When I first heard about The Rescued Film Project I was immediately interested in the concept. I have a single roll of film in my basement from the 1980s that has been sitting on a shelf. I pass by it occasionally and think, “I ought to get that processed.” The more time passed, the more years went by—it became symbolic to me. It stood for mystery, lost memories, my past. Still, I never processed it and I can't say exactly why.
By day, Levi Bettwieser is a freelance commercial (film) photographer and full-time video producer based in Boise, Idaho. He is the founder and film technician for Rescued Film and does all of the film processing and archiving in his home.
The Rescued Film Project began with his acquisition at auction of thirty-one rolls of film that were taken by a WWII soldier over seventy years ago. It was never developed. Levi developed all of the film, revealing images of history that would have never been seen before without his intervention.
“When I process a roll of film, I know that I am the very first person to ever see the images. They have never before had the chance to be enjoyed or remembered. They have never had that moment of appreciation. That is what the Rescued Film Project is about.”
I liken what Levi does to opening a long locked safe. You can ignore it, or you can go to the expense of having a locksmith open it. It may contain nothing, or it may contain a treasure. Perhaps Levi’s curiosity is part of his drive.
Levi’s background is in cinematography and filmmaking. About eight years ago (when he was twenty) he started pursuing work in (digital) fashion photography. But, five years later he swapped his entire platform over to film. When I asked Levi why take such a drastic step, he told me that he wanted "to do his own film processing because he could save on costs and have much more creative control.”
The Rescued Film Project started about two years ago, but it has only been public for about six months. Up until that point it was just a hobby for him and he didn't have the large volume of film coming in that he does now. The project archive currently contains over 5,000 images and he has several hundred "in a backlog” waiting to be processed. As the project gains visibility, Levi has been receiving film from people all over the world, but most of the rolls up to this point have been acquired from thrift stores, flea markets, estate sales, and camera pickers and dealers around the country.
I admire Levi for his hard work. It is noble. It is time consuming.
It is also expensive.
Little by little, roll-by-roll, frame-by-frame—Levi is saving history. Some may say that the images are insignificant in the grand scheme of things but I disagree. There is an artist at work here, and his name is Levi Bettwieser.
The Rescued Film Project is one-hundred percent personally funded right now. There is a donate button on the website here. There is also a tip jar on the Vimeo page with his WWII film video.
I have selected just a few images from this incredible treasure chest. I wish I could showcase my top fifty, but I trust you’ll find your own favorites.