[Official poster Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016]
It has been over two weeks since this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, Italy, came to an end. The screenings of films from EYE’s collection were a great success, with the whole festival welcoming over 100.000 visitors, both with the enchanting screenings on the Piazza Maggiore as in the cinemas throughout the day. The setting for the festival and its well-known classics might lure one in at first, but the rich and varied program is what keeps both professionals and cinephiles coming back year after year.
The program ‘Cento Anni Fa’ (Hundred Years Ago 1916) is a yearly returning program that focuses on films that were released a century ago. With titles from the EYE archive such as Artiestenzomerfeest (NL) and Staalfabrieken Krupp (DE), the program with short films from the silent era not only portrays filmmaking during that time, but moreover life during WWI throughout the world.
In the program celebrating the 100th birthday of the Dada Movement, Bankroet Jazz (NL, 2006) was shown. This film – a co-production of EYE – is based on a film script that came to be known as the first script written in Dutch. It was written by Flemish poet Paul van Ostaijen between 1919 and 1921. Writing from Antwerp and Berlin about a worldwide crisis, the Dadaistic script combines both the chaotic Spartacist revolts in post-war Berlin as well as other tumultuous happenings of the time. The script filmed by Leo van Maaren in 2006, as a found-footage film of 45 minutes, using exclusively material from EYE’s archive. In the light of the global political and financial crisis and particularly the Brexit, the film proved to be surprisingly topical.
[Piazetta Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bologna, photo by Lorenzo Burlando]
The carbon projections on the Piazetta Pier Paolo Pasolini, where the Cineteca’s library is situated, were another noteworthy part of the program. In this projector type, a carbon arc (Dutch: booglamp) provides the light for the projection, which was a common practice between roughly 1900 and 1960. The true cinephile could often be found sitting on the cobbles (still smoldering from the Italian summer heat), enjoying not only what happens on screen, but maybe even more so the purring projector behind him.
[Lumière exhibition entrance, Palazzo Ronzani on background. Photo by me]
As Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (EYE's Silent Film curator) mentioned in her blog before the festival started, the opening of the Lumière Brothers exhibition coincided with the festival. This elaborate exhibition can be visited until January 2017, and is housed below the main street of Bologna, right next to Piazza Maggiore. This exhibition is not only full of the Lumière brothers’ inventions, but gives a peek into their family history as well as that of their family business.
Right next to this underground exhibition space stands a building with grandeur: Palazzo Ronzani. Facing the famous Gothic Palazzo Re Renzo, Palazzo Ronzani was constructed between 1913-1915. The basement of this building is currently being restored to its previous function: a theatre that seats 2000 people. Scheduled to open at Il Cinema Ritrovato’s 2017 festival, this Cinema Modernissimo will mean an immense expansion of capacity. The underground exhibition space will be connected to this new cinema, being on the same level.
As you can tell, the city of Bologna, though moderate in size, is interwoven with the festival and its visitors. This can be seen as remarkable since Bologna does not hold a special place in Italian film history. We have to explore the past 30 editions of the festival to understand how the city by now has become synonymous with presentation of archival films.
Starting out as one of several festivals focusing on archival discoveries and film preservation worldwide, Il Cinema Ritrovato was not immediately among the biggest players. Over the years, not only the festival but also its organizer, the Cineteca de Bologna, has become known throughout the world of film preservation. Starting out as a humble city archive, this is certainly praiseworthy. In this, Bologna’s film lab L’Immagine Ritrovata has been of great influence too. Being one of the most acclaimed film labs worldwide, it has worked as a key player in restoring several films for Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation. This non-profit foundation, founded by Scorsese in 2007, makes it its mission to “preserve and restore films from around the world, particularly those from countries which lack the financial or technical means to do so themselves” (source).
[Scan of 1998 program cover, EYE Collection]
For many years, EYE Filmmuseum (then the Netherlands Filmmuseum) was a major partner of the Cineteca in organizing the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival each year. This program book from the 1998 edition is an example of that. Both institutes benefited from their joint work on this project and gained international recognition during these years. EYE continues to be of great importance to the festival and vice versa, with Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi on its artistic committee, and many films from the EYE collection that are part of form the festival’s program each year. To stay on top of what is going on in the field and meet with international colleagues, EYE’s curators, archivists, restorers and other staff members attend Il Cinema Ritrovato yearly.
[Taken from Il Cinema Ritrovato program – 1995 edition, EYE Collection]
Peter von Bagh (artistic director of the festival from 2001 until his death in 2014) also played a defining role in the growth of the festival. As a Finnish filmmaker and critic, he worked almost exclusively with archival material (for more about this, see Olaf Müller’s hommage). The 2015 edition of the festival opened officially with a grand gesture: a dedication to Von Bagh’s memory by many friends from the field. Under the title of ‘The 1000 eyes of Dr Von Bagh’, they celebrated his life by exchanging personal memories. Also, Aki Kaurismäki, a friend of Von Bagh’s, introduced his own film Le Mains as a tribute. In previous years, Von Bagh had unsuccessfully tried to get the film for the festival, giving the tribute a personal touch. Being witty though merciless when critiquing films, as an artistic director Von Bagh was first and foremost a cinephile who attracted other cinephiles to the festival. During this year’s festival, a documentary by Tapio Piirainen about the man himself was shown, introducing Von Bagh as “the festival’s forever best friend.”
