A rapt audience at a screening in Bologna, Italy during Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016
We're really excited about our Archive Screening Day next Thursday 28th July at Watershed. Giving exhibitors the chance to see new restorations, hear from expert speakers from the world's leading archives and learn from training sessions, it also offers a sneak preview of programmes from our upcoming tour of films from the BFI's major new project, Britain on Film. It also kicks off another celebration of archive film in the form of Watershed's inaugural Cinema Rediscovered. A new international film event, it's inspired by what is still the biggest international archive film festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna which every year attracts huge audiences to see beautifully restored work in glorious surroundings. In this piece Jo Comino, Marketing Manager for Borderlines Film Festival, reports on her 2016 trip to this wonderfully enjoyable festival.
A film festival worker myself, there was a whiff of predictability in my choice of summer holiday: five and a half days at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. Initiated four years ago into this fabulous film festival by friends who run the British Silent Film Festival, it’s now a fixture in my calendar. Go once and you’re hooked.
Il Cinema Ritrovato is literally a festival of rediscovered films, an occasion for archives from around the world to showcase their work. Its span is actually much wider that this would suggest. And there is nothing remotely fusty or ‘dead’ about it. Over 8 days,
from 25 June to 2 July, Il Cinema Ritrovato screened almost 500 titles, with
dates ranging from the very beginnings of cinema in 1896 to the present day,
the latter usually documentaries containing archive material like Letters
from Baghdad (2016), on
the explorer, archaeologist, Arab expert and WW1 British spy, Gertrude Bell.
With a weighty
100,000 attendances recorded in 2016, and 3,500 festival passes sold to delegates
from over 50 countries, how come a festival whose content is made up of films
from the past is so popular? OK, there are academics, archivists, filmmakers
all over town but there are plenty of
young people and students in evidence too. Several times - for a screening of a
restoration of the 1931 version of The
Front Page, for
example, with its witty, hard-bitten cynicism and staccato dialogue - it was aisle-room only.
The Front Page, directed by Lewis Milestone. 'In 1931 alone, Hollywood produced roughly thirty journalism-related movies'
all the films that as we, as regular cinema-goers, have access to are only the tip
of an iceberg. A visit to this festival is the equivalent of plunging below
the surface of the water and delving into what lies beneath - a perfect analogy but
for the 30°C plus
temperatures in Bologna in late June. As Festival Director Gian Luca Farinelli writes
in the beautifully-illustrated 393-page catalogue that arrives in your delegate
bag: “If you come to Il Cinema Ritrovato,
it is because you want to experience depth and intensity.”
There are six
programme slots each day: two in the morning from 9am, perhaps an hour or
so loophole to grab some lunch (remember, you’re in Bologna, the food capital of Italy) before the three afternoon shows, and another window for eating, drinking and comparing
notes before the late evening screening just before 10pm. What complicates
matters is that there’s the option of at least five films to watch at any one
time and it’s not always easy to choose.
is broken up into strands to help you make your own inroads into the programme. Loosely, there’s a
from the beginning of cinema in 1896, films from a hundred years ago), a ‘Space Machine’ focusing on different national
cinemas, this year from Argentina, Russia in the late Soviet era, Japan, Cuba
and Iran) and ‘The Cinephile’s Heaven’ (featuring restorations, spotlights
on particular actors, directors, screenwriters and periods in cinema history).
any one of these paths, and cutting across them, throws up pleasures,
connections, discoveries. Quite randomly I chose two titles from the ‘Alternate History of Argentinian
opportunity to probe a national cinema beyond the classics and masterpieces
that do reach us to ordinary movies that don’t, but which illuminate a
particular time or sensibility.
allá del olivido
(Beyond Oblivion) (1955) was a black
and white precursor of Vertigo, about
a rich man who tries to remould a French prostitute in the image of his dead
wife, set in the late 19th century and predominantly at night, full of Gothic
flourish, but impressively taut and still at its core.
By contrast, Soñar,
soñar (Dream, to Dream) (1975) had both the
visual trappings and conventions of a seventies road movie except that the
buddies are two losers – an
opportunistic bearded and be-jeaned travelling showman and a naïve country boy
whom the showman hooks in by telling him he’s the spitting image of Charles Bronson –
and misadventure and pathos drive the narrative.
Perhaps Iran's first modern masterpiece, Khesht o Ayeneh 'explores fear and responsibility in the aftermath of the Coup'
From Iran, in
a collection programmed by London-based writer and curator Ehsan Khoshbakht from
the independent Golestan Film Studio, active through the 1960 under the
Shah’s rule, I was struck by the freshness of the New Wave Khesht
o Ayeneh (Brick and Mirror) (1963-4); black and
white, widescreen, using direct sound and improvised dialogue. A taxi driver
finds a baby abandoned in his cab and his dilemma makes for a parable that
interweaves personal unease with social and political tension.
striking were some of the short documentaries: Yek
atash (A Fire) (1961) covering attempts to
contain a massive oil well blaze and how it affects those living around it, and
Siah Ast (The House is Black) (1965) an
unflinching and compassionate gaze into the heart of a leper colony by
filmmaker/poet Forough Farrokhzad who died tragically young, aged 33.
foregrounds the work of the Film
Foundation’s World Cinema Project restorations and I was thrilled to
discover among these a pair of documentaries, Raid
into Tibet and Buddhism
in Tibet (1966), directed
by activist Adrian Cowell, that I’d only heard about through our own Festival
Patron, the cinematographer Chris Menges. In 1966 Cowell, Menges and
journalist George Patterson penetrated into Chinese-occupied Tibet with a small
Khamba guerrilla force, sliding precariously down a 20,000-foot pass from
northern Nepal, and captured the subsequent attack on a Chinese military
convoy. Smuggled out of Nepal, the footage was aired on ATV before US and
Chinese pressure put it out of circulation. The restoration, in association
with the Tibet Film Archive, has enabled this rare and remarkable testimony of
national resistance to come to light.
