SHOMA A. CHATTERJI | 10 NOVEMBER, 2018
Restored Film Classics Surprise at the 24th Kolkata Intl Film Festival
Imagine watching a restored scene from...
The cinebuffs of Kolkata who always join the serpentine queues outside the Nandan Cultural Complex and other theatres where festival films are screened are in for a wonderful surprise this year.
The Film Heritage Foundation founded by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur has organised a well-designed workshop on film preservation and restoration alongside the festival, and has also curated a number of restored film classics from across the world which were almost out of circulation because they are almost beyond repair.
India produces the most films in the world. In terms of quality too, we have gifted the world many unforgettable films by talented filmmakers in every genre of cinema – period films, literary classics, love stories, road movies, adventure tales, and so on. However, many of these film prints have been completely damaged for want of proper infrastructure and maintenance of old prints over time.
Few people care to think about the long-term significance of films, of their contribution to the cultural matrix of every country’s history and development, or how they place the technical aspects of filmmaking in perspective.
It is the collective social responsibility of every country to see that all its films remain in the public domain for all time.
The Film Preservation and Restoration Workshop, India (FPRWI) is an initiative of the Film Heritage Foundation and the International Federation of Film Archives in collaboration with the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) and in association with the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, L’Immagine Retrovata, Foundazione Cinecita di Bologna, the British Film Insitute and many international cinema organisations.
FPRWI 2018’s aim is to create awareness about the urgent need to preserve our moving image heritage and to skill and train archivists to take on this monumental challenge. But most attractive to the audience is the bouquet of restored classics that have been made available for wide screening at the 24th KIFF.
These films are – Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar) and Uday Shankar’s Kalpana besides international classics like Amarcord, Blow-Up, The Magnificent Ambersons and Bicycle Thieves.
“The idea for the foundation was born when I realised the dire need to preserve India’s cinematic heritage that has been severely neglected for all these years. We have lost a significant part of our cinematic history and this will continue to happen if we do not take immediate steps to save this legacy,” says Dungarpur about his non-profit organisation FPRWI.
The foundation is dedicated to supporting the conservation, preservation and restoration of the moving image and to develop interdisciplinary educational programmes that will use films as an educational tool to create awareness about the language of cinema.
For the younger generation of film buffs, it will be a discovery of these classics in their original form on celluloid restored from original damaged prints. “I helped Martin Scorcese restore Uday Shankar’s Kalpana made in 1948.” Recounting the experience, he says, “When I was in Bologna, a Martin Scorsese aide asked whether I could help them procure Kalpana for restoration. I knew that if I could procure it in whatever way possible, it would shift the preservation focus to India. Uday Shankar had given a dupe negative (rough cut) of the film to Mr Nair in 1970 and it had a lot of cuts. Though we managed to bring it out of the archive, it was under litigation.
His family members Amala Shankar, Mamata Shankar and Tanushree Shankar wanted to help me, but they did not own the film. The final print was with someone who did not want to part with it. We struggled and after a year, we got it. We sent it to Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation in Bologna which restores Asian films,” says Dungapur.
Kalpana was shot at Gemini Studios over five years. It is said to have inspired S.S. Vasan’s Chandralekha which was shot at the same studio and featured the immortal song with dancers over a large drum sequence; it was a major success unlike Kalpana which did not do well at the box office. The restored Kalpana was screened in the classics section at Cannes in 2012 has sown the seeds of the value of restoration in India.
Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves was a pioneer in evolving what came to be known as the neo-realist school of filmmaking. Neo-realism is a movement that arose in Italy after World War II, dominated the Italian cinema in the late 1940s and influenced filmmakers all around the world. At a time when musicals and light comedies allowed moviegoers an escape from the grim facts of war, the neo-realists presented an authentic treatment of the wartime experience and grappled with the social problems of post-war Italy.
Mainly Marxists and liberal Catholics, neo-realists advocated Leftist ideas and were strongly influenced by Soviet cinema. Bicycle Thieves has a universal appeal for the way it handles poverty, the relationship between a small boy and his father struggling to barely eke out a living, with just the right doses of emotional punches at the right time.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up was the highest-grossing art film of its time, and was picked as the best film of 1967 by the National Society of Film Critics, also garnering Oscar nominations for screenplay and direction.
The film still offers a model lesson in cinematography, in self-referential filmmaking, in surrealistic imagination that also raises moral and ethical questions about the metamorphosis in the human psyche. To this day, Indian filmmakers and keen viewers will be carried away and amazed at this film about a London photographer who may or may not have witnessed a murder, who lives a life of cynicism and ennui, and who ends up in a park at dawn, watching college kids play tennis with an imaginary ball.
The Magnificent Ambersons is one of the earliest films in movie history in which nearly all the credits are spoken by an off-screen voice and not shown printed onscreen — a technique used before only by the French director and player Sacha Guitry. The only credits shown onscreen are the RKO logo, "A Mercury Production by Orson Welles", and the film's title, shown at the beginning of the picture.
At the end of the film, Welles's voice announces all the main credits. Each actor in the film is shown as Welles announces their name. As he speaks each technical credit, a machine is shown performing that function. Welles reads his own credit — "My name is Orson Welles" — over the top of an image of a microphone which then recedes into the distance.
Federico Fellini's Amarcord is a beautiful and warm nostalgic piece. It explores the everyday lives of people in an Italian village called Rimini during the reign of Mussolini. It won the 1974 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The film's greatest asset is its ability to be sweet without being cloying, mainly because of Danilo Donati's surrealistic art direction and to the frequently bawdy injections of sex and politics by screenwriters Fellini and Tonino Guerra. At the same time, it is a semi-autobiographical tale about Titta, an adolescent boy growing up among an eccentric cast of characters in the village of Borgo San Giuliano situated near the ancient walls of Rimini.
Imagine watching a restored scene from Pather Panchali where the dented, metal water pot of Indir Thakrun tumbles down the rocks when she dies; or, the London photographer in Blow-Up suddenly finding something he never imagined among his random experiments in photography. Or, the shots in the dark room where he is trying to enlarge the negatives to get at the right picture he is not sure of.
All this will be laid out at the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival, for cinebuffs interested in classics they have missed out on because the original prints were either damaged or almost destroyed.