Saskatchewan·MADE TO LAST

Small-town Sask. film processor gets photo development requests from around the world

Photos taken on film are meant to last but when they’re forgotten about and sit undeveloped, it gets trickier to recover those memories. That’s where Greg Miller, of Film Rescue International in Indian Head, Sask., steps in.

‘It’s opening time capsules for a living,’ says Film Rescue International owner

Greg Miller restores old film, often at the request of families whose loved ones have died and left behind rolls of undeveloped canisters. His company Film Rescue International has also worked with presidential libraries and celebrities. Whether the images are historical, sentimental or explicit, he says the work is always entertaining. 3:17

Made to Last is a series of profiles of Regina-area artisans who have a passion and talent for hands-on jobs creating or repairing unique, high-quality pieces that require time and personal care. These arts stand to be lost in the age of mass production and planned obsolescence.

Photos taken on film are meant to last but when they're forgotten about and sit undeveloped, especially for a long period of time, it gets trickier to recover those memories. 

That's where Greg Miller, of Film Rescue International in Indian Head, Sask., steps in.

Film Rescue International, based out of Indian Head, Sask., is one of the few businesses around the world that offers film restoration work, according to Miller. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

"It's great work. We've never got rich doing this work, but we've always been highly entertained," Miller said. 

The stories customers tell him tend to be similar: a family member died, then they go through their belongings and old rolls of undeveloped film are discovered.

Miller says Film Rescue International also offers high-quality scanning services to their customers. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Sometimes, the photos are "a bit naughty" or sexually explicit, but Miller said, for the most part, family members are excited to see them and rarely ask for those to be withheld in their final package of images. He noted the company is intensely private the images they process,  so they can't accidentally be leaked.

Film Rescue International digitizes video cassettes for customers, although Miller notes it is becoming more and more challenging to find quality VCRs to do that kind of work. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Because regular film processing labs, which are increasingly rare, don't always have the right chemicals or materials to process those rolls of undeveloped film, this business 70 kilometres east of Regina, fills that niche. 

When he started the business in 1999, Miller would get two or three phone calls a week from prospective customers. 

That changed when he was put on Kodak's referral list; he then started to receive 20 to 30 calls a day.

Miller, who worked as a movie film processor in Toronto before he purchased the old bank building at 500 Grand Ave. in Indian Head, Sask. in 1999 and launched Film Rescue International. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Miller said the company has worked with film dating as far back as the 1920s, and has done work with various law enforcement agencies, two presidential libraries, the Smithsonian Institution and for customers from around the world.

"It's opening time capsules for a living, basically," Miller said. 

"That's fun work. To this day, I love the job. I like getting up in the morning and seeing what we'll discover."

What used to be a bank vault was converted into this work space, where movie film is processed. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

In particular, Miller said he enjoys working with old, high-quality photo negatives. He said they're similar to antiques, and he likes seeing how careful people were about taking photographs because they were expensive and more difficult to make.

Miller said the company is working to future-proof his business. The company is relaunching its website soon, and it will be shining a light on the business's film scanning and archive digitization services as well as their film recovery work. 

Miller said initially he questioned the decision to move to small town Saskatchewan to start his business but has come to love life out of the big city. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

He said it's not always the most exciting work, but it's work that will keep the business alive as there becomes less and less old film to process. 

"We're always trying to innovate and do that type of work better than other people," Miller said. 

Read other pieces from the Made to Last series:

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Web Writer

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he worked in Prince Albert reporting in central and northern Saskatchewan. You can contact him at Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.

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