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  • Cinema Ritrovato Bologna, Italy, June 26-July 3, 2010
  • Haden Guest (bio)

A staggering number of film festivals crowd the global arts calendar today. The majority are slick, bloated, and unnecessary, with precious few worthy of regular attendance. Among the rare and important exceptions is the Cinema Ritrovato held each June in Bologna, Italy. Organized by the Cineteca de Bologna, the Cinema Ritrovato is one of the few major film events that is driven both by a genuine and infectious cinephilia and by a clearly defined pedagogical ambition. Dedicated to the exploration of film history's unwritten chapters, each year the festival's chief curators, Peter von Bagh, Guy Borlée, and Gian Luca Farinelli, organize a broad selection of exciting thematic programs that gather treasures from around the world, combining the discovery of obscure and neglected films and filmmakers with, as the festival's title declares, the rediscovery of more familiar works. The bulk of the screenings take place during the day in the Cineteca's two theaters, with widescreen films usually reserved for a grand old movie palace nearby, the beloved Arlecchino, which boasts wonderful sight lines and plush seats. But each evening at ten o'clock, the magnificent Piazza Maggiore, at the heart of the medieval city and framed by gorgeous palazzos and the massive Basilica of San Pietro, is transformed into an incredible outdoor cinema thanks to the Cineteca's superb state-of-the-art projection. One of the highlights of the Cinema Ritrovato is the thrilling spectacle of beautiful prints of classics such as The Leopard (Il gattopardo; Luchino Visconti, 1963), The African Queen (John Huston, 1951), and Roma (Federico Fellini, 1972) [End Page 97] screened to enthusiastic but respectfully quiet crowds of up to five thousand people who spill out of the seats and into the cafes.

The Cinema Ritrovato is a specialized and thoughtfully curated festival that should be a regular destination for any serious film historian who can afford the trip and the time, just as Pordenone is a required pilgrimage for specialists of silent cinema. Bologna has the tremendous advantage of taking place outside the academic calendar, and as a result the festival is enlivened by a wonderful community of film scholars, critics, curators, and archivists. This past June, for example, the likes of Janet Bergstrom, Matthew Bernstein, David Bordwell, Kevin Brownlow, Alexander Horwath, Kent Jones, Mark MacElhatten, Pierre Rissient, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Josh Siegel, and many more were present and engaged in endless discussion and debate about the festival's offerings. Among the more popular topics was the 2010 Cinema Ritrovato centerpiece, a program dedicated to the early work of John Ford which included all of his extant silent films (except Upstream [1927], discovered this past spring in New Zealand and not yet available) as well as a selection of his first sound films. This rare focused presentation of Ford's first films wonderfully demonstrated the festival's unique ability to open exciting perspectives onto venerable figures and periods in film history that are all too often taken for granted, just as previous years have explored the lesser-known early work of canonical artists such as Frank Capra and Josef von Sternberg.

One could argue that the silent films form a Rosetta stone of sorts for the stylistic diversity of Ford's long career, revealing the twin poles of classicism and expressionism between which his cinema constantly swayed, from the black-and-white wood-block tones and gravity of his first works, such as Straight Shooting (1917), to the sweeping Murnau-inspired expressionism of Hangman's House (1928) and Four Sons (1928). Among the most interesting discoveries of the Ford program were the fragments of otherwise lost silent films that were included. Dropped suddenly into the middle of a film, or able only to see its opening act, one watches the tantalizing excerpts from some of Ford's earliest work with a heightened attention to their structure, accomplishments, and weaknesses. It's quite fascinating and deeply entertaining to feel yourself actively searching for clues to the plot and themes and to be reminded of the automatic detective work that takes place when we watch a film.

Some of the fragments also...


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