As a waning moon rose over the medieval cathedral, Gianluca Farinelli took to the stage in front of the giant screen welcoming the several thousand strong audience to another free screening in Bologna’s main square. Farinelli is the director of Cineteca di Bologna and the driving force behind Cinema Ritrovato – the yearly celebration of classic cinema that has taken place in the Italian city every summer for the last 37 years.
This evening’s program began with Thierry Frémaux presenting the latest eight Lumière brothers shorts to emerge from the Cineteca’s restoration labs. As the last hint of color drained from the summer sky, the minute-long movies flickered on the big screen, their images, glistening and pristine, defying the more than 120 years since the brothers from Lyon used their experimental camera to fix scenes of Parisian life on nitrate stock, and in the process create cinema. The short films represent the latest in the Institut Lumière’s ambitious project to restore and preserve all extant Lumière films, an endeavor the HFPA has supported with grants worth $850,000.
The Lumière program was followed by a 1926 Man Ray experimental short with a new soundtrack composed by Sqürl (the band moniker of Carter Logan and Jim Jarmusch) and a screening of Black Narcissus introduced by legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker, the wife of director Michael Powell (as well as longtime Scorsese collaborator). Par for the course for one of Europe’s most exciting festivals, which has become an obligatory stop on the cinephile circuit.
This year, the annual confab in the historic city featured a retrospective dedicated to Italy’s queen of pathos, titled Anna Magnani – l’Irripetibile, and another devoted to Rouben Mamoulian, the Georgia-born Armenian American, whose work includes silent film, Hollywood sound classics, all the way to Technicolor musicals. Other series highlighted the works of prolific Italian screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico and classics from West Africa, the Middle East and Iran. All in all, a program that showcased the unwavering commitment to film heritage and preservation and the kind of curatorial detail few other festivals can afford (included were screenings devoted to Russian divas working in Italian silent cinema and to Tunisian pioneer Albert Samama Chikli). This year the ever-popular master classes included talks by Wim Wenders, Luca Guadagnino, Joe Dante, Barbet Schroeder, Robert Östlund and a panel on the state of African film archives. All this and, of course, the daily free sunset screenings in the breathtaking Piazza Maggiore, the city’s cathedral square, regularly packed with up to 5,000 eager film fans.
Arguably, the festival’s beating heart is the series of screenings presented under the title of Recovered and Restored, a showcase of titles recently preserved by archives the world over, as well as by the ever-churning labs of the Immagine Ritrovata, the restoration arm of Bologna’s Cinematheque. The series, which this year included works by David Lynch, Jean Renoir, Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Francois Truffaut, Chantal Ackerman, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch and Mario Bava among others, is dedicated to the idea that public screening is the necessary last step to preservation efforts that are luckily ever more widespread around the world. The excitement with which each screening was met, not only by archivists, critics and academics, but by numerous young people, students and just regular film fans, was once again testament to the power of cinema and the worthiness of the efforts to preserve its living legacy.
This year’s program included numerous restorations the HFPA has been privileged to support, beginning with the aforementioned Lumière shorts (which, at completion, will number 300). Also featured in Bologna was Macario, in a new, HFPA funded, 4K Film Foundation restoration which has beautifully revived Roberto Galavadón’s dreamy, mystical and at times hallucinatory Mexican parable from 1960. Finally, this year’s festival featured the world premiere of a film whose labored path to completion exemplifies the complexities, cooperation and detective-like research that often goes into rediscovering lost works.
Smog (1962) was the first Italian film to be shot entirely in the US by director Franco Rossi and his screenwriters, Giandomenico Giagni and Pier Maria Pasinetti. Using a small crew and a hybrid fiction/travelogue format in actual Los Angeles locations, Rossi predated American forays by auteurs like Antonioni, Louis Malle and Wim Wenders, crafting a kind of stream of consciousness urban road movie tinged with an Italian nouvelle vague sensibility. In it, actor Enrico Maria Salerno, star of Italian stage and screen, plays a prim lawyer en route from Rome to Mexico City. Stranded by a delayed connection at LAX he is forced to spend 48 hours in Los Angeles. But what he encounters as he walks out of the terminal in the shadow of the futuristic theme restaurant building (which had just been built), is a completely alien landscape and a society he must struggle to decipher. Today the film remains as a prescient meditation on the estrangement and loss of identity attendant on both emigration and rapid modernization, as well as a fascinating historical record of the City of Angels at an interesting period of its history.
After its premiere at the 1962 Venice Film Festival, the film was rarely shown, as distributors were unable or unwilling to find an audience for such an unusual picture. Smog soon disappeared and, following the liquidation of the original production company, Titanus, was buried for decades in the Warner Bros. studio vaults, living on in the memories of only a few dedicated film historians. A 2013 screening at the Getty Center brought it to the attention of the UCLA Film and Television Archives, which began a hunt for the original film elements necessary for a restoration, even as Cineteca di Bologna embarked on a similar quest. The HFPA Film Restoration Committee became aware of the project in 2018 through Gianfranco Giagni, the son of the screenwriter, who had also been on the trail of the original film elements for years. A $75,000 HFPA restoration grant eventually contributed a spark that motivated Cineteca di Bologna, Warner Bros. and the UCLA Archives, led by director May Hong HaDuong, to join forces, leading to this year’s premiere of a copy sparklingly restored by Alberto Gemmi’s team at Immagine Ritrovata.