Raid into Tibet, which contains 'the only known footage of Tibetan guerrilla fighters in actual combat against the Chinese military'
One of the
most popular strands was the focus on feature films, specifically social and
domestic dramas, from a brief period (1928 -1936) at Hollywood’s Universal Studios when Carl Laemmle Jr was head of
production. Some films were more absorbing than others but, viewing them
together, it was fascinating to pick up on recurring detail, on ensemble
actors, cinematic conventions and innovations and social history.
I loved the
first double bill that pitted together two pre-Hays code films that dealt with
the status of unmarried but attached women,
both with John Boles as the male lead. Back
Street (1932) is
set in a 1890s Cincinnati, populated by European immigrants, where the local
hostelry is called Home on the Rhine and even the children nurse beer mugs. It stars
the wonderfully sparky Irene Dunne as a young woman, who falls in love with a
married financier and lives out her life (less sparkily) as his long-term
mistress, an unofficial second wife.
Yesterday (1933) pre-dated
Letter from an Unknown Woman, opening
with a bold depiction of the Stock Market crash, complete with suicide, and
sidestepping to a group of socialites gathering for a weekly cocktail party. Their
host arrives, bankrupt and broken, to find a letter waiting for him from a
woman (Margaret Sullavan) he has encountered more than once in his life but
never fully recognised, whose existence has run parallel - possibly more
meaningfully - to his own.
The entrance to one of the festival sites, Cinema Jolly and Bologna's beautiful arcades
were connections to be made across strands. Towards the end of the festival I
jumped from the male camaraderie of Jacques Becker’s Touchez
pas au grisbi
(1954) in which ageing bank robber Max (Jean Gabin) brings his equally elderly mate
Riton to his hideout and offers him bedding, pyjamas and a midnight snack as
they discuss how to safeguard the loot from their final big heist to Laughter
in Hell (1933), a Universal picture with shades of O Brother Where Art Thou? in which Pat
O’Brien endures and escapes from a chain gang run by his brutal arch-enemy to
another prison breakout film, Le
Trou (1960), also by Becker, riveting in its
detail and subtle exploration of comradeship and betrayal.
highlight was seeing again, after an interval of about thirty years, the
restoration of Marco Bellocchio’s youthful tragi-comic masterpiece about
pugni in tasca (Fists in the Pocket) (1965) introduced
by the director himself. Another restoration, Her
with its superb titles drawn in the sand and washed by the tide, was a
revelation. The teetering footsteps of washed-out, inebriated,
deported Annie lead us back to a sleazy tropical capital and the Thalia bar
where Frankie tries to throw off her sinister, stiletto-wielding pimp Johnnie
for a loose-limbed, fresh-faced blond sailor called Dan whose striped T-shirt
does definitely not survive the final bar-room brawl.
I fitted 33
films into my five-and-a-half days, hotfooting it down the arcades from the Cinema Arlecchino and the
multi-salon Cinema Lumière to the Cinema Jolly, where the service in the café
is so speedy that it’s always possible to grab a coffee with minutes to spare
before the next screening.
embraces cinema; festival posters are everywhere and the free public outdoor
screenings in the Piazza Maggiore are packed every night during the festival
and throughout the summer, spilling into adjoining bars, and on to church steps. As
the sounds of the prize fight in the closing film, John Huston’s Fat
City (1972) rose
to a crescendo, they were matched by resounding cheers and howls as Italy went
into penalty shoot outs in the Euro 2016 quarter-final against Germany.
Martin Scorsese's personal 35mm print of Vincente Minelli's The Band Wagon screened in the Technicolor section
to talk about Il Cinema Ritrovato without mentioning its emphasis on colour:
from the Technicolor section that included the screening
of Martin Scorsese’s personal 35mm print of The Band
Wagon (1953) to
collections of early
hand-tinted views, the first Konicolor and Fujicolor films from Japan, to the innovative and amazing
Autochrome transparencies in the comprehensive Lumière
exhibition, receiving its first airing outside France in the underground
exhibition space below the city’s main square.
In a city
(‘Red Bologna’) in which colour rules, from the earthy reds and ochres of the
buildings, to the Campari or Aperol spritzes that kick off the evening, to the
vivid fruit and veg in the indoor mercato
delle erbe, what could be more appropriate?
Interested in archive film? Find out more about our Archive Screening Day, Watershed's Cinema Rediscovered and Il Cinema Ritrovato, and check out previous ICO blogs on archive film: