As Festival Coordinator for Widescreen Weekend (among other festivals and events) I usually find myself organising festivals rather than attending them, so to be able to head off and experience a festival as a delegate, a programmer and a cinema advocate was exciting. And for it to be Il Cinema Ritrovato, the ultimate festival of archive film, was something else.
Read on for my highlights, experiences and thoughts as someone attending the festival for the first time…
What is Il Cinema Ritrovato?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Il Cinema Ritrovato, it takes place in the heart of Bologna, Italy, has been running for over 30 years, and calls itself ‘a grand museum of film, open for just nine days a year’. The festival focuses on archive film and new restorations, and has a rule of screening nothing younger than 30 years old. This is a broad spectrum of film. However, it’s expertly curated, and their strands and celebrations are neatly packaged, with everything from 19th-century films to newly discovered world cinema.
With Widescreen Weekend being a unique festival with a specific remit—celebrating big, bold cinema experiences and technology past, present and future—Il Cinema Ritrovato was the perfect festival to gather inspiration, meet new friends and indulge in a bit of classic cinema.
Although Il Cinema Ritrovato announce their strands, plus a few film highlights, well in advance, the schedule and full programme isn’t released until a few days before the festival begins. As someone who likes to plan, this was quite stressful. But armed with a highlighter (and, shamefully, Google Translate, as quite a lot of the programme was in Italian), I created my dream itinerary.
I set myself a challenge to experience at least one film from every strand. This may have been a bit ambitious, but I managed about half of the strands, including The Rebirth of Chinese Cinema 1941–1951 (which wasn’t really to my taste) and Luciano Emmer 100: The Art of Gazing (I think I’ve found a new love in director Emmer).
My favourite was In Search of Colour: Technicolor & Co. It may not contain the most undiscovered, obscure films, but nothing can compare to those rich saturated colours, especially when projected on original 35mm prints. The packed screening of Meet Me in St. Louis told me I wasn’t the only one who thought this: it was so popular that people were stood at the back and sat on stairs down the sides.
Il Cinema Ritrovato takes place in Italy. What more can you want!
The fact that the festival takes place among Bologna’s medieval buildings seems completely appropriate. Once you find your bearings and locate the venues in which you’ll be spending the most time—for me, Cinema Jolly and Cinema Arlecchino—then it’s easy to navigate your way around Bologna. There are a few insider tricks (google ‘Cinema Lumière’ to find Cineteca Bologna—thank you Pam Hutchinson of Silent London) but everything was easy to find. Take note: if you’re fair-skinned like me, you will still get burnt dashing from screening to screening!
The main ‘hub’ of the festival is Cineteca Bologna which hosts two cinemas, the lecture theatre, Piazzetta Pasolini and a nice bar area where you can get a drink (or gelato!). This is where you go to collect your festival pass and is a nice, laid back area to browse your huge festival catalogue or to catch up with friends and colleagues. This always served well as a rest point for me in between screenings. Did I mention they served gelato?
The screenings were always well attended, even early in the morning, which meant I needed to turn up at least 20–30 minutes in advance to be able to get a good seat. Only at Il Cinema Ritrovato is there a queue for a 10am screening of a John M. Stahl film.
But the highlight of the festival was always the outdoor Piazza screenings. They were magical. These screenings were free and open to the general public, which I thought was a clever way to engage the city with the festival. The atmosphere during the Martin Scorsese-introduced Enamorada was electric; it seemed the whole of Bologna had turned out to catch a glimpse of the legendary director. The screening started with music from a live Mariachi band. This could have seemed out of place, but it fit well and was nice to see that Il Cinema Ritrovato didn’t take themselves too seriously.
Then there was the amazing carbon arc lamp projector of Piazzetta Pasolini. This small courtyard only has a handful of seats, so not only did you need to book in advance by email, but you needed to be fast. It was worth it. The screening was of Neapolitan ﬁlms of the 1910s and ’20s (from the Songs of Naples: Tribute to Elvira Notari and Vittorio Martinelli section) presented alongside glorious live music and singing. This amazing experience is something that will always stay with me.
Il Cinema Ritrovato’s dedication to showing prints where possible meant that almost half of the films I viewed were from 35mm prints. As a treat to myself I went to watch Hitchcock’s Marnie—one of the few Hitchcock films I hadn’t seen—on the Tuesday. I almost squealed with delight when Michael Pogorzelski from the Academy Film Archive, who introduced the film, told us that it was an original 1964 release print. The print was perfect.
I was lucky enough to secure a golden ticket for the ‘In Conversation’ event with Martin Scorsese, so despite having arrived in Bologna only a few hours earlier, I headed straight for Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Maybe it was a combination of an early flight and getting used to Bologna heat, but as much as I loved what Martin Scorsese had to say, the event itself felt exhausting. All questions were in Italian (I don’t know why I expected anything different) and although Scorsese’s answers were in English, after every few sentences his response was translated back into Italian. After an hour, we had only made it through 4 questions. Still, just being in the presence of a great director—and one who passionately advocates for film preservation—in a beautiful venue was enough.
Although there were talks and sessions running consistently alongside the film programme (including the FIAF Summer School sessions, which I was kicking myself for not booking onto) I only managed to make it to a handful. One of the highlights was Sir Christopher Frayling’s talk ‘The Cinema According to Sergio Leone’. With Sir Christopher Frayling regularly acting as Guest Curator for Widescreen Weekend, I may be biased, but the talk was insightful, funny and engaging—even to someone who doesn’t know much about the genre.
The most noticeable thing about Il Cinema Ritrovato was that every single festival-goer seemed to be there because they loved film. I’m sure there were meetings happening and business being done somewhere, but it genuinely felt as though people were there primarily for the films.
In his introduction to Enamorada in Piazza Maggiore, Martin Scorsese spoke about the festival being a ‘pilgrimage’ for cinema lovers. I felt he was right. Or maybe it was the romanticism of a packed screening under the stars, among the beautiful architecture of Bologna. But to favour sitting in a dark cinema over exploring the city, enjoying the food (the gelato! did I mention this?) and the sunshine, you must be a true cinephile.
Il Cinema Ritrovato, you became my happy place for 6 days. Until next year.
Rebecca attended Il Cinema Ritrovato with support from the Film Hub North bursary scheme.