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Feb 23, 2022
Ruun Nuur, an independent cinematic practitioner based in Columbus, is already familiar to Wex audiences as cofounder of NO EVIL EYE CINEMA and coproducer of the 2021 Unorthodocs selection They Won't Call it Murder. Below, Nuur offers her take on our Cinema Revival: A Festival of Film Restoration, how it offers an opportunity to reflect on the essential work of restoration artists, and how it highlights the living, shifting nature of the cinematic canon.
Triumphantly celebrating its eight anniversary in an ever-evolving filmic landscape, Cinema Revival: A Festival of Film Restoration continues its commitment to showcasing the latest discoveries in international cinematic preservation and beyond.
Highlighting the magic and might of practicing the art of restoration alongside the world’s leading technicians and cultural producers, Cinema Revival simultaneously doubles as a site of cinematic activation. A deeply desired space to gather and convene in a rapidly shifting world that demands thoughtful pause and reflection.
Within the 2022 edition of Cinema Revival, offerings include a 4K restoration of Wendell B. Harris Jr’s extraordinary 1990 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Chameleon Street. Notoriously stuck in distribution hell and buried for decades, Street finally returns to its former glory courtesy of restoration label Arbelos Films, whose David Marriott will assist in contextualizing Harris Jr’s ever-timely debut. Other contributions include restorations of Mira Nair’s beloved rom-com Mississippi Masala (1991) and the late Sarah Maldoror’s searing Sambizanga (1972). Mid century melodrama legend Douglas Sirk’s Written in the Wind (1956) will be presented by Criterion’s very own Lee Kline.
And even canonically acknowledged film titans Vittorio De Sica and Oscar Micheaux will play alongside lesser-known filmmakers in a carefully curated quest to work in delicate dialogue with one another.
Offering a communal way of seeing, these public screenings and discussions are a vital section of the life cycle of any motion picture.
It proposes the vitality of cinematic discourse and showcases that there are several elements needed and necessary for the archive to be activated. Chief among them is for these archival film elements to be placed within community-orientated spaces that recognize the multiplicity of skills and scholarship that goes into the overlooked labor of these darkroom archaeologists.
From a careful investigation of what treasures lay within the archive to identifying titles ripe for repair, strategizing around the hurdles of budgeting, partnering with appropriate laboratories and technical magicians, scanning, color correcting, packaging the physical copies, and finally reintroducing these restorations for modern audiences, this work isn’t created in a vacuum.
A misguided analysis would lead one to believe that to work in the archive is an isolated relationship with already produced materials, but the reality is that to work within restoration is to collaborate with history. To engage with film restoration one must be in communication with yesteryear and the artists who kept a record of their stories. These films, and their subsequent restorations, are vehicles of cultural resistance, humor, joy, empathy, and so much more.
Film restoration is synonymous with retooling cultural heritage, a reconfiguration of histories, a reimagining of cinematic experimentations, and a reset on our collective memory.It should be our duty of care to restore and preserve the stories for generations to come.
Cinema Revival is a rare project. One that acknowledges that despite cinema being commonly recognized as a popular art form, the moving image is still in its stages of infancy, with so much forgotten film history that deserves to be activated. This four day-long festival doubles as an incubation chamber: a space to bear witness to canon-expanding films and engage in knowledge-sharing of technology in a medium that's progressively transitioning into a vanishing art unto itself.
Top of page: Wendell B. Harris in Chameleon Street, image courtesy of Arbelos Films
[Image description: A black man with close-cropped natural hair, wearing all black and sunglasses slightly pulled down, sits on a red couch in a modern-looking apartment. He's also wearing small headphones and appears about to talk into a microphone attached to a tape recorder. There is a paperback in his hands with the word "Merde!" in large white letters on a red front and back cover, an open script on one side of him a French-English dictionary on the other.]