From June 25 to July 2, 2016, I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful film festival in Bologna, Italy: Il Cinema Ritrovato. As part of being named SFTV Scholar of the Year, SFTV generously awarded me the trip. It was such an unexpected and exciting opportunity that I could not pass it up and wasted no time in asking for a week off from my summer internship, which I hadn’t even started yet. They answered back right away, saying, “Great opportunity, no problem, bon voyage!” I couldn’t wait.
Now in its 30th year, Il Cinema Ritrovato is organized by the Cineteca di Bologna, Italy, and showcases films from all periods of cinema: from Lumière’s silent films shot in the 1890s to present-day films. What makes this film festival so special is its emphasis on showcasing restored films, meaning that audiences are treated to projections of film prints, and not only digital files. Some films were even presented with a carbon arc lamp projector, a smoking monster creating an atmosphere all of its own. In this way, audience members experience films in the way they were intended to be viewed. During the festival, I was repeatedly amazed and impressed by the films I saw and their quality.
All of my days at the film festival were entirely filled with screenings, lectures, panel discussions, and of course some sightseeing and good food. Italy does have some of the world’s best food, not to mention its gelato!
The memories from this week that will last the longest are those that were made when I witnessed the incomparable magic that moving images can create upon the screen – characters coming to life, stories being created, and emotions evoked.
I saw a variety of films, but mostly enjoyed the Marlon Brando films I saw, and the silent films shown outdoors with a live orchestra in the Piazza Maggiore, the main piazza in Bologna. Seeing Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin demonstrating their mastery of physical comedy on the big screen, with an audience of sometimes thousands of people sharing in the fun as a live orchestra accompanied the film, was a very special experience and something I will never forget. Other highlights were taking part in the plight and suffering of Marlon Brando’s character in One-Eyed Jacks with so many other people, and seeing the epic images unfold on a giant screen in front of the crowd, as the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio loomed overhead.
I also attended lectures on film restoration and visited the Lumière exhibition in Bologna, which featured an old cinématographe, the original movie camera, among many other wonderful filmmaking tools. I learned that silent films were actually never intended to be seen in black and white, but were tinted and toned, so that the white and black parts of the image were colored differently depending on the film scene. I learned about the painstaking restoring Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, like the difficulties in trying to find a good original print to base the digital color restoration on. I also encountered quite a number of film greats who were attending the festival, including Bernardo Bertolucci, Claudia Cardinale, Volker Schloendorff, and Jean-Claude Carrière. It was truly special to be in their presence.
I enjoyed this film festival experience immensely and hope to attend Il Cinema Ritrovato again. This film festival keeps the history and magic of old and forgotten films alive, and helps all who are lucky enough to attend gain an understanding of the rich development that filmmaking has undergone throughout the years. I am glad that I had the opportunity to learn so much about where filmmaking as an art form and craft came from, and have become a better filmmaker because of it.