News

60th New York Film Festival Revivals Announced

8/23/2022 3:00:00 PM

Film at Lincoln Center announces Revivals for the 60th New York Film Festival (September 30–October 16, 2022). The Revivals section showcases important works from renowned filmmakers that have been digitally remastered, restored, and preserved with the assistance of generous partners.

Festival Passes are now on sale. NYFF60 single tickets will go on sale to the General Public on September 19, with pre-sale access for FLC Members and Pass holders prior to this date.

“The Revivals section continues to look beyond acknowledged and revered classics, and to challenge the conventions of the canon,” said Florence Almozini, Senior Director of Programming at Film at Lincoln Center. “This year’s lineup proves once again that even relatively recent decades are full of potential cinematic discoveries, by showcasing significant works from artists of diverse backgrounds and origins in striking new restorations.”

The Revivals section connects cinema’s historical significance and present-day cultural influence through a selection of world premieres of restorations, rarities, and more. Highlights from this year’s slate include 

No Fear No Die, Claire Denis’s rarely screened second feature, a forceful examination of the lives of immigrants in France and the psychic toll of the violence imposed by colonizers upon the colonized; and Canyon Passage, the first of Jacques Tourneur’s remarkable Westerns and a film that Martin Scorsese called “one of the most mysterious and exquisite examples of the Western genre ever made,” with Scorsese and Steven Spielberg consulting on this restoration. 

Additional highlights include four newly restored short and medium-length films by the pioneering queer Black experimental filmmaker Edward Owens: Autre Fois J’ai Aimé Une Femme, Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts, Remembrance: A Portrait Study, and Tomorrow’s Promise; Cauleen Smith’s Drylongso, a landmark in American independent cinema and an enduringly rich work of DIY filmmaking that remains a resonant and visionary examination of violence (and its reverberations), friendship, and gender; a long overdue restoration of Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, five decades after its scandalous premiere at Cannes, which uses an obsessive, talkative ménage à trois as the jumping-off point for an intense exploration of sexual politics; and Pedro Costa’s first feature, O Sangue, a beguiling fairytale about the trials undergone by two brothers in the wake of their father’s violent death that Costa has noted as “the beginning of [his] love—maybe love is the wrong word—for domestic cinema. A kind of cinema that shows how people live.” Balufu Bakupu-Kanyinda’s Le Damier, a meticulously composed work of political cinema that takes aim at the absurdity of authoritarianism, will screen with Radu Jude’s previously announced short film The Potemkinists (a Currents selection), which revisits the history of the battleship Potemkin through a comic dialogue between a sculptor and a representative from Romania’s Ministry of Culture. 

The Revivals section is programmed by Florence Almozini and Dan Sullivan with program advising by Gina Telaroli.

Presented by Film at Lincoln Center, the New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema and takes place September 30–October 16, 2022. An annual bellwether of the state of cinema that has shaped film culture since 1963, the festival continues an enduring tradition of introducing audiences to bold and remarkable works from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. 

As part of its 60th anniversary celebration, the New York Film Festival will offer festival screenings in all five boroughs of New York City in partnership with Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (Staten Island), BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) (Brooklyn), the Bronx Museum of the Arts (Bronx), Maysles Documentary Center (Harlem), and the Museum of the Moving Image (Queens). Each venue will present a selection of films throughout the festival; a complete list of films and showtimes will be announced later this month. NYFF60 tickets, including those for partner venue screenings, will go on sale to the General Public on September 19 at noon.

FLC invites audiences to celebrate this milestone anniversary by reflecting on their NYFF experiences with our NYFF Memories survey and by taking part in our Letterboxd Watch Challenge.

Please note: Masks are required for all staff, audiences, and filmmakers at all times in public spaces at FLC indoor spaces. Proof of full vaccination is not required for NYFF60 audiences at FLC indoor spaces, but full vaccination is strongly recommended. Visit filmlinc.org/safety for more information. For health and safety protocols at partner venues, please visit their official websites.

Festival Passes are on sale now in limited quantities. NYFF60 single tickets, including those for partner venue screenings, will go on sale to the General Public on Monday, September 19 at noon ET, with pre-sale access for FLC Members and Pass holders prior to this date. Support of NYFF benefits Film at Lincoln Center in its nonprofit mission to promote the art and craft of cinema. NYFF60 press and industry accreditation is now open and the application deadline is August 31. NYFF60 volunteer call is now open.

