The Bologna Film Festival Il Cinema Ritrovato and its Armenian Program: Genocide and After (XXIX edition, 27 June-4 July, 2015)

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For a beginning, I’d like to help you create genuine and substantial comprehension of this film celebration event and its cradle. It is also noteworthy to mention the fact that Bologna is the location of the oldest European university; however, depiction of the huge legacy of the Italian art and cinema is really redundant here. Italy is the place, where the best film decorations are made and the best restoration professionals, who give a new life and colors to outstanding pieces of art, get training and work here. It is also the place where the masterpieces of cinema, which appeared on the verge of destruction, are saved and restored.

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The completely restored version of Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranate, initiated and implemented by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, is a bright example of such undertaking; last year it was introduced both to the domestic and foreign audience. Cecilia Cenciarelli, the head of Research at Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, mentioned that the restoration process lasted three years. She also visited Yerevan to coordinate the overall restoration process in close collaboration with the National Cinema Center of Armenia. The film came as a great opening for the Golden Apricot IFF to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the renowned Master. The viewers had a chance to witness how the faded colors of the film were restored, giving a new life and breath to this masterpiece.

Consequently, presentation of the films, restored by the Cineteca di Bologna, is of particular importance for the festival. Years on these high class specialists have worked on the restoration of Chaplin’s films. This year the films by Buster Keaton have literally regained rebirth and now the spectators were extremely delighted to watch these pieces of the silent movie masterpiece, which, on top of all, were accompanied by live music arrangement.

During the screening of the Sherlock Jr. (1924) by Buster Keaton, the screen suddenly seemed cantilever, the fact which became one of the most significant events of the festival imagesscreenings…        Some clarification: in this early example of film within a film Buster Keaton is watching a film sitting in the cinema hall and the pianist is playing on stage. All of a sudden Keaton springs up from his seat and walks into the screen imitating an undivided connection between the screen and the real world- a similar effect created an incredible impression on the audience decades later in The Red Rose of Cairo film by Woody Allen.

However, something more impressive took place in Piazza Maggiore. A frame-in-frame appeared on a huge screen and a real music orchestra of the Bologna Teatro Comunale, sitting in front of it, seemed to be a reflection of the musicians in Keaton’s film in a three dimensional mirror.

Telling about the kind of audience crowded in that gorgeous Piazza, which is a place of monuments of centuries-old history, must have a special attention. I’d like to note that besides the festival participants, educated town residents were also eager to watch the masterpieces of cinema sitting on the ground, steps or leaning on their bicycles. By the way, the bicycle is a remarkably most favored mean of transportation here. Watching endless rows of bicycle riders along arch-decorated old and narrow streets of Bologna was a delightful experience as well; in the end many of those riders got together at the main town Piazza to watch films.

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Keaton’s silent but highly expressive comedies were followed by celebrated Casablanca by Michael Curtiz (1942) and unequaled Rocco and his Brothers (1960) by Luchino Visconti. It’s noteworthy to mention that the restored version of the film comprised episodes once eliminated by the Italian censorship; now, during the restoration they chanced to be found in the National Archive and were included in the film.

Before the screening of Casablanca Isabella Rossellini, one of the honored guests of the festival, a daughter of Ingrid Bergman, the leading actress of the film, and Roberto Rossellini who is considered the founder of the Italian neorealism, had a speech. With exceptional charisma and artistry, she spoke with affection about her mother, Ingrid Bergman, whose name became the slogan of the festival. A special program screened films of her early years career and the documentary made from rare footages Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words by Stig Björkman, which comprised so many extracts form the actress’s family life. We could also see episodes featuring little Isabella, her sister and brother as well.

Commemoration of another outstanding historical film figure, Orson Welles also took place in the festival. Magician: the Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014) by Chuck Workman, a portrait/investigation dedicated to great Welles, was screened to commemorate his 100th anniversary. Among other valuable documentaries I’d like to mention Entretien entre Serge Daney et Jean-Luc Godard (1988) by Jean-Luc Godard.

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A special place was credited to Post-war Italian cinema; films by Renato Castellani, who was regarded as “the voice of a new youth” of the 40-50s, were screened along with other movies of the relevant subject.

The festival scope also embraced soviet films made during Khruschev’s Thaw (Ottepel’): The Return of Vasilij Bortnikov by Vsevolod Pudovkin (1953), Kortik (The Seaman’s Dirk, 1954) by Michail Schweitzer and Vladimir Vengerov, The Big Family (1954) by Josef Heifetz, Land and People (1955) by Stanislav Rostockij, A Son (1955) by Yuri Ozerov, Carnival Night (1956) by Eldar Ryazanov, and the others.

The East was represented through a special focus in the festival program: renowned Indian film – Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray; an Iranian New Wave film – The Cow by Dariush Mehrjui, so much familiar to Armenian audience (as he was invited by the Golden Apricot IFF); made in the middle of the 20th century Japanese FujiColor, which once impressed the world with its ‘Richness and Harmony.’ The African continent was in focus as well. The festival gave credit to Albert Samama Chikly, a forgotten pioneer of the Tunisian cinema, an inventor and military photographer.

