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Jane Fonda, Thierry Fremaux, Alexander Payne Advocate to Save Classic Films at HFPA Restoration Summit

Pat Saperstein

3/10/2019 12:00:00 AM

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association rallied a roster of film world heavy-hitters Saturday at the Ace Hotel’s United Artists theater in downtown Los Angeles for the organization’s first Film Restoration Summit devoted to celebrating classic films and the urgent need to put more resources into saving them.

Naturally, the importance of preserving the big-screen experience was a major theme, but the event was mainly dedicated to celebrating films that have been brought back to life through the efforts of organizations such as Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and the UCLA Film Archive.

The HFPA has donated $6.5 million to such efforts since 1996, going toward 125 restoration projects.

Panelists Jane FondaThierry FremauxAlexander Payne, Sony’s Grover Crisp and UCLA’s Jan-Christopher Horak came together to discuss the necessity of stepping up preservation efforts, particularly for silent, independent and international films. A restored print of “A Fistful of Dollars”  screened after the presentation.

HFPA president Meher Tatna pointed out that as many as half of all films made before 1950 have been lost, and recalled that the organization has supported restorations such as Ida Lupino’s “The Bigamist” and Satjayit Ray’s “Apu” trilogy. The panel was moderated by Sandra Schulberg, whose IndieCollect organization works to preserve independent films.

Fremaux took the stage saying it felt bizarre for him to talk about the history of cinema at this moment because he’s in the middle of selecting films for Cannes. “I hope I won’t get confused and give you the Cannes opening night film,” he joked, “which by the way we don’t have, which is a problem.” The Cannes director also heads Lyon’s Institut Lumiere, devoted to preserving and screening historic films.

He gave audiences a quick refresher on the beginnings of cinema, throwing a bit of shade at Thomas Edison, whose early works were viewed on the small Kinetoscope viewer, as opposed to Louis Lumiere, who was the first to champion projection on a big screen.

“It’s still what we love, being together to watch images on a big screen. Maybe the revenge of Thomas Edison is called Netflix,” he quipped. Fremaux screened a number of fascinating location-shot films from the Lumiere brothers, shot in the late 1800s and early 1900s, some restored with help from the HFPA.

Fonda, who was honored at the Lumiere film festival last year, admitted that she’s no expert on the issue of preservation. She joked that being asked to be on the panel might be “to punish me because my favorite ex-husband colorized much of MGM’s film library.” Ted Turner was a pariah for the colorization debacle, she recalled, yet she pointed out that he actually preserved the MGM library, which led to the creation of Turner Classic Movies.

“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been,” she proclaimed. “Perhaps we ought to put as much into saving film as we do into making it.” Later, as panelists called out the need for her Oscar-winning “Coming Home” to be restored, she almost looked like she was on the verge of pulling out her checkbook.

Crisp, who is executive VP of asset management, film restoration and digital mastery at Sony, explained how the advent of increasingly sophisticated digital techniques means that some films are restored repeatedly — “Easy Rider,” for example, is on its third restoration. Fonda quipped that the filmmakers may have been “too stoned” to properly care for the original film elements.

To provide a visual example of the huge difference restoration can make, Horak screened faded, murky scenes from Westerns that were brought back to vibrant color in the restoration process.

Payne described himself as a “Bologna geek,” not because he’s fond of processed meats but because he’s a regular at the Italian preservation-oriented fest, which he encouraged everyone to attend. The HFPA asked Payne to select a film he wanted to see restored, and he recalled a mentor’s words, “Always save the silents.” So he chose the 1926 Douglas Fairbanks movie “The Black Pirate” as the organization’s next restoration project.

“There aren’t a lot of contemporary directors who are film buffs, who go out to see old films,” Payne said.

Payne later reflected on the small screen vs. big screen debate. “I think if there’s no theatrical experience at all, then it’s TV. I’m kind of with Thierry Fremaux on that. But the flipside is, Netflix has opened up such an ocean of creativity to filmmakers.”

Fremaux said it’s also important to save cinemas, not just films, and gave a shout-out to Quentin Tarantino and his New Beverly Cinema. “We are here in this wonderful theater,” he said, gesturing at the gilded detail of the 1927 auditorium. “Cinemas are in danger — in Rome, there are no theaters in the city anymore.” He recalled Tarantino’s insistence that “Pulp Fiction” be shown at the festival’s anniversary screening with a 35mm print.

Fremaux said later that it’s his generation’s responsibility to preserve the culture, and then teach it to younger people, the way filmmakers like Scorsese and Tarantino are doing. “Then it will be their role to pay attention.”

