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David Filipi, Director, Film/Video
Jul 12, 2022
Below, Film/Video Director David Filipi shares the sights from his visit to Bologna, Italy for one of the great festivals dedicated to film preservation.
It was with a mixture of apprehension and anticipation that I returned to the 36th annual il Cinema Ritrovato (the rediscovered cinema) festival in Bologna for the first time since 2019 after attending numerous times in the past (this year’s edition ran June 25 – July 3). I had misgivings about international travel with COVID lingering and with airlines trying to cope with the volume of summer travel (my worries were well-founded, but I won’t go into that), and I ended up missing the first day-and-a-half of the schedule due to delayed flights.
But once on the ground, I was quickly reminded about what makes the festival, to me, the most exciting and rewarding gathering of films, filmgoers, and film professionals there is.
As its name suggests, the festival is dedicated to presenting recent restorations and cinematic discoveries from the earliest days of the cinema up to, roughly, the end of the last century. There are program strands devoted to specific actors, directors, national cinemas, studios and themes, and archives from around the world have the chance to share their work with enthusiastic and informed audiences comprised of film fans and peers.
Even though the festival took place in a hybrid form in 2020 and in person in 2021, this was the first time back for most of the people I know who attend, and for many it was the first time seeing colleagues in the flesh since the pandemic began. Social media certainly helps keep many of us in touch to a degree, but nothing can take the place of catching up with colleagues from around the country and around the globe in person. And for many it was the first time, post-COVID, sitting in a packed movie theater—not just once, but multiple times per day over the course of a week. (Yikes!) In retrospect, I know I’ll never take gatherings like this for granted again.
The festival is centered around the Cineteca di Bologna, one of the world’s great institutions of film culture, restoration, and preservations, and an institution we have worked with numerous times in the past, especially in relation to our annual Cinema Revival festival. At any given moment during the festival, there might be as many as six or seven screenings and/or panels occurring simultaneously in theaters within the Cineteca or in the surrounding neighborhoods, meaning five different people might have five very different experiences, and to pick one film might mean missing out on something equally as promising.
This year there were program strands devoted to Sophia Loren, Peter Lorre, Peter Weiss, Hugo Fregonese, Yugoslav cinema, Kenji Misumi, and much, much more, along with nightly outdoor screenings in the spectacular Piazza Maggiore where literally thousands (10K is the highest estimate I’ve heard for a given showing) gather to watch films leading up to, during, and after the festival. Just a few of the titles presented this year are Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (1922), Singin in the Rain (1952), Written on the Wind (1956) (the same restoration we screened at the Wex in February), The Blues Brothers (1980) introduced by director John Landis, and Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971), introduced by Wes Anderson a night after the fest technically ended.
A highlight for me was being able to see seven of the films in the Hugo Fregonese series programmed by Dave Kehr and Ehsan Khoshbakht. If the name is unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone, and that is made even more surprising when one considers he directed the likes of Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, James Mason, Anne Bancroft, and more during his career.
If you were a devoted reader of Film Comment, you might remember Kehr’s two-page article on Fregonese in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue. In it, Kehr writes that one reason that Fregonese has been overlooked is that he was essentially a director without a country. His American films account for just a third of his output, which was spread across Argentina (where he was born and died), Spain, England, Italy, Germany, Mexico, and other countries. With a couple of exceptions, the films in the series were American productions and mostly westerns and crime dramas.
The film that I found most interesting is The Raid (1954). Set during the Civil War, it follows a band of renegade Confederate soldiers led by Van Heflin (and loose cannon Lee Marvin) who hole up in a small Vermont town on the Canadian border with hopes of inflicting some payback on the North after the destruction of their property in the South. With the exception of Anne Bancroft, who runs the town’s boarding house, the leads are all Confederate soldiers, and Fregonese walks a fine line orchestrating the audience’s identification with the main characters, giving all the space to share their motivations for their actions.
Especially with current events in the US, it’s more than a little unsettling to follow a film with Confederate protagonists, but all of the seven Fregonese films I was able to see were off-kilter in one way or another. Stories that seemed to be headed in one direction landed somewhere else entirely. I would say that the consensus favorite of the series was Black Tuesday (1954), a noir-ish crime thriller in which Edward G. Robinson and Peter Graves play crooks rescued from the electric chair with just moments to spare. Graves has a secret stash of stolen cash and he’s the only one who knows the location. Everyone must trust everyone else just enough to get the stolen cash and make it out alive. On paper, the shootout between the crooks and cops in an empty warehouse at the end of the film might seem anticlimactic, but there is so much tension and mistrust between the criminals and their hostages, and Robinson is such a fatalistic character about everything but his girlfriend. It was a wonderfully curated series, one interesting film after another.
Another highlight for me was France Štiglic’s Deveti Krug (The Ninth Circle, 1960, pictured at top of page), a film that dealt with the Holocaust by directly portraying the concentration camps for the first time in Yugoslav cinema, according to the festival notes. Shot in a style that approaches noir in some of the most frantic moments, the film follows a Jewish girl who is taken in by a friendly Croatian family in Zagreb after her family is captured by the Nazis and put on trucks bound for a camp. She is married to the son of the family in hopes that it will hide her Jewish identity, but she is eventually found out and also sent to a camp. Her young husband, determined to find her, comes face-to-face with the horrors of a concentration camp, especially for young women.
Finally, a panel on HDR (high-dynamic range) and its implication for digital restoration introduced a whole new set of possibilities and concerns when applying digital technology to the restoration of older films. The panel included past Wex guests Lee Kline (Criterion Collection) and James Mockoski (American Zoetrope). Mockoski gave a presentation on the most recent restoration of The Godfather trilogy, too, which was really interesting.
It was also great to see old favorites such as Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970) and Buñuel’s Él (1953) in new restorations on the big screen in a packed theater.
Below is a list of everything I managed to see. You can find descriptions of all of them on the festivals website. We’re already making arrangements to bring some of these to Columbus for Cinema Revival in February 2023!
Photo: David Filipi
Top of page: Deveti Krug (The Ninth Circle)