The American Technicolor production could not escape being demonstrated as well. I was expecting to see Becky Sharp (1935) in the program list, the film which had once opened the era of Technicolor, a color cinema and which was made by Rouben Mamoulian, our compatriot; however, I assumed that it might have been part of the program list during the previous festival editions. The film The Wizard of Oz (1939), a fairy-tale musical with unequalled Judy Garland starring, was in the program in the restored 3D format. For more than a decade the festival has a special section – ‘Cinema of A Hundred Years Ago’ where has been included and screened numerous films.

An old Italian silent comedy with Valentina Frascaroli starring, films by an American film director Leo McCarey and a Finnish director and historian Peter von Bagh came as a real revelation to my comprehension as a film critic. Peter von Bagh worked as the Executive Director of the Finnish Archive for years as well as the Artistic Director of Bologna Festival. The Festival was a commemoration tribute to von Bagh, Francesco Rosi, Manoel de Oliveira as well as other outstanding filmmakers who passed away during last year.

Surely, it’s impossible to make a survey of all 300 films demonstrated during the festival, even the keenest ever cinema enthusiast would not find it possible to watch more than 3-4 films a day; however, it’s important to note that this exceptional festival comes as a real ‘gateway to the world cinema treasures’. It’s worth mentioning that one of the sections of the festival was even titled so.

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A visual installation image from ‘EMILIA-ROMAGNA, TERRA DI CINEASTI’ exhibition

Like any other renowned film festival the Cinema Ritrovato organized a number of exhibitions, among which ‘Emilia-Romagna, Land of Filmmakers’ was the most remarkable. This Italian province proved to be so prolific in giving the world such prominent names as Fellini, Guerra, Antonioni, Pasolini, Bertolucci, Bellocchio, Cavani and other great filmmakers, who represented the Golden Age of the Italian cinema. Crowds of enthusiasts were eagerly visiting the exhibition to read the thoughts of the Masters of the past and watch episodes from their films. Fascinating visual installations recreated the atmosphere of the past and people were ready to watch them again and again.

Discussions, lectures and master classes were delivered in a vivid atmosphere in overcrowded halls. One of these sessions, ‘The Future of Film’ may need detailed attention as it touches up the future perspectives of the cinema. It’s about a quarter of a century that the era of digital technologies has began, however, the disputes concerning preferences and advantages of film vs. digital are still going on. Digital cameras have made making a film much more available. Today we are living in a period when you can make a film and upload it on your phone, let alone the possibility of making a film with the mobile.

Of course, all these arguing controversialists had to acknowledge the profoundness and mystery which is normally ascribed to film stock, though they had to accept that making a traditional film is costly, let alone the difficulties of preservation. Different viewpoints and approaches were voiced. Some professionals considered the quality of image projection of utmost importance. Definitely, the supporters of the film were also right in their consideration. Pietro Marcello, an Italian documentarist, whose films, included The Silence of Peleshyan were selected for the Golden Apricot IFF in 2013, was one of the speakers. As a representative of the young generation, he started making a film with a digital camera first, though, changed it for a film camera to feel its ‘charm and charisma’. Later, however, he had to return to the digital means again as using film was incomparably more expensive.

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Finally, the discussion came to the issue of digital restoration of films. Beyond doubt is the fact that digitalization of the cinema is extremely convenient and affordable. However, one of the archive representatives put forward the straightest question, “What do we want to have? What do we want would happen? The thing is not what we can do but it is what we want to do.” As a head of archive he rightly thought that everything should be done for the proper preservation of the valued pieces of the cinema in a way which would enable to demonstrate them in future preserving their authenticity and the means once used to create them. Of course, the grounds provided by him, were more than convincing. So, the program introduced and presented by the Bologna Festival, was inspiring and urged the viewers to make all possible efforts to see as many films as possible during the festival days.

P1010257-300x225P1010479-300x225Speaking frankly, on the very first day I had some concern that in the frames of such an abundant festival program which provided viewing opportunities of incessant choice, one could spot out the Armenian program; luckily, my fears turned out to be empty – the Mastroianni Hall (Sala Mastroianni) of the Cinema Lumière was overcrowded at all screening times. The attendees were people with high values and professional awareness; they were eager to discover still something unknown – the Armenian cinema, history of Armenia and its reality. The Armenian program was a special separate part of ‘The Time Machine’ section and was titled ‘Armenia. Genocide and After.’

Cecilia Cenciarelli, an Italian cinema researcher, Mariann Lewinsky, who has searched many foreign archives over to find rare, exceptional newsreel materials, and Jay Weissberg, an American renowned film critic, an insightful author of Variety magazine have made a huge work to prepare the program in cooperation with Gosfilmofond and Peter Bagrov, in particular. Together with Anna Malgina, Bagrov wrote articles for the festival catalogue about the Armenian films, which were included in the program following his advice.