“You have to be sure that the great classic films can be seen anytime, anywhere,” Fremaux said. “With DVD, but also in a movie theater.”

Even people who are great chefs at home love to go to restaurants, and sports fans flock to stadiums even though they watch sports on TV, he pointed out.

“The next great adventure,” Fremaux said, “is silent cinema. It’s full of treasures, all over the world.”

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‘The Juniper Tree’ Trailer: Feminist Fairytale Stars Baby Björk in Her Feature Film Debut

Jude Dry

3/4/2019 12:00:00 AM

Exclusive: A new restoration of Iceland's black-and-white fairytale from 1990 gets its first-ever New York theatrical run courtesy of Metrograph.

Before she was known only by her first name, and long before her awe-inspiring performance in Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” proved that musicians can sometimes out-act even the best actors, the beloved and enigmatic Björk made her feature film debut in a black-and-white film called “The Juniper Tree.” Based on a witchcraft tale from the Brothers Grimm and directed by Nietzchka Keene, “The Juniper Tree” premiered in competition at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival. Unfortunately, the fantasy arthouse indie never received theatrical distribution, making a new 4k restoration and re-release especially enticing.

As evidenced in IndieWire’s exclusive trailer for the new restoration — featuring stunning cinematography of Icelandic vistas and Björk’s already-honed onscreen naturalism — it’s clear that this vintage work deserves renewed attention.

Per Metrograph’s official synopsis: “Björk, then still the frontwoman of the Sugarcubes and not quite yet an international superstar, plays a woman fleeing with her sister from the persecutors who put their mother to the torch for crimes of witchcraft in this debut film by the late Nietzchka Keene, an evocation of medieval life full of harshness, fervor, and free-floating terror, with DP Randy Sellars capturing majestic, often otherworldly Icelandic landscapes in breathtaking black-and-white, returned to original luster thanks to a new restoration. Experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neill provides the dream sequences to this ravishing rediscovery, a feminist fairy tale that evokes Bergman and Tarkovsky while being at the same time unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

The new restoration was done by the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation. Arbelos Films will premiere “The Juniper Tree” at Metrograph for a one-week exclusive theatrical engagement from March 15-21, with a national expansion to follow.

’Neill provides the dream sequences to this ravishing rediscovery, a feminist fairy tale that evokes Bergman and Tarkovsky while being at the same time unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

The new restoration was done by the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation. Arbelos Films will premiere “The Juniper Tree” at Metrograph for a one-week exclusive theatrical engagement from March 15-21, with a national expansion to follow.

And here is the first look at the new poster, courtesy of Areblos Films:

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Martin Scorsese and the African Film Heritage Project Are Bringing Four Vital Films Home

Michael Nordine

2/23/2019 11:00:00 AM

The restorations are screening on their home continent for the first time.

The African Film Heritage Project has announced that it will screen restorations of four African films on their home continent for the first time as part of the 50th anniversary of the Pan African Film Festival of Ouagadougou. THE AFHP is a partnership between the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI), Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, along with its affiliate archive the Cineteca di Bologna, and UNESCO. The movies in question are Med Hondo’s “Soleil Ô” (1970), Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamima’s “Chronique des années de braise” (1975), Timité Bassori’s “La Femme au couteau” (1969), and Jean-Pierre Dikongue-Pipa’s “Muna Moto” (1975).

The AFHP will also present seven African films previously restored by Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, including work by the likes of Ousmane Sembene, Djibril Diop Mambety, Shadi Abdel Salam and Ahmed El Maanouni.

“I can’t tell you how really deeply inspired and excited I am by African films; ‘Yeelen,’ ‘Touki Bouki,’ ‘Trances,’ ‘La Noire De…,’ ‘Al Momia,’ ‘Bamako,’” said Scorsese in a statement. “I keep going back to these pictures and each time the experience is richer. My appreciation just keeps growing for the talent, the power, and the wisdom of African cinema. Many thanks to FESPACO for its truly amazing work, and here’s to 50 more years.”

“Through it, African filmmakers have chosen to be the lucid, critical and empathetic conscience of their continent, and indeed of the world itself. They have refused to be cynical about the world. They have put their faith in and cast their lot with the human, offering a genuine cinematic humanism, rooted in resilience and optimism in the coming of better futures.”

FESPACO takes place from February 23 to March 2.

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Celebrate Film Restoration with the Wexner Center

Hope Madden

2/19/2019 12:00:00 AM

For the fifth consecutive year, the Wexner Center for the Arts celebrates the art and artistry of film restoration with its Cinema Revival festival. The program offers moviegoers the chance to see beautifully restored films — groundbreaking classics, blockbusters and underseen gems — while digging into the process that protects these treasures for viewers of today and tomorrow.

