Cécilia Cenciarelli works for the Cineteca di Bologna. She is responsible for the Chaplin and Keaton projects as well as being one of the directors of the Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival.
Cineteca di Bologna restores films by some of the greatest film-makers of all time including Mastroianni, Fellini, Truffaut and Chaplin, but also forgotten films that audiences are unfamiliar with. How do you decide on the films you want to restore?
There are basic reasons why you want to restore a film – knowing that some elements are in danger or because there’s only one copy left. It might be a masterpiece or an obscure gem but it is still important. We have a very special partnership with the Film Foundation which was founded by Martin Scorsese in the early 1990s. In the beginning it centred on American film heritage but there was a growing realisation that we had to restore films by people like Truffaut and Fellini to preserve the memory of these incredible geniuses of cinema for new generations. It has also become clear that whole areas of film are obscure to most people. Restoration today is about expanding our knowledge and awareness of a film canon that is still evolving.
What makes old film stock so fragile and what kind of damage do you have to contend with?
The medium is very fragile so even filmstock which is preserved in optimal conditions only survives for about a century. There is typical wear and tear – dust, dirt and scratches - but you could also do a geographical atlas of problems related to different parts of the world. Humid heat creates mould but dry heat has an impact on colour preservation. Then there’s a whole different department of problems related to editing. The film might have been censored or cut and you have to compare all the surviving sources.
You’re in charge of the research and special projects department. What are you working on at the moment?
The department I oversee handles a number of diverse and challenging projects that often cross