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Reviewed by:
  • Filmmuseum Biennale
  • Andreas Busche (bio)
Filmmuseum BiennaleNederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, 04 05- 10, 2005

It's possible that in the future, the Filmmuseum Biennale, organized by the Nederlands Filmmuseum, will be recognized alongside the Cinema Ritrovata in Bologna and the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy, as one of the leading archive film festivals in Europe. The second edition took place April 5–10, 2005, and left a great impression on the public, fulfilling the Filmmuseum's ambition to make a case for the preservation of our collective film heritage. Taking place in the mundane Vondelpark Pavillon and in the Filmmuseum's second movie theater "Cinerama," both in the heart of Amsterdam, the festival could not have asked for a more prominent location. The open, relaxed atmosphere, undoubtedly indebted to the smooth, professional production by the engaging and friendly Filmmuseum staff, made the five days in Amsterdam a highly pleasant experience.

For more than twenty years now, the Nederlands Filmmuseum has been one of the most active outposts in the European archival community. A cofounder of the Cinema Ritrovata festival, the Filmmuseum pulled out of that festival a couple of years ago in order to focus more on its own activities. The Biennale, as a complement to the biannual Amsterdam Workshops, was initially launched as a showcase for the Filmmuseum's own restoration work. However, this year's program was as diverse and colorful as one could wish, including two "world premieres" (not necessarily a dubious term for an archive festival), the presentation of several lost-and-found features from France, Denmark, and America, a whole day dedicated to recent restorations of the Danish Film Institute (including a Danish breakfast), and a variety of, as Martin Körber rightly put it in his introduction to the newly scored version of Menschen am Sonntag(People on Sunday; Robert Siodmak, 1929), sometimes "bizarre" musical endeavors.

The festival started with a big bang. The opening gala in the historic Pathé Tuschinski movie palace was highlighted by the "second world premiere" of Sam Wood's Beyond the Rocks(1922), the only feature starring Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. Presumed lost forever, a partly deteriorated copy that had miraculously reappeared in a private collection was donated to the Nederlands Filmmuseum a couple of years ago. A virtual guest of the glamorous opening gala (archivists are rarely seen in suits and black ties, which was the dress code for the evening) was Martin Scorsese, who thanked the Filmmuseum for its continuous preservation efforts via a tape-recorded message. Considered one of the most spectacular archival finds in recent years, Beyond the Rocksturned out to be disappointingly mediocre, more a case for the history books and die-hard Valentino aficionados. Still, the accompanying restoration panel gave cause for speculation. Even though Beyond the Rockshad legally entered into the public domain, why did Paramount let go the DVD rights for the U.S. market? The film has now been released by Milestone. Considering the international buzz over the rediscovery of Beyond the Rocks,the film has easily the potential for an "archival blockbuster." Does Paramount believe that it [End Page 167]cannot present a DVD in such an allegedly poor condition (with severe deterioration, scratches, missing frames)? Barry Allen, Paramount's head of preservation, who had joined the festival, remained vague during the Q and A.

We might still have a long way to go before the outside world truly recognizes the wealth of our audiovisual heritage and understands that what is left, in whatever condition it might be, is still valuable and should be appreciated for what it is. The digital restoration (2K), conducted by Giovanna Fossati from a tinted 35mm print with Dutch intertitles, is an important statement in that respect. Her scrupulous reconstruction of the image information demonstrates that digital restoration hardly means "anything goes"; there are ethical limits to the practical possibilities. Digital restoration by no means implies that "old films," no matter how historically (or economically) significant they are, have to look "new" again. Beyond the Rocksis a great example in that respect.

Announced by the Filmmuseum not as a restoration or reconstruction but as a...


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