EYE and Il Cinema Ritrovato
[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.