The five-day event kicks off Thursday, February 21 and runs through Tuesday, February 26, offering a docket of 16 films as well as conversations with some of the craftspeople who brought these cinematic gems back from the brink.

Among the lineup of highlights is a restoration of Taylor Hackford’s 1985 Russian intrigue and dance film, White Nights.

“In 1985 when it was released, it was a really big film, but I feel like it’s kind of fallen by the wayside,” says Rita Belda, Vice President of Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering for Sony. “Because the main characters are trapped in Russia and they’re part of a political game, it felt like it was interesting to revisit now.”

Belda’s department is responsible for Sony’s entire feature film and television catalog.

“Our job is to manage the assets,” she says, “to preserve them, protect them and make sure that they last into the future. Our mission is to make sure that all of the films in the library are preserved and available for viewing.”

She recalls a time when a request for White Nights drew her attention to the rough quality of the title in Sony’s archive.

“A few years ago I got the request to send a DCP of White Nights to the Chicago Film Festival,” she says. “I started looking into the materials and I was really unhappy with what we had. It didn’t hold up to the artistry of the film.”

She felt the film deserved better.

“The cast is amazing. The performances are incredible,” she says. “And just the opportunity to see Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov on the big screen is really powerful. When the material doesn’t hold up to the original vision, it becomes a challenge to me for restoration, to get the material back to the quality that audiences would have seen in the original release.”

When schedules aligned and funds became available, White Nights landed on Belda’s restoration docket.  

“We started with the original negative,” she recalls. “It was dirty. So we scanned the negative at 4K and then we evaluated it further for dirt and scratch and did a full digital restoration, and then we pulled in the director, Taylor Hackford, who oversaw the color correction and audio restoration.”

Says Belda, Hackford’s collaboration on the project made for an incredible experience.

“He expressed to me that he was really thrilled that we were able to go back and do this in a major 4K restoration,” she says. “He was very generous with his time and his stories.”

She recalls one particular episode when Hackford was especially careful in guiding the color correction of a scene starring his wife, Helen Mirren.

“It was one of my favorite moments,” she says. “There was a shot where the light fell off of her face, and that was a shot that he was particularly interested in making sure it was perfect. That was something I thought was really lovely.”

A returning expert for Cinema Revival, Belda’s excited to get the chance to participate again and learn from other speakers in the program.

“I am a really big fan of the Wexner Center and what they do,” she says. “I think it’s awesome that David (Filipi) and his team are exposing people to the art and artistry of both cinema and the people who are working so hard to preserve cinema. It’s incredible to be a part of that.”

She’s also eager to premiere the newly restored White Nights with a Columbus audience.

“I am excited to present this film because I think a lot of people have not seen it, certainly not in a theatrical context,” she says. “That’s where the preservationist and the film fan in me come together. It’s great to be able to preserve the film and it’s even better to watch them with an audience. That’s what I’m looking forward to, because it’s a really excellent opportunity to visit with people in Columbus and show them this movie, but it’s not much work.”

Full Cinema Revival lineup:

Thursday, February 21

4:30 p.m. The War at Home (1979) 4K restoration

7:30 p.m. Filibus (1915), introduced by Amy Heller and Dennis Doros, Milestones Films

Friday, February 22

4:30 p.m. From ‘Sunrise” to “Die Hard”: The History of 20th Century Fox, presented by Shawn Belston, 20th Century Fox

7 p.m. True Stories (1986), introduced by Lee Kline, Criterion Collection

Saturday, February 23

12 p.m. Notorious (1946), Introduced by Eric Luszcz, Criterion Collection

2:30 p.m. Detour (1945), introduced by John Polito, Audio Mechanics

4:45 p.m. Prisoners of the Earth (1939), introduced by Margaret Bodde, The Film Foundation

6:30 p.m. Cinema Revival Reception

7:30 p.m. White Nights (1985), introduced by Rita Belda, Sony Pictures

Sunday, February 24

11:30 a.m. Laurel and Hardy X 4 (Helpmates [1932], County Hospital [1932], Busy Bodies [1933], That’s That [1937])

1:30 p.m. Battling Butler (1926), introduced by Tim Lanza, Cohen Film Collection

3:30 p.m. That Brennan Girl (1946)

Monday, February 25

4:00 p.m. Les rendez-vous d’Anna (1978)

Tuesday, February 26

7 p.m. Claudine (1974) with postscreening conversation with Simone Drake

Festival passes are $30 for members, students and seniors, $35 for the general public.

Purchase festival passes or individual movie tickets at www.wexarts.org.

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