 

FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS

Beirut the Encounter
Borhane Alaouié, 1981, Lebanon, 97m
Arabic with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere

Set in 1977 during the Lebanese Civil War, Borhane Alaouié’s melancholic, meditative docu-fiction study of longing and life amid conflict begins as the lines of communication between East and West Beirut have been reestablished and two former university friends, a Christian woman (Nadine Acoury) and a Shiite man (Haithem el Amine), reconnect. They make a pact to record their thoughts and feelings to share with each other before the woman departs the next day for the United States, and we follow the two through the everyday system of checkpoints, traffic jams, and moments of tension that define their experience of Beirut. An entrancingly personal and atmospheric film poem about human connection in troubled times, Beirut the Encounter is a too-little-seen masterwork of Lebanese cinema. Beirut the Encounter was restored in 2018 from the original negative by the Royal Film Archive of Belgium – CINEMATEK. The 35mm negative was scanned and digitally restored in 2K. The magnetic soundtrack was also digitized by the Royal Film Archive of Belgium – CINEMATEK.

Black God, White Devil
Glauber Rocha, 1964, Brazil, 120m
Portuguese with English subtitles

A landmark work of militant cinema and a key film of the Cinema Novo movement, the then-25-year-old Glauber Rocha’s second feature begins in the 1940s as a ranch laborer named Manoel (Geraldo Del Ray) finds himself in conflict with his boss, who is trying to stiff him on payment; Manoel kills the boss and heads out on the lam with his wife (Yoná Magalhães). The two become self-styled outlaws and, later, join up with self-appointed saint Antonio das Mortes (Mauricío de Valle), who preaches a gospel of meeting the violence of the world with still more violence. A film at once alluringly mystical and radically political, Black God, White Devil interweaves documentary elements and iconoclastic formal experimentation to yield one of world cinema’s all-time great shots across the bow. New 4K restoration from Metropoles Productions, based on original 35mm materials preserved by the Cinemateca Brasileira. Restoration by CineColor Digital and JLS Studios.

Canyon Passage
Jacques Tourneur, 1946, U.S., 92m

Ablaze in breathtaking Technicolor, the first of Jacques Tourneur’s remarkable Westerns is a complex, morally ambiguous portrait of an Oregon mining community where the friendship between an enterprising merchant (Dana Andrews) and an avaricious gambler (Brian Donlevy) is tested by romantic rivalry, gold, and greed. An unusually rich, philosophical frontier tale, Canyon Passage conjures a dreamily idyllic vision of the Old West punctuated by sudden, shocking bursts of violence—Tourneurian flashes of a world ruled by chaos and chance. The result is what Martin Scorsese has called “one of the most mysterious and exquisite examples of the Western genre ever made.” Restored by Universal Pictures in collaboration with The Film Foundation. Special thanks to Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg for their consultation on this restoration.

A Confucian Confusion
Edward Yang, 1994, Taiwan, 125m
Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles

Edward Yang’s panoramic satire is set in the material world of 1990s Taipei, the skyline choked by smog and lit up by the neon signs of globally branded corporations. With his rapier wit, Yang observes the self-absorption of a gaggle of 20-something urbanites, including “culture company” impresario Molly (Ni Shujun), her wealthy fiancé (who fears Molly may be cheating on him), her talk-show-host sister, and the sister’s estranged husband, a novelist whose latest book imagines a reincarnated Confucius returning—with considerable horror—to a modern society ostensibly built upon his teachings. Though it signaled a shift in tone from his earlier, more dramatic films, the ambitious and incisive A Confucian Confusion finds Yang once again searching for the soul of a country he no longer quite recognizes. New digital restoration by The Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute through a grant from Edward Yang’s widow Kaili Peng.

Le Damier
Balufu Bakupu-Kanyinda, 1996, Democratic Republic of Congo, 40m
French with English subtitles

Set in a fictitious African country, Balufu Bakupu-Kanyinda’s medium-length comedy recounts the tale of the country’s president—the founder and “first citizen” of his nation—settling in for an all-night game of checkers with a man who purports to be the grand champion. However, the game soon devolves into a satirical and incisive parable about the brutal confrontation between dictatorship and its political opponents. A meticulously composed work of political cinema, Le Damier takes aim at the absurdity of authoritarianism and doesn’t miss. Restored in 2K in 2021 by NYU Tisch, in association with Villa Albertine – French Embassy in the United States and the Cinémathèque Afrique of the Institut français.

