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).



‘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.


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, 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.


Restoration Screening Room: Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation offers free showings of classic movies

Sandy Kenyon

6/13/2022 3:00:00 PM

Martin Scorsese has earned more than a dozen Oscar nominations and took home an Academy Award for directing Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson in "The Departed."

He's also given back, and for more than than half a century, Scorsese has worked to restore and preserve old movies so future generations will be able to enjoy them.

His latest initiative puts a few of the best films online for free, and fans everywhere will want to know about "The Restoration Screening Room."

It's a virtual place online where one movie per month is shown for one night only.

Marilyn Monroe has never looked better that she does in "The Seven Year Itch," and for, that we must thank Scorsese.

He saw this film at a retrospective in the 1970s and became upset when he discovered how badly the image had deteriorated.

"It was completely faded," said Margaret Bodde, executive director of the non-profit Film Foundation the director started. "All the colors were drained, and it had a magenta hue."

Since 1990, more than 900 films have been restored and preserved in all their glory.

"To get them out in the world, because if you preserve something and just tuck it away, no one is there to experience it," Bodde said. "People want to see their favorite movies preserved and available for their children and grandchildren."

The only film Marlon Brando directed, "One Eyed Jacks," is going to be shown virtually soon. "La Strada," an Italian neorealist classic, is available online for free Monday, with Scorsese supplying a taped introduction.

It is the second in the Restoration Screening Room series.

"We decided to do this once a month presentation of a restored film for 24 hours, so it's kind of appointment viewing," Bodde said. "And it's going to show the broad diversity of the types of films we restore."

The films may be classics, but the Film Foundation is partnering with tech companies Oracle and Delphi-Quest to improve the online experience for fans.

There is even a chat feature that allows discussion of the movie.

Details of how you can log on can be found at the Restoration Screening Room website.




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