It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting for cinephiles than the annual il Cinema Ritrovato (Cinema Rediscovered) festival in Bologna. After listening to friends and colleagues tell me they couldn’t believe I’d never been, I attended my first, the 26th, this June. I hope I never miss another.
Organized by the Cineteca Bologna (one of the world’s great centers for the study, restoration, and presentation of cinema) the festival draws archivists, critics, distributors, historians, curators, filmmakers and film enthusiasts from around the world. Unlike a traditional festival, il Cinema Ritrovato is a decidedly relaxed affair, and, with a 70 euro pass, a non-professional can enjoy pretty much the same experience as anyone else. The venues (theaters within the Cineteca Bologna, two other neighborhood theaters, and nightly outdoor screenings in the mammoth Piazza Maggiore) are located relatively close to each other and it’s quite easy to fit in as many as five films in a day (I saw 33 in six days, counting a handful of shorts) with the requisite leisurely Italian lunch and dinner factored in.
The program is divided into a number of strands, and this year’s featured Raoul Walsh and Jean Grémillion retrospectives, a great series of post-stock market crash films, films from 1912 (the festival’s annual 100-years-ago Time Machine program), new restorations, and numerous other specialized subdivisions including tributes to Charlie Chaplin, Lois Weber, and Roberto Rossellini. There are also numerous lectures and presentations on film history and preservation, and areas selling a wondrous array of film books, DVDs, posters, and other ephemera.
The scope and diversity of the program is astonishing. At a traditional festival, it’s often easy to write off one film in favor of another when figuring out one’s screening schedule. Not here. I wanted to see EVERYTHING. Even if it was something I’d seen before, such as Jacques Demy’s Lola, Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy, or Lawrence of Arabia, it was being shown in a recent restoration in Bologna.
One sobering aspect to the festival was the number of films that were being shown digitally. While the majority of films were shown on celluloid, a surprising number were shown digitally, and not always in a digital “restoration.” Obviously, the move to digital is well underway and as inevitable as the morning sun but I was still surprised to not hear more murmurs of discontent from colleagues. Maybe most of the hand-wringing was done and buried at past fests. Also, it’s reassuring to hear a seasoned and dedicated preservationist like Grover Crisp from Sony Pictures discuss the reasons for digital restoration. He oversaw two of the best digital presentations at the fest – Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse and Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia – and when he explains all aspects of the digital move, one listens in an “only Nixon could go to China” sort of way. Due to the condition of available elements, some films can only be restored digitally and due to the economics, some films will only be restored digitally. With all that in mind, I was as excited to see a restored, 35mm PRINT of Raoul Walsh’s Pursued (1947) as anything. It looked spectacular. Gorgeous black & white.
My screening list.
*some of my favorites
The Mystery of the Hindu Image (Raoul Walsh, 1914)
Pillars of Society (Raoul Walsh, 1916)
Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984) – Digital
Lola (Jacques Demy, 1961) – Digital
David Golder (Julien Duvivier, 1931)*
Essais au bord de la mer (Jean Gremillion, 1926)
Casting Ella Maillart (Jean Gremillion, 1926)
Chartes (Jean Gremillion, 1923)
Gardens de Phare (Jean Gremillion, 1929)
Wild Girl (Raoul Walsh, 1932)
Kalpana (Uday Shankar, 1948)* – Digital
Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh, 1932)*
L’Etrange Monsieur Victor (Jean Gremillion, 1937)*
Distant Drums (Raoul Walsh, 1951)
Gueule d’Amour (Jean Gremillion, 1937)*
Voyage to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)* – Digital
Comedy of Money (Max Ophuls, 1936)*
Joriku Dai-Ippo (Yasujiro Shimazu, 1932)
Pursued (Raoul Walsh, 1947)*
Remorques (Jean Gremillion, 1939-41)*
Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958)* – Digital
La Nave Delle Donne Maledette (Raffaello Matarazzo, 1954) – Digital
What Price Glory? (Raoul Walsh, 1926)
Hard to Handle (Mervyn LeRoy, 1933)*
Lumiere d’Ete (Jean Gremillion) – Digital
La Tete d’un Homme (Julien Duvivier, 1933)*
Band of Angels (Raoul Walsh, 1957)*
The Red Dance (Raoul Walsh, 1928)
Nieuwe Gronden (Joris Ivens, 1933)*
Zeitprobleme. Wie Der Berliner Arbeiter Wohnt (Slatan Dudow, 1930)
Seifenblasen (Slatan Dudow, 1934)
Rotaie (Mario Camerini, 1929)* Digital
Samson and Delilah (Cecil B. Demille, 1949) – Digital