An A-list panel of key actors in the film heritage industry gathered around a table at the Lumière Festival’s Classic Film Market (MIFC) with this year’s special guest Margaret Bodde to discuss how they relay the actions of the Film Foundation she heads.
“Obviously there’s a commercial imperative, but we work with partners that have a great track record and who share our vision that it’s important to handle these films like the works of art that they are,” said Bodde, The Film Foundation executive director.
“People who have the ability to get the film out broadly like Vincent [Paul-Boncour] and Carlotta with ‘Chess of the Wind,’” she went on, referring to the French distributor of one of the Film Foundation’s latest restorations, a rediscovered Iranian movie from 1976 by Mohammad Reza Aslani.
“As a partner of the Film Foundation, we were able to seek the rights for the film,” said Paul-Boncour, who was on the panel. “This allowed us to do our job as distributors and have it shown at festivals. Having the daughter of the film’s director, Gita, travel with the film around the world to talk about it was of great help,” he added.
Picked up by Criterion in the U.S., the film toured the festivals last year, including Bologna, New York and Lumière, and was released in French cinemas in August.
“Our primary goal is a theatrical release – we had to delay it because of the pandemic – but a film like that comes to life on the silver screen. That’s where it meets the public. It will be out on blu-ray and DVD in a few months, but it owes its existence to the cinema theater,” explained Paul-Boncour.
One of the Foundation’s close partners is the Cineteca di Bologna, which helps restore an average of five films a year for its World Cinema Project, a program aimed at preserving and restoring neglected or lost films from around the world.
“Normally, the films we restore go to fifty or sixty festivals: they circulate a lot. For us, the number one joy is when the film is rediscovered in the country of origin – it makes sense,” said panelist Cecilia Cenciarelli, head of international projects at the Cineteca di Bologna.
The global pandemic has helped push heritage films in theaters, according to Mark Hirzberger-Taylor, CEO of Park Circus, a leading distributors of heritage and back catalogue films.
“Studios were holding back with big releases, we were out there pushing ours. If films are marketed with the level of attention needed there is an audience out there,” he said at the MIFC round table, adding that part of the company’s future strategy is to get a bigger footprint in multiplexes.
For partners, working with the Film Foundation is the guarantee of a quality restoration.
“The World Cinema Project films are complex. These restorations take a lot of time and couldn’t happen without the Foundation, not only for the funding but also for the quality of the collaboration: Working with experts, the filmmaker, and Scorsese, who oversees the quality of the restoration,” said Cineteca di Bologna chief Gian Luca Farinelli.
Whenever possible the Cineteca works with the director or family members, as with “Chess of the Wind,” whose restoration was overseen by both Aslani and his daughter, who lives in Paris where the Cineteca has one of its labs. The film’s director of photography also assisted in the restoration process.
Also sitting on the panel was Rosalie Varda, the daughter of legendary Nouvelle Vague filmmaker Agnes Varda, who appealed to the Film Foundation to have a number of her mother’s films digitalized.
“It was fantastic because Agnes was able to follow the restoration process. It was an unbelievably fluid collaboration. We managed to restore nearly every one of her films, and each one had a theatrical release – which doesn’t mean we don’t turn elsewhere: Criterion has a box-set with all of Agnes’ films in the U.S.,” she said, adding with a smile: “The problem now is that I don’t have any films left to restore!”
To date, the Film Foundation and its partners have restored more than 900 films including 46 as part of the World Cinema Project.
The MIFC at the Lumière festival runs until Oct. 15.