Another important influence on the festival and the Cineteca was Vittorio Martinelli (1926-2008). As a collector of Italian silent film and film historian, he worked tirelessly researching the Italian silect film history for his 21 volumes of Il cinema muto italiano (co-edited by Aldo Bernardini). Martinelli inspected many archives around Europe as well as in South America, Mexico and Russia and thereby contributing to the recovery and repatriation of hundreds of both Italian and other films. As a Napoletano, one of his ongoing projects was to find and preserve Naples’ silent films. For EYE, Martinelli’s help was particularly essential during the identification of the Desmet collection.
In his name, a fund within the Cineteca library has been set up to protect his rich collection of films, scripts, essays, stills, postcards and festival catalogs. More information on Martinelli, his work for Il Cinema Ritrovato and future projects carried out in his name, see this Cineteca page in Italian.
Based on these firm fundaments, today, Il Cinema Ritrovato has become perhaps the most important yearly event for the curators, archivists, preservationists, critics, historians, students and other film aficionados to come together. They attend the festival not only to discuss possible new projects that transcend local or national collaborations, but most importantly to celebrate cinema.
Many thanks to Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi for helping me with the research for this blog.
Tag:collectie, collection, filmfestival, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Desmet Collectie, Desmet Collection, Peter Von Bagh, Vittorio Martinelli, Lumière, exhibition, tentoonstelling, carbon arc projection, cinephilia, Bankroet Jazz, Martin Scorsese, World Cinema Foundation, film labs
Since the inscription of the Desmet Collection on Unesco's Memory of the World Register in 2011 (actually already in the stages of preparing the application) I have been trying to explain why it is difficult to provide an exact number of the films. Although the collection seems to be a finite entity, it also keeps growing (923 and counting)*. It's hard to tell how many films would make the collection 'complete': it is difficult to establish which films exactly had been distributed by Jean Desmet and thus which ones we are still missing. From the company papers it appears that he considered many items, not necessarily acquiring them all in the end. The fact that the poster and the film holdings only barely overlap, is also curious. Even when we do know for sure that he distributed some titles (based on the company papers), not all film prints were among the collection when it arrived to our archive in 1957.Desmet himself had sold parts of his collection, and sometimes these film prints (still bearing the original Desmet company intertitles cards) find their way to our institute through private collectors. This was the case with Tragico Convegno, the 1915 film by Ivo Illuminati that we preserved a couple of years ago. Similarly, over the years, we have received and preserved more films from Desmet's distribution list; such as Loyalty of Sylvia (1912/USA, arrived to us via the Royal Information Services!), or Das Geheimschloss (1914/Germany, found in the year 2000 among thousands of nitrate cans that were privately kept inside the historic city of Haarlem for decades). In such cases, only after examining the print and identifying the contents, we can conclude that we are dealing with a film from the Desmet Collection.But what happened beginning of December 2015 was unprecedented: a few reels of nitrate (bought in a French flea market) were brought to our archive. One of the reels was still in an original Desmet company film can! It is of course very often that film cans get recycled so having the can does not necessarily mean that its content will also be related to the Desmet Collection. And yet, it was: the can contained the 1909 film Nerone by Luigi Maggi, of which EYE so far only held 12 original stills, received from the Desmet family sixty years ago!So 106 years after its release in the Netherlands, and many decades after being separated from the rest of the Desmet Collection, the film (and the can) are now reunited in our vaults.What is going to happen now? First of all, we will be putting the film reel in a new archival film can, so that it can take its permanent place in our vaults. The historic can will go to the film-related collections. The film is not a unique print; several film archives around the world report to have a copy. This means that we will start a research round asking and comparing details, before we can take further action. As part of the Desmet Collection, to have this film preserved is among our prioritites, but it is even more important to do this with all things considered. After all, our print (after so many years of wandering around) may not be complete, or may not be in the greatest condition, and it certainly does not have the original Italian intertitles... So before proceeding, we will dive into international research in order to establish the universal value of what we have.The significance of the Desmet film can, and particularly the fact that we can still receive such an item after so many years, remains very big; it keeps our hope alive that we can go on finding lost silent films from more than a century ago.
* Did you know that you can download the 'complete' filmography of the Desmet film titles as published in the book Jean Desmet's Dream Factory (2014) by scrolling down on this page? Of course with the omission of Nerone.Tag:Silent cinema, Desmet Collection, Jean Desmet, ontdekkingen, lost films, discovery, stille film, Desmet Collectie