands of euros were thrown in the trash. Overnight, thousands of 35mm projectors were dismantled, ripped out of theaters, and dumped without a second thought. Overnight, tens of thousands of film prints were irrevocably destroyed, in complete silence. 

Meanwhile, in the old central kitchen of La Courneuve: 

We, member-filmmakers, employees and volunteers, have recuperated, repaired, and revived a large number of these film machines. We have helped them have a second, different life. We have constructed our lab, our space, our shared workshop. We have built a screening room where locals, spectators, and filmmakers meet.  

Thanks to patient and obstinate labor, dozens of films have been and continue to be completed in La Courneuve. Sometimes, these films make their way around the world. 

In 2020, the schedule of the demolition and reconstruction of the Joliot-Curie school was announced: in 2022, L’Abominable must leave the exceptional 850 m2 workspace granted to us by the town of La Courneuve almost ten years ago.

“What consoles me is to know that at any moment, somewhere in the world, no matter the hour, when it stops in Tokyo it starts again in New York, in Moscow, in Paris, in Caracas; there is always, as I was saying, that little hum, monotonous but intransigent in its monotony, and this hum is that of a projector projecting a film. Our duty is to make sure this hum never stops.”

Jean-Luc Godard

Some of the nearly 400 films ()

A handful of films made at L’Abominable over the years, events where they have been shown, awards they have won…  


by Enrico Mandirola at Toronto International Film Festival in 2007

Les champs brûlants

by Catherine Libert & Stefano Canapa, Italiana Doc Jury Prize at Torino International Film Festival in 2010


by Frédéric Tachou at Cinémathèque Française in 2011

Série des K

Experimental Competition Grand Prize at Côté Court Festival in 2004


by Elisa Ribes & Stefano Canapa at Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2017

De un vastísimo mar

a performance by Yoana Urruzola, Stefano Canapa, Josefina Rodriguez & Julien Tarride, in Montevideo, Uruguay in 2007


by Jean-Baptiste Leroux at FID Marseille it 2013

Objets trouvés

by Anne-Marie Cornu at Pompidou Center during Monter/Sampler in 2000

L’œil du cyclope

by Jen Debauche, Jury Prize at Festival des Cinémas Différents et Expérimentaux in Paris in 2015


by Victor De Las Heras & Anaïs Ibert at L’Alternativa Festival in Barcelona in 2015 

Midnight Orange

by Gautam Valluri at Exis International Film Festival in Seoul in 2019

Brûle la mer

by Nathalie Nambot & Maki Berchache at Doc Fortnight, MoMA New-York in 2015


by Mahine Rouhi at Media City International Festival in Windsor, Ontario in 2001

Los Conductos

by Camilo Restrepo, Best First-feature Length Film at Berlinale in 2020 


by Martine Rousset, at Ecrans documentaires in 2008


by Yves Pélissier at Scratch! Projection in 1999


by Lucie Leszez at PRISME#3 Festival – Argentique du futur in 2020


by Frédérique Menant, Jury Prize at Festival des Cinémas Différents et Expérimentaux in Paris in 2015


by Mahine Rouhi & Olivier Fouchard, at Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2007


an installation by La Destination at Cinéma Nova in 2000

West Point

by Laurence Rebouillon shows on TV on France 2 in 2008

No ouestern

by Les Scotcheuses at Douarnenez Film Festival 2017

A lua platz

by Jérémy Gravayat, shows on TV on Arte in 2020


by Camilo Restrepo, Silver Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival in 2016

Nulle part avant

by Emmanuel Falguières, Jury Spécial Mention at Les Ecrans Documentaires in 2018


by Nathalie Harran at Pellicula et basta !, a lab meeting in Grenoble in 2000


by Alexandre Larose à S8 Mostra de Cinema Periferico A Coruña, Spain 2022

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