Watershed Cinema Producer, Tara Judah, reflects on the wonder of Bologna’s treasured film festival Cinema Ritrovato. The festival showcases the value of reframing films in modern contexts, and sparks exciting plans for Bristol’s Cinema Rediscovered at the end of July, including an incredible outdoor screening on Bristol Harbour.
If you work in a cinema you have to go to the cinema – your own and others, as often as you can. It’s not only a question of being – to understand an audience you must first be an audience – but also one of passion, voracity and awe.
Il Cinema Ritrovato is, for the uninitiated, Bologna’s classic, archive and repertory film festival, and the inspiration behind Watershed’s Cinema Rediscovered. It offers a week of big screen romance and an invitation to embark upon a lifetime love affair with the movies.
Meeting and mingling with like-minded cinephiles, Bologna played host to a carefully choreographed dance routine; we waltzed, back and forth between cinema venues; swooned, then folded into our cinema seats as the lights dimmed; tangoed our way towards the piazza when night fell; and lost ourselves in endless impassioned conversation over an Aperol Spritz after viewing gave way to enthusiastic applause.
Beyond the usual queues of delegates vying for the best seats in the city’s purpose-built auditoriums, Bologna boasts an impressive outdoor screen on its famed Piazza Maggiore. The swell of our collective awe in watching digital remasters of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, was stunning. Under the stars, I experienced cinephilic shivers, even on a balmy Summer’s night.
The Seventh Seal
During workshops on film education and film heritage we talked about our own first connections with cinema, proving with our passion that audiences do start young and, more significantly, that the connections are so often made with films from the past.
Bringing the past up to date, reflecting upon it in the present and thinking about how it might lead us into the future was on everyone’s agenda. From Germany and France to the Netherlands and on our own home shores in the UK, examples of workshops and programmes that took inspiration from the great wealth of cinema’s more than one-hundred-year history were those that prevailed. So too was the focus on doing in connection with viewing – cinema is not a passive art, it asks something of us and, when we are young (if not also as we age!), we want to take what we’ve seen in the dark and make something of it when we step into the light.
While new discoveries are always a treat at a festival such as this, it was the films I had already seen that led to more profound experiences for me this time around. After a good few black and white, pre and early code era films including; John M Stahl’s Seed (1931) and When Tomorrow Comes (1939), Alfred L. Werker’s Bachelor’s Affairs (1932) and Alfred Santell’s That Brennan Girl (1946), I’d had my fill of films with women of no agency. And yet, what struck me most watching these films was how much more significant they made my re-watching of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).
Still from Hitchcock’s The Birds
A film I was obsessed with as a teenager (and must have watched some twenty or more times), I was struck by how odd and how brilliant the film seemed now in queering classic narrative paradigms. Daphne du Maurier’s text provides the perfect foundation for wondering what would happen if we were to give our classic Hollywood leading ladies some agency. The answer, Hitchcock would have us believe, is that nature would turn on us and try to take our future (children) away. Though I don’t agree with the message, the way in which is plays out onscreen is completely transfixing. Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) sets in motion her own narrative action – she is the instigator of casual progression in the film and, for that, she and the future of heteronormativity and the survival of children is seriously threatened.
No more severe than it was when I was teenager, but every bit as compelling, re-watching The Birds reminded me of how we can best understand what cinema does in the two or so hours that we submit to its sounds and images: it is in dialogue. With us and with its own cultural past, cinema asks a question, it’s up to us how we answer it.
Re-watching the first chapter of Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino’s extraordinary The Hour of the Furnances (1968) also gave me great pause for thought: I may not live in 1960s Latin America but neoliberalism and its impact still has an effect. Struggles are deeply rooted in their specificity, of course, but there is something about the way in which the issues and ideologies that fuel struggles become pervasive that means we must repeatedly revisit, re-situate and reframe them within new and changing social, historical and cultural contexts. The film itself has more than one ending, precisely because it was always intended to be screened in dialogue with the places and the struggles around it.
Whenever I watch films on a big screen – new, old, familiar or for the first time – I am reminded of why we want to show them to others. It is so profound, in fact, that it becomes almost urgent. Armed with urgency, passion and full of love after a week of watching all manner of films in crammed auditoriums or on a sweet summer’s eve propped up by the bar, I am overjoyed to know that we will be doing the very same thing in our home town in just three weeks.
Now it is time for our invitation to you, reader, please join us for Cinema Rediscovered, at Watershed, 20th Century Flicks, in Clevedon at Curzon Cinema & Arts and, for the very first time, under the stars as we bring a little bit of Bologna to Bristol with our first ever outdoor screenings at Museum Square (by MShed), July 26-29. Let’s hope the rain holds off, and please watch this space for our Friday and Saturday night outdoor film screening announcements, coming very soon.