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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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Ayoka Chenzira's 'Alma's Rainbow' Is Getting A New Restoration Presented By Julie Dash [Exclusive]

Jamil David

5/23/2022 12:00:00 PM

Kino Lorber has announced it will release a new 4K restoration of Ayoka Chenzira’s Alma’s Rainbow. The film is restored by Milestone Films, the Academy Film Archive, and The Film Foundation and is presented by Julie Dash. The restoration will premiere on June 27 at BAMCinemafest with Chenzira in attendance.

The ceremony will also include a new 4K restoration of her short film Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People. Alma’s Rainbow will release theatrically on July 29.

'Alma's Rainbow' was written, directed and produced by award-winning film and video artist Ayoka Chenzira, who is one of the first African Americans to teach film production in higher education, as well as one of the first African American women to work in animation.

The film is an integral part of ’90s Black cinema, and its restoration aims to preserve and showcase it for future generations to experience.

Here is the official synopsis of Alma’s Rainbow:

A coming-of-age comedy-drama about three African American women living in Brooklyn, Alma’s Rainbow explores the life of teenager Rainbow Gold (Victoria Gabrielle Platt) as she enters womanhood and navigates standards of beauty, self-image, and the rights women have over their bodies. Rainbow attends a strict parochial school, studies dance, and lives with her strait-laced mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran), who runs a hair salon in the parlor of their home and disapproves of her daughter’s newfound interest in boys. When Alma’s free-spirited sister Ruby (Mizan Kirby) returns from Paris after a ten-year absence, the sisters clash over what constitutes the “proper” direction for Rainbow’s life. Alma’s Rainbow highlights a multi-layered Black women’s world where the characters live, love, and wrestle with what it means to exert and exercise their agency. 

 

More on the restoration:

Co-founders of Milestone Films, Dennis Doros and Amy Heller said of the restoration: “We have had the fortune to introduce current audiences to Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and My Brother’s Wedding, Billy Woodberry’s Bless Their Little Hearts, and Kathleen Collins’ Losing Ground. Ayoka Chenzira’s Alma’s Rainbow is this year’s rediscovery and we are looking forward to audiences sharing our delight in seeing this fabulous film on the big screen and basking in Ayoka’s light, humor, and artistry.”

Chenzira added, “Someone once told me that filmmakers eventually fall out of love with their films as they move on with their careers. I have never felt this way about my work because with each project, I learn something new about myself as an artist and as a person. So I am thrilled that my independent film, Alma’s Rainbow, was restored by Milestone, a company with a long history of supporting the visions and expressions of filmmakers.” 

Richard Lorber, President & CEO of Kino Lorber said, “We’re proud to continue our partnership with Milestone as we reintroduce Alma’s Rainbow to audiences across North America, and internationally in Cannes. It’s an especial honor that Julie Dash will be presenting this vital restoration of the film.”

The restoration by the Academy Film Archive, The Film Foundation, and Milestone Films and supervised by Mark Toscano, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. The lab credits are Roundabout Entertainment and Audio Mechanics, with thanks to Vincent Pirozzi.

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Thamp: The circus comes to Cannes

Srikanth Srinivasan

5/21/2022 3:00:00 PM

The month of May has brought not one, but two notable developments in the field of film restoration in India. On the 5th of this month, the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting (MIB) announced that it will grant the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) Rs. 363 Crores to restore about 2200 films over an unspecified time period. On a more human scale, the 75th Cannes Film Festival revealed that it will show two restored Indian films in its Classics section: Satyajit Ray’s Pratidwandi (1970), restored by the NFAI, and Aravindan’s Thamp̄ (1978), restored by the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) under the direction of founder-filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, in collaboration with the Prasad Corporation (India), The Film Foundation (USA) and Cineteca di Bologna (Italy). 