The list of the films is as follows: Namus by Hamo Beknazaryan, Kikos by Patvakan Barkhudaryan, Kurds -Yezidis by Amasi Martirosyan (this ethnographic-feature film impressed greatly Dr. phil. Barbara Sträuli, professionally engaged in the subject of Kurdish culture; it came as a close reflection of genuine Kurdish habitat and national peculiarities) and, of course, Henrik Malyan’s Nahapet, which was provided by the National Cinema Center of Armenia.

Your humble servant had a great honor to write about Nahapet and an introduction article, ‘Silence of 1915 and Armenian cinema’ for the festival catalogue where it was mentioned that the Armenian Genocide was nearly left to obliteration.

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Mariann Lewinsky, the curator of the Armenian program

The program was opened with the screening of the chronicle materials of 1911-1923: Ani, The Town of 1000 Churches (Italy, 1911) by Giovanni Vitrotti, made by the French companies Gaumont and Pathé Etchmiadzine, Caucases: Entrée du nouveau Patriarche Armenien Gregoire V (France, 1912), Le Front Turc (France, 1914), Réfugiés Arméniens (France, 1915), Port Said:Camps de Réfugiés Arméniens (France, 1918), Armenia, Cradle of Humanity (1919-1923), American Military Mission to Turkey and Armenia: The Expedition of John Harbord in Armenia (USA, 1919).

In her opening speech Mariann Lewinsky provided pervasive comments and analysis of the documentary footages, bringing historical examples and proof. She mentioned that the number of documentaries, related to the Armenian Genocide, is scarce, thus we need kind of preliminary detailed explication before watching the material. She also paid tribute to Armin Wegner, a German doctor, whose photographs came as a rare and extremely important evidence which spoke out for this horrible human disaster. To understand the footages of Ani ruins one should know about it beforehand. The audience watched in exhausted hush the presented chronicles under the remarkable live accompaniment of Daniele Furlati, a marvelous pianist.

 

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Siranush Galstyan with Jay Weissberg, before the screening of Nahapet

The screening of Nahapet by Henrik Malyan was to follow. Jay Weissberg spoke before the screening of the film; previously, of course, I had a chance to enjoy his utmost professionalism and lively writing style by reading his film reviews.

I believe that speaking did not come easy to him after watching the Genocide related documentary footages. For me speaking about the bitterest tragedy in the history of my nation was difficult even in my mother tongue, however, I had to get all my strength together and restrain all feelings not to let the shed of tears burst out and prevent me from expressing myself.

In fact, it is hard to speak up on subjects like this, but not speaking at all would contribute to the deadliest silence which was eventually broken with great efforts during 100 years. I had to talk…sometimes, during the moments like that one may rely on the heavenly forces only…

I would like to quote from my on-the-spot speech from the Mastroianni Hall:

“I am here not only as a film critic and historian. I am here because my grandparents- grandmothers and grandfather were survivors.

Yes, I am the descendent of the Genocide survivors and I heard about this tragedy, and I was told the stories and details directly by my family members. Moments before watching the chronicles you saw some of the survivors and remembered some of their faces. They were educated and civilized. Even after massacres you saw how they were continuously washing up in the refugees’ camps. I want to say thank you to everyone: the people, who once held a hand to my compatriots, I want to say thank you to Morgenthau, the then US Ambassador, Doctor Asher and everybody else, who helped the Genocide survivors and orphans.

I am thankful to the organizers of this festival and I would like to mention the names of Mariann Lewinsky, Jay Weissberg and Cecilia Cenciarelli in particular, for the tremendous work they did to commemorate and remind afresh of what had happened 100 years ago.

Very few documentaries have reached us. Most of them disappeared from Turkish and even German archives. The film Ravished Armenia was made in the United States soon after the Genocide, where young Arshaluys Martikian/Aurora Mardiganian, who escape death in Deir ez-Zor desert by miracle, played her own role and passed the roads of death once again. Now only the 20 minutes of the film is preserved but it has not been included in the festival due to the poor quality; it is available in youtube.

I wonder how the fact that Genocide perpetrators – Young Turks, Talaat and others that were judged and sentenced in their own country, Turkey at the end of WWI, could be forgotten and then how they could escape death penalty and find a safe shelter in Germany or in other places.

Now let’s speak about Nahapet, which became the most famous Armenian film of the 70s. Definitely, the most prominent Armenian film is The Color of Pomegranate, but in the 70s it was almost shelved. Meanwhile, Nahapet was screened in France, England, Greece, Portugal and other European countries, and European sources of mass media wrote about it.

In fact, it was the first time when the Soviet government gave a permission to make a film about the Armenian Genocide. I would also like to add that the word ‘Turk’ is almost never uttered throughout the film, but you will recognize them by their actions… That’s it. Thank you.”

In addition, I would like to mention that Nahapet and other three silent feature films were received with great interest by the audience and applause in the end. The accompaniment of the excellent musicians, Daniele Furlati, Gabriel Thibaudeau and Stephen Horn also enjoyed applause. This program enabled the audience and the guests of the festival at least to have some idea about the Armenian cinema, mainly unknown by them, and evaluate the Armenian films of the first period as one of the unique and significant parts of the then Soviet cinema heritage.

Siranush Galstyan

 

 

 

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