Screening with:
The Potemkinists / Potemkiniștii*
Radu Jude, 2022, Romania, 18m
Romanian and Russian with English subtitles
North American Premiere

Radu Jude revisits the history of the battleship Potemkin—the source story for Sergei Eisenstein’s classic 1925 work of Soviet montage—as a comic dialogue between a sculptor and a representative from Romania’s Ministry of Culture about cinema, monument-making, and art’s conflicted role in the continual revisionism of history. 

*The Potemkinists is a Currents selection. For more information about the Currents lineup, visit here.

The Day of Despair
Manoel de Oliveira, 1992, Portugal/France, 76m
Portuguese with English subtitles

One of Portugal’s greatest filmmakers portrays one of its greatest writers in this biographical gem, the culmination of the trilogy that Manoel de Oliveira began with Doomed Love (1978) and Francisca (1991). As with FranciscaThe Day of Despair finds Oliveira depicting the life of the 19th-century writer Camilo Castelo Branco, here played by Mario Barroso. Drawing from Branco’s correspondence with the writer Ana Plácido, this film follows Branco’s final days, with the great, scandalous author tormented by his own internal tensions as his health takes a dive and the possibility of continuing to write grows ever more remote. Oliveira’s execution of this portrait of an anguished master of letters—marked by gorgeous, enveloping, painterly images—yields an essential tribute. This copy is the result of the 4K digitisation of the original 35mm camera negative and the final sound mix, on magnetic tape, both elements conserved by the Cinemateca Portuguesa. Color grading and digital restoration of the image were made by Cineric Portugal in 2022 using a distribution print as reference.

Drylongso
Cauleen Smith, 1998, U.S., 86m
World Premiere

Cauleen Smith’s 1998 feature debut, a landmark in American independent cinema, follows Pica (Toby Smith), a woman in a photography class in Oakland, as she begins photographing the young black men of her neighborhood, having witnessed so many of them fall victim to senseless murder and fearing the possibility of their becoming extinct altogether. This project serves as a point of departure for Smith to explore Pica’s relationship with her family, as well as her relationship with a friend (April Barnett) who becomes the victim of an enigmatic and elusive serial killer lurking in the background. An enduringly rich work of DIY filmmaking, Drylongso remains a resonant and visionary examination of violence (and its reverberations), friendship, and gender. A Janus Films release. 4K restoration undertaken by The Criterion Collection, Janus Films and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Supervised by Director Cauleen Smith. The NYFF60 Revivals presentation of Drylongso is sponsored by Turner Classic Movies.

Eight Deadly Shots
Mikko Niskanen, 1972, Finland, 316m
Finnish with English subtitles

Inspired by the events surrounding a 1969 mass shooting in Pihtipudas, Finland, Mikko Niskanen’s riveting four-part mini-series chronicles the plight of a farmer, Pasi (played by Niskanen himself), whose economic hardships lead him to take up moonshining with a friend, effectively causing him to lapse back into despondent alcoholism. As Pasi sinks deeper into poverty and deeper into the bottle, we witness the routines, rituals, and quotidian dramas of his life, captured with a transfixing attentiveness to the passage of time. Hailed as the crowning achievement of Finnish filmmaking by no less an authority than Aki Kaurismaki, this naturalist epic is a triumph of psychological cinema, and a powerfully relevant exploration of economic injustice. A Janus Films release. Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Yleisradio Oy, Fiction Finland ry, and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. Funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. Additional support provided by the Ministry of Culture and Education in Finland, Tiina and Antti Herlin Foundation, and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

The Long Farewell
Kira Muratova, 1971, USSR, 97m
Russian with English subtitles
North American Premiere

Completed in 1971 but not released until perestroika in 1987, Kira Muratova’s fourth feature is a majestic psychodrama centering on the relationship between a mother and a son and rendered with a borderline avant-garde sense of aesthetic freedom and formal experimentation. Divorced Evgenia (Zinaida Sharko) has devoted her life to raising her son, Sasha (Oleg Vladimirsky), but their bond is tested when he becomes a teenager and visits his father in far-off Novosibirsk, planting seeds for the young man’s desire to move out from beneath his overbearing mother’s thumb. Muratova transfigures the resulting blow-ups and reconciliations as a kinetic and atmospheric symphony suffused with resentment and love, sensitivity and obliviousness, freedom and duty. A Janus Films release. Restored in 4K by STUDIOCANAL in collaboration with The Criterion Collection at L’Immagine Ritrovata/Éclair Classics.

The Mother and the Whore
Jean Eustache, 1973, France, 210m
French with English subtitles
North American Premiere

At long last presented in a striking new restoration worthy of the film’s reputation, 50 years after its scandalous premiere at Cannes, Jean Eustache’s hard-to-see masterpiece uses an obsessive, talkative ménage à trois—Jean-Pierre Léaud, Bernadette Lafont, and Françoise Lebrun—as the jumping-off point for an intense exploration of sexual politics among liberated yet alienated moderns. The Mother and the Whore abounds with references and allusions to 15 years of New Wave images and language while also documenting the mix of strategies and fictions that lovers and other strangers use to make contact and to armor themselves. Léaud, Lafont, and Lebrun, the basis of the film, portray its unforgettable characters with an absolute intensity and a mesmerizing, endlessly rich sense of humanity. A Janus Films release. The Mother and the Whore has been restored and remastered in 4K in 2022 by Les Films du Losange with the support of CNC and the participation of La Cinémathèque suisse and of Chanel. Image restoration by L’Immagine Ritrovata/Éclair Classics, supervised by Jacques Besse and Boris Eustache. Sound restoration by Léon Rousseau-L.E. Diapason.

No Fear No Die
Claire Denis, 1990, France, 90m
French with English subtitles
World Premiere

Claire Denis’s rarely screened second feature is a radically physical cinematic journey into the shadowy (under)world of illegal cockfighting. Isaach De Bankole and Alex Descas star as Dah and Jocelyn, two immigrants (from Benin and French Antilles, respectively) living on the outskirts of Paris who earn money from cockfights. The escalating violence of the bouts—at the encouragement of the white owner of the restaurant (Jean-Claude Brialy) in whose basement the fights are held—takes its toll on the pair, and Jocelyn dreams of a life outside the brutal environment of feathered pugilism. Drawing inspiration from the writings of Frantz Fanon, the ruggedly unsentimental and psychologically evocative No Fear No Die is a forceful examination of the lives of immigrants in France and of the psychic toll of the violence imposed by colonizers upon the colonized. A Film Desk Release. Restored in 4K by Pathé in 2022 with the help of the French National Center of Film and Motions Pictures (CNC) at Hiventy Laboratory. Special thanks to Claire Denis, Agnès Godard, and Pascal Marti for their collaboration. 

O Sangue
Pedro Costa, 1989, Portugal, 95m
Portuguese with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere

Admirers of Pedro Costa’s more recent work are often thrown for a thrilling loop by the glossy, liquid textures and lush atmospherics of the director’s first feature, a beguiling fairytale about the trials undergone by two brothers in the wake of their father’s violent death. Costa, who was barely 30 when O Sangue premiered, had spent the seven years leading up to its production immersing himself in the films of Fritz Lang, Kenji Mizoguchi, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tourneur, and Nicholas Ray. But the film, which begins with a slap to the face, is never less than a bracingly original stream of images and impressions: a nocturnal journey through a brittle forest; a burst of fireworks seen from the balcony of a ghostly hotel; a glittering fairground dream scored to a rhapsodic pop song. “O Sangue,” Costa said in a 2006 interview, “was also the beginning of my love—maybe love is the wrong word—for domestic cinema. A kind of cinema that shows how people live.” This DCP results from a digitization of the original 35mm camera negative and from original 35mm monaural magnetic and optical sound elements preserved at Cinemateca Portuguesa, Museu do Cinema / ANIM. Negative 4K scan on wet gate Oxberry-Cineric scanner and audio recording supervised by Franco Bosco at ANIM. Digital grading and image restoration supervised by Carlos Almeida at IrmaLucia Efeitos Especiais, Lisbon. Colorist: Gonçalo Ferreira. Image Restoration: André Constantino, Ana Cunha. Uncompressed monaural soundtrack supervised by Hugo Leitão at Estúdio Espreita o Som, Lisbon. Image and sound restorations approved by the director, October 2021–February 2022. Special thanks to José Manuel Costa, Rui Machado – Cinemateca Portuguesa, Museu do Cinema / ANIM and Clarão Companhia Prod.

Four Films by Edward Owens
Autre Fois J’ai Aimé Une Femme, 1966, U.S., 16mm, 24m
Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts, 1967, U.S., 16mm, 6m
Tomorrow’s Promise, 1967, U.S., 16mm, 45m
Remembrance: A Portrait Study, 1968–70, U.S., 16mm, 6m

This program collects four newly restored short and medium-length films by the pioneering queer Black experimental filmmaker Edward Owens. A student of Gregory Markopoulos, Owens combined the strikingly staged, dramatically lit compositions of Markopoulos’s work with image-layering and superimpositions of pop cultural iconography to arrive at a singularly entrancing evocation of people and places. Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts pursues a dialectic of visual spaces and of stillness and motion. Autre Fois J’ai Aimé Une Femme conjures illicit desire on the surface of the skin, in the sound of a ferocious row, in magazine clippings, and in classical paintings. Tomorrow’s Promise focuses on the body by way of starkly lit portraits to meditate upon the tension between presence and absence, before shifting to zero in on the figure of a pensive bride. And Remembrance: A Portrait Study is an ode to Owens’s mother and her friends, adorned with the sounds of Marilyn Monroe singing “Running Wild” and Dusty Springfield’s “All Cried Out.” Restored by Chicago Film Society, The New American Cinema Group, Inc./The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, and the John M. Flaxman Library at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation’s Avant-Garde Masters Grant Program and the Film Foundation. Funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.

The Passion of Remembrance
Maureen Blackwood and Isaac Julien, 1986, UK, 82m

A landmark work in British avant-garde film and video, the Sankofa collective’s greatly influential first film, The Passion of Remembrance, ambitiously explores themes of racism, homophobia, sexism, and generational tensions as embodied in the reality known by a Black British family over the years. Interweaving two narrative threads—one in which a man and a woman discourse on their own experiences living in the UK, another in which events from three decades in the lives of the Baptiste family are staged—Maureen Blackwood and Isaac Julien tease the accumulated fragments into a spellbinding, heterogeneous mosaic that powerfully evokes the multiplicity of Black experience and identity and critiques the British state’s treatment of its marginalized residents. This 4K remaster by the BFI National Archive, undertaken in collaboration with the directors and cinematographer Nina Kellgren, is based on the original 16mm negative and magnetic soundtrack final mix. It screens in a simultaneous transatlantic premiere with the BFI London Film Festival. 


Festival Passes are now on sale. NYFF60 single tickets will go on sale to the General Public on September 19, with pre-sale access for FLC Members and Pass holders prior to this date.

Members of the press and industry are invited to apply for accreditation. Press and industry screenings will begin Monday, September 26. The deadline to apply for press and industry accreditation is Wednesday, August 31 at 5pm ET.

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IFH 602: Can Martin Scorsese Save Cinema? With Margaret Bodde

7/28/2022 12:00:00 PM

Margaret Bodde is the executive director of The Film Foundation, the non-profit organization created by Martin Scorsese in 1990 dedicated to the preservation and protection of motion pictures. Working in partnership with the archives and studios, TFF has preserved and restored over 925 films, including 49 restorations from 28 countries as part of the World Cinema Project.

TFF educates young people about the visual language of film through its cinema literacy program, The Story of Movies. In addition, Bodde is the award-winning producer of several of Scorsese’s documentaries.

The Film Foundation, the non-profit organization created by Martin Scorsese to preserve cinema, invites you to come together for a series of beautifully restored films in the Restoration Screening Room, our new virtual theater, available through any web browser.

Presentations will take place within a 24-hour window on the second Monday of each month, along with Special Features about the films and their restoration process. Monthly programming will encompass a broad array of restorations, including classic and independent films, documentaries, and silent films from around the world.

The next free screening is August 8th. They will be playing an amazing Film Noir double feature. Arthur Ripley’s 1946 classic The Chase and Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 masterpiece Detour. 

Margaret is also a producer, known for Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019), The 50 Year Argument (2014), Public Speaking (2010), George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011), No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005), and the PBS 7-part series The Blues (2003).

 

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‘Alma’s Rainbow’ Trailer: Rediscover an Unsung ’90s Gem About Black Womanhood in Brooklyn

Ryan Lattanzio

7/13/2022 1:00:00 PM

Exclusive: Ayoka Chenzira's 1993 feature explores the lives of three women coming of age in New York — and it's getting a new restoration from Kino Lorber and Milestone Films.

“Alma’s Rainbow” made history in 1993 as one of the first 35mm American features to be directed, written, and produced by a Black woman. Director Ayoka Chenzira’s unsung gem about three women living in Brooklyn is now primed for rediscovery thanks to a 4K restoration from Kino Lorber and Milestone Films. IndieWire has the exclusive trailer for the re-release below.

The coming-of-age comedy explores the life of teenager Rainbow Gold (Victoria Gabrielle Platt), who is entering womanhood and navigating conversations and experiences around standards of beauty, self-image, and the rights Black women have over their bodies. Rainbow attends a strict parochial school, where she studies dance, and is just starting to become aware of boys. Meanwhile, she lives with her strait-laced mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran), who runs a hair salon in the parlor of their home.

But when Alma’s free-spirited sister Ruby (Mizan Kirby) shows up from Paris after 10 years away, the sisters spar over what direction Rainbow’s life should take. Alma believes she has no need for men and advises her daughter to follow her example. Ruby, meanwhile, encourages both her niece and her sister to embrace life and love to the fullest.

The movie is shot by cinematographer Ronald K. Gray, cinematographer on another iconic entry in the Black cinema canon, Kathleen Collins’ “Losing Ground.”

The restoration is presented by “Daughters of the Dust” filmmaker Julie Dash, who said, “As you know, ‘Alma’s Rainbow’ was one of the first full-length dramatic narrative films produced and directed by an African American woman in the 20th century. Chenzira’s much celebrated and award-winning early work is essential viewing today as much as it was when first released in 1994.”

Ava DuVernay has also shared praise for the film, saying, “The matter of matriarchy within families is close to my heart. I think of my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, and my aunts who all had a firm, beautiful hand in raising me. I long for more representations of these generational villages on screen, like those we experience in Ayoka Chenzira’s work. Ms. Chenzira’s ‘Alma’s Rainbow’ is a gorgeous clarion call for our young black girls, heralding the community, creativity and confidence that is the pride of our culture.”

In a director’s statement, Chenzira said, “I could write a book on the response to ‘Alma’s Rainbow.’ The film took a long time to make. I raised all the money independently. Distributors came and looked at the film, and there was a real split between what the men thought about it and what the women thought about it. The response by women has been overwhelmingly positive. The response by men, who write the checks, was that it was not an action piece. There was no Black pathology; there was no movie point of reference for three Black women driving a story.”

Chenzira, and audiences, now have a chance to see this true point of reference for such a story.

The “Alma’s Rainbow” re-release opens theatrically at New York’s BAM on Friday, July 29 from Kino Lorber and Milestone Films.

The restoration was completed by the Academy Film Archive, The Film Foundation, and Milestone Films. It was supervised by Mark Toscano, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.

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Aravindan Govindan Restored: The Magical Tranquility of a Lone Ranger

Arun A.K.

7/11/2022 2:00:00 PM

With a restoration of "Thamp" in Cannes and The Film Foundation's free stream of "Kummatty," the Indian director is poised for rediscovery.

In May of this year, Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation launched its virtual theater, Restoration Screening Room, with a beautiful digital version of I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, which was followed the next month by Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954). Showing next after these mid-century classics of Western cinema is Kummatty (The Bogeyman, 1979) by Aravindan Govindan, a selection in keeping with the foundation's World Cinema Project, which endeavors to preserve and restore neglected films from around the world. Nevertheless, the selection is an unusual choice, as the Indian filmmaker, an avant-garde artist at the vanguard of the Parallel Cinema movement in his native state, is relatively unknown outside of Kerala, let alone the country. Tadao Sato, one of Japan's foremost film scholars and critics, saw Kummatty for the first time in 1982 and stated that he had not seen a more beautiful film.

Kummatty’s road to restoration started with the World Cinema Project partnering with India's Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) for the restoration of the Indian classic Kalpana (1948) by Uday Shankar, which subsequently premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. On being asked by Scorsese and his team to collaborate again on a restoration, FHF's founder, filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, was quick to suggest the name of Aravindan, whom he regards as one of the most poetic filmmakers in the world. Dungarpur and Scorsese zeroed in on two of Aravindan's films, Kummatty and Thamp (The Circus Tent, 1978), and teamed up with Cineteca di Bologna in Italy to restore both films at its reputed laboratory, L'Immagine Ritrovato.

Although the master negatives of all of Aravindan's films have been lost, as is the case with many Indian classics, the surviving prints are stored at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune. From positive 35mm prints of Kummatty and Thamp, dupe negatives were struck, and the arduous journey of restoration across continents began. While the restored version of Kummatty premiered last year at the II Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, the restoration of Thamp screened this year in the Cannes’ Classics section. Along with a new print, Thamp has a new name too. The black-and-white film has been spelled Thampu for years. Ramu Aravindan, the director's son, suggested that the title should actually be Thamp, the way it is pronounced in the Malayalam language. He also revealed that his father's name is Aravindan, while Govindan is his surname. Thus, the posters of Thamp at Cannes credit the director as Aravindan Govindan. Upon its release in 1978, the film was admired by such luminaries as Satyajit Ray and Indian New Wave filmmakers like Mani Kaul, and Chidananda Dasgupta (India's first film theoretician and actress-filmmaker Aparna Sen's father). 

The existence of the filmmaker Aravindan cannot be celebrated without mentioning producer K. Ravindranathan Nair—a wealthy cashew export trader. Nair played a significant role in the evolution of Malayalam New Wave cinema producing landmark films under the banner of General Pictures, like Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Elippathayam (Rat-Trap, 1981) and Anantaram (Monologue, 1987), and several of Aravindan's films. So on being approached by Dungarpur for the 4K restorations of Kummatty and Thamp, Nair was quick to grant him permission. Dungarpur partnered with Saiprasad Akkeneni of Prasad Corporation in India to partially restore Thamp; the remaining was done at L'Immagine Ritrovata. In addition, there have been talks about restoring Esthappan (Stephen, 1980), which might be the next Aravindan project for Dungarpur and his partners. 

An eminent cartoonist and theater director before he turned to filmmaking, Aravindan made his feature debut with Uttarayanam (Throne of Capricorn) in 1974. After that, he directed ten acclaimed features and seven documentaries. He died in 1991 at the age of 56, right before the release of his final feature Vasthuhara (The Dispossessed, 1991)In a world rapidly embracing modernization, Aravindan was a primitivist whose work was rooted in the ethos of his native land and its inhabitants. His filmmaking sensibility is characterized by precedence for visual poetry over narrative prose, with meditative silence, contemplation, and reverie being motifs. He maneuvered his way around skeletal plots with intuition and improvisation, relying more on visceral moments of aural and visual stimulation. An autodidact and iconoclast filmmaker, Aravindan—along with Adoor Gopalakrishnan and John Abraham—was part of the triumvirate that revolutionized Malayalam cinema by introducing realism and lyricism.

Kummatty.

Kummatty, Aravindan's fourth feature, is inspired by ancient folklore of Kerala's northern Malabar region and follows the eponymous vagabond (Ambalappuzha Ravunni, a folk artist) who roams around like the Pied Piper, captivating children with his songs, dance, and magic tricks. He materializes from nature in a village and, with the change in season, disappears into the wilderness, only to return after a year. This dualistic existence of the protagonist can be attributed to Aravindan's fascination with the Samkhya philosophy of Hinduism, which explores the interplay between Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (nature). The inseparability of man from nature also forms a pivotal notion in his second feature, Kanchana Sita (Golden Sita, 1977), and later in Esthappan, which also traverses the same realm of magic realism as Kummatty.

One other commonality connecting the three films is the moral indefinability of the principal characters. Their personas are subjected to differing judgments by the various characters perceiving them. In Kummatty, the protagonist is an affable magician for the children of the village, whereas the adults look at him with suspicion and consider him a worthless nomad. The identity of the eponymous oracle in Esthappan also remains in flux, as his legend is constructed by the varied interpretations of the village folk. Kummatty reaches a turning point when the bogeyman performs one last magic trick on a bunch of children before leaving the village. He transforms every child into a different animal and then turns them back into their human form, but a boy, Chindan (Ashok Unnikrishnan), who is converted into a dog, escapes. Chindan has to wait one whole year for Kummatty to return and restore his human form.

With the exit of the mythical magician, the playful and carefree aura of the film gives way to a fable-like passage evoking the fragmentary nature of happiness and the ephemeral nature of relationships. The disheartened parents of Chindan offer prayers to God and turn to holy rituals, but in vain. Meanwhile, the old lady of the village passes away. Finally, after a year, Kummatty returns and restores Chindan to his human form, to the delight of everyone in the village. Chindan, who, as a dog, had come to realize the suffocating feeling of being trapped, releases the parrot caged at his home into the sky. With the closing shot of birds flying in the pristine blue sky, Aravindan mounts his philosophy of freedom and liberation. The arrival and departure of Kummatty with the changing seasons, shots of the rising and setting sun (a prominent motif in Aravindan's oeuvre), and the harvesting of crops are all attestations to the auteur embracing the transience of life and existence. 

Aravindan filmed Kummatty in a quaint north Keralan village, capturing its wide-open landscape, clear skies, and a stray pond amid verdant fields. Cinematographer Shaji N. Karun delicately captures the soft lighting to lend the film an ethereal coating that enhances its mystical charm. Karun, who has shot most of Aravindan's films, is the primary architect of his revered visual language imbued with golden-hour shots, sun-dappled frames, intimate close-ups, and painterly lensing of nature's magnificence. He also served as the long-distance consultant on the film's restoration project. To get as close to the original colors as possible, the restoration team showed Karun recent photographs of the movie's location shot by Ramu Aravindan. Karun then guided the colorists on the appropriate color tones for various frames. 

The legacy attained by the film owes a great deal to the endearing and enduring soundtrack by M.G. Radhakrishnan and Kavalam Narayana Panicker. The euphony of the song "Maanathe Macholam" still resonates among children in Kerala. Karun's tracking shot of the bunch of children singing and dancing with Kummatty through the grass fields is one of the most picturesque sequences in the film. Panicker, a doyen of Malayalam theater and a long-time collaborator of Aravindan, also penned the lyrics of some lilting melodies in Thamp, which is also centered on the theme of transience. Temple festivals and socio-religious processions are integral to Kerala's culture, and Aravindan's films are embellished with traditional song-and-dance rituals and local customs. Kummatty features some stunning moments of Theyyam—a ritual art form of north Kerala that enshrines mythological stories of the land.

Thamp (1978).

Thamp, Aravindarn’s third feature, is a partly documentary, partly fictionalized location film with the script developed alongside the production. The maverick filmmaker brought a roving troupe of ten to fifteen circus artists to the village of Thirunavaya, on the banks of the Bharathapuzha river in the Malabar region of Kerala. The troupe set up its tent and put on shows to entertain the village folk, many of whom had never witnessed a circus before. Karun's non-intrusive camera captured the performances and the quotidian rhythm in the hamlet like a passing visitor observing the locale, inhabitants, and their nonchalant approach towards life. One is tempted to draw parallels with Jacques Tati's Jour de fête (1949), especially during the film's opening passages. Later, the unrushed fragments are interwoven with a thin plot of the circus facing competition from the local temple festival, leading to the waning of interest among the locals. In the end, financial losses compel the circus troupe to wind up and leave the village in their truck. 

Beneath the simplistic facade of Thamp is an acute ethnographic portrait of Kerala's socio-cultural heterogeneity—vignettes of the labor class coming out of a factory are contrasted by the elitist attitude and lifestyle of the bourgeois repatriate, Bidi Menon, who has returned from Malaysia; the excitement of children witnessing the promotional parade by the circus members is juxtaposed with the latter's funeral-like drudgery; hierarchical suppression and oppression are layered in the patriarchal attitudes of Bidi Menon and the circus manager, Panicker (Bharath Gopi), making the members of their clans feel trapped. Aravindan shines an empathetic light on the rootless existence and plight of the circus performers who are expected to enthrall the audience even at the cost of their own suffering, reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's The Circus (1928) and Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker (My Name is Joker, 1970). 

Karun's ingenuity in capturing evocative close-ups results in a number of scenes being etched in the collective memory of Keralan viewers. The cutthroat nature of showbiz is brought to the fore when a couple of aging performers break the fourth wall and express their anguish. The most memorable sequence in the film sees Aravindan intercutting between the circus performances and the audience, who were witnessing such bewitching and dangerous acts for the first time in their lives. Their virginal reactions of amusement, wonder, and delight are antithetical to the stoic expressions of the seasoned performers and create some of the film’s most magical moments. Aravindan would repeat this dynamic in Esthappan, which also captures the wonderment of the village simpletons—young and old—while watching a mythological play.

A man of deep sensitivity, Aravindan's heart sided with the marginalized and alienated. His compassion peaks in Pokkuveyil (Twilight, 1981), which explores the descent into madness of an individual unable to cope with personal loss and loneliness. But it is the sublime quality of the mystics—such as Kummatty and Esthappan—free from worldly attachments and possessing the courage to walk alone that lured Aravindan to take the road less traveled. Thus, it isn't surprising that he had great reverence for the spiritual philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and titled his documentary on him The Seer Who Walks Alone (1985). Profoundly engaged with the culture of his land, yet detached from the material world, Aravindan’s enigmatic personality eschewed categorization and definability, elevating his legend into the realm of transcendence.

Aravindan Govindan's Kummatty is available to stream free on July 11, 2022 at The Film Foundation Restoration Screening Room.

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