Born in Kottayam, Kerala, in 1935, Aravindan is often classified under the loosely defined, pan-Indian Parallel Cinema movement. But he was a poet in that assembly of prose stylists, a genius primitivist in a world of professionals. Aravindan’s third feature, Thamp̄, is an observational portrait of a traveling circus setting up shop at a riverside hamlet in Kerala. The filmmaker initially planned Thamp̄ as a documentary around the circus troupe, and large sections of the final film attest to this original intention. The story is skeletal, there is no plot and very little dialogue or musical score. Aravindan instead devotes the better part of the film to capturing the quotidian rhythm of the village, its landscape and buildings, its people and places, as well as the troupe’s performances.

These improvised vignettes are organized into a symmetric, cyclical day-night structure anchored by recurring figures: a bourgeois repatriate, his rebellious son, the manager of the circus, its muscleman and clown, two young lovers, a prostitute, a truck driver. Discursive elements surface late in the film in the form of sabotage, worker unrest and familial discord, but these sparse incidents are only hinted at, relegated to the margins of the whatever narrative there is.

Thamp̄ is a circus movie and Aravindan’s view of the troupe is coloured not by nostalgia or lament for the circus, but by a bitter fatalism. The performers are a hopeless lot, trapped in the circus since childhood and subject to its waning fortunes, who are likened to their animal colleagues. Their promotional parade through the village is accompanied by upbeat music, but their solemn, downcast attitude turns the procession funereal. A birthday party for a troupe member looks like a wake, until someone is instructed to sing. Resigned to abuse and abjection, the artistes form a lumpen mass whose rootless existence outside the class system is contrasted with the politicized factory workers that constitute their audience.

The performance of the troupe, though accomplished, is marked by a certain weariness that the 43-year-old Aravindan seems to share. The filmmaker appears to be more interested in life at the periphery of the circus, in the fleeting connections that its members forge outside the tent and in the village. This disenchantment with spectacle results in the most extraordinary passages of the film in which Aravindan cuts between the audience and the performers.

While the circus routines are perfunctorily photographed, these candid reaction shots — the first that Aravindan filmed for the project — register a gamut of primal emotions: men and women, babies and toddlers, all staring agape in fear and wonderment at the dangerous, graceful stunts unfolding before them. The performance becomes little more than an occasion to film the villagers, whose virginal reaction contrasts with the camera-aware presence of the handful of professional actors. Like Herz Frank’s Ten Minutes Older, made the same year, Thamp̄ is fascinated by the possibility of innocence, of belief in the spectacle.

The film’s restoration journey began in early 2020, when Dungarpur travelled to Kollam, Kerala, to meet the film’s producer K. Ravindranathan Nair. A cashew baron, Nair had artistic aspirations and financed several canonical works of Malayalam ‘New Wave’ cinema, including films by Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Dungarpur notes that the producer was forthcoming in giving his approval for the restoration. The real hurdle, though, lay ahead.

Since the master negatives of Aravindan’s films had all decomposed, the FHF had to work from a surviving print of the film that it obtained from the NFAI. This posed a triple challenge. “Prints don’t have a great degree of latitude,” says Dungarpur, describing how positives can inherit only a part of the tonal range of the original negative. To begin the restoration process from a duplicate negative generated from the NFAI print, then, already entailed a loss.

Moreover, budget demanding, Thamp̄ was shot on the locally manufactured Indu film stock, which wasn’t as sensitive or fast as the better monochrome stocks of the time. Shot by regular cinematographer Shaji N. Karun, it was Aravindan’s second work in black-and-white (and bookended by two films in colour, Kanchana Sita (1977) and Kummatty (1979, restored by the same team in 2021). Shaji worked mostly with available light, which produces images of harsh contrast and imposes visible limitations in the outdoor scenes, where figures tend to meld into the background.

The NFAI print, finally, had already been projected a number of times, accumulating significant amount of wear and tear in the process. This copy had to be first physically repaired at the FHF facility in Mumbai before being sent to co-sponsor Prasad Corporation in Chennai for 4K scanning and digital clean-up. The restoration laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, which oversaw the high-resolution transfer, also did the sound restoration and colour grading.

“When it comes to challenges in film restoration,” declares Dungarpur, “you have to be a purist.” Fundamental to FHF’s work is the conviction that the intent of the original creator and the artistic integrity of the film must be the guiding factors in a restoration project. To this end, Dungarpur collaborated with Shaji and Ramu Aravindan, the filmmaker’s son and photographer, on getting the grading and the sound right. This painstaking process of shepherding a single film over many months seems to run counter to the MIB’s monumental ambitions, but the conscientiousness stems from an attitude of respect towards the work under consideration.

Would the FHF’s restoration bring back Thamp̄ in the form Aravindan conceived it? Best intentions notwithstanding, perhaps not. “A film and its restoration are ultimately different works,” says Dungarpur. One would hope, even so, that the restored version comes as close as possible to the vision of the singular cine-poet that was Aravindan.

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SCORSESE PRESENTS A BURIED GEM AND A PITCH FOR CINEMA'S PAST

Jake Coyle

5/8/2022 10:00:00 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — While Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker were holed up in an apartment cutting “Raging Bull” — an intense process that would have consumed the thoughts of most filmmakers — Scorsese told his editor to take a break. He had a movie he needed to show her.

“He said, ‘You have to see this one,’” recalls Schoonmaker.

Scorsese was by then already a passionate fan of the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the British filmmaking duo known as the Archers. He considered Technicolor films like “The Red Shoes,” “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” and “A Matter of Life and Death” to be masterpieces. But he had held off watching their 1945 black-and-white Scottish romance, “I Know Where I’m Going!” fearing it might be “a lighter picture.” Something about that title. And besides, just how many masterworks could Powell and Pressburger have made?

Yet Scorsese was coaxed into screening it with his friend Jay Cocks the night before shooting began on “Raging Bull.”

“I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Scorsese recalled in an email. “It was funny, it was exciting, it was truly mystical and it was deeply stirring. I’ve seen ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ many times since then — so many times, in fact, that I’ve almost lost count — and I’m always moved and always surprised every time, and I’m held in suspense right up to those amazing final moments.”

On Monday, Scorsese and the film restoration nonprofit he founded, the Film Foundation, will launch a new virtual theater, the Film Foundation Restoration Screening Room. Every month, for one night only, films that have been restored by the Film Foundation will be presented in free online screenings accompanied by discussions from Scorsese and other filmmakers. The screening room begins, naturally, with the restoration of “I Know Where I’m Going!”

Since it was released in the waning days of World War II, “I Know Where I’m Going!” has played a unique role in the hearts of moviegoers. It isn’t the most celebrated Powell and Pressburger film, nor is it regularly listed on all-time lists. Instead, it’s a movie that tends to be shared moviegoer to moviegoer, like a cherished gift or family treasure. It’s a buried gem that anyone who’s ever seen it wants to tell everyone about. “You have to see this one” is how most conversations about “I Know Where I’m Going!” begin.

“At the end of the war, people had suffered so much,” says Schoonmaker, speaking recently by phone. “And here is this movie that lifts your heart.”

Shortly after seeing “I Know Where I’m Going,” Powell visited Scorsese, who encouraged Schoonmaker to come along to dinner. They hit it off and by 1984 were married. Powell died in 1990; Pressburger in 1988. Ever since, Schoonmaker and Scorsese’s have dedicated themselves — when they’re not making films (they’re currently finishing the edit on “Killers of the Flower Moon,” an expansive crime film for Apple about the 1920s murders in Oklahoma’s Osage Nation )— to restoring Powell and Pressburger’s movies. Scorsese recently signed on to narrate a documentary on their films. For years, Schoonmaker has been combing through Powell’s diaries with the hope of publishing them.

“I inherited that,” says Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s celebrated longtime editor. “Michael, when he died, left a little furnace burning inside of me. What keeps me going is loving and trying to get other people to love his work.”

How much can come from loving an old movie? For Schoonmaker, the answer is almost everything. Scorsese’s passion for the Archers’ movies inspired Schoonmaker’s own, and in turn led to the love of her life.

Thelma Schoonmaker appears at the 92nd Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Los Angeles on Jan. 27, 2020, left, and Martin Scorsese appears at the 2020 AFI Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 3, 2020.  Film Foundation, the nonprofit founded by Martin Scorsese dedicated to film preservation, is launching a virtual theater to stream classic films free of charge. (AP Photo)

Schoonmaker and Scorsese in 2020. (AP Photo)

“It was Marty’s passion for film history that made this all happen,” she says, chuckling.

The Film Foundation, which collaborated with the British Film Institute on the “I Know Where I’m Going” restoration, has restored more than 925 films, preserving wide swaths of film history and picking up the slack of many of today’s film studios, who have showed less interest in preserving cinema’s past than keeping pipelines of new “content” flowing.

“At this point, they’re not film companies anymore, but vast media conglomerates. For them, old movies are one small item in a wide array of properties and activities,” says Scorsese. “The people who run them are several generations from the very question of cinema: the word is meaningful only as a marketing term. Their interest is not in making good films, but in making their shareholders richer. So, no, restoring a Howard Hawks picture is not high on their list of priorities. The idea that it should be, for reasons that have nothing to do with profits and losses, is not even entertained. In this atmosphere, the idea of art has no place. It throws a wrench in the works.”

“I Know Where I’m Going!,” though, stands for the foolhardiness of best laid plans. Powell and Pressburger made it in 1944 while awaiting the Technicolor cameras Lawrence Olivier was using to make “Henry V.” Pressburger is believed to have written it in a matter of days. They pitched it to Ministry of Information, which controlled wartime moviemaking, as an anti-materialistic tale. (Britain feared a rash of consumerism would follow wartime rationing.)

In it, a headstrong woman, Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) travels to the Scottish Herbrides (the film was shot on the picturesque Isle of Mull) to marry a wealthy lord. But stormy weather prevents her from crossing to Kiloran (the island of Colonsay). While awaiting passage, she meets a naval officer (Roger Livesey) from the area. They become quickly enmeshed in local life, as we grow enchanted with it. Joan feels increasingly pulled off course.

But summarizing the exhilarating magic of “I Know Where I’m Going!” never quite does it justice. It reverberates with a warm, lyrical spirit that feels poised between past and present, legend and reality. It’s a movie that you, just as helpless as Joan, can’t help falling for.

The film’s devotees are a passionate tribe. “The Big Sleep” author Raymond Chandler once wrote, “I’ve never seen a picture which smelled of the wind and rain quite this way.” Tilda Swinton, who has a family home on Colonsay, thinks “I Know Where I’m Going!” should be handed out by Scottish diplomats when they travel the globe. “It’s like a confessional,” Swinton says in a video made for the Film Foundation. “You go back to it every few years.”

“I Know Where I’m Going” is in part about reconnecting with something — with nature and old ways — that makes it a particularly fitting film to kick off the Restoration Screening Room. With appointed showtimes and robust conversation around the film, the virtual theater is set up in a way that clearly differs from the standard streaming experience.

“We’ve gotten used to watching and listening on our own time. Something’s been gained, but something has also been lost,” says Scorsese. “We felt it was important to create a way of watching movies that guaranteed there was a greater audience out there watching and responding at the same time.”

At a time when film culture can be unsure of its direction, the lovingly restored “I Know Where I’m Going!” may help light the way. It is, at any rate, one spirit-lifting port in a storm.

“I’ve always felt that you can’t have a present or a future of cinema without its past. The films that I’ve seen, that I’ve re-seen and studied, that I’ve discovered for myself or through a friend ... they enrich me, they inspire me, they sustain me,” says Scorsese. “I suppose it’s possible to imagine someone making movies without bothering to see anything made before their own time. But the question is: why? What’s the point? Why not see what you come out of? Every film is in conversation with every film before it and every one that follows it. It’s true of all art. Isn’t that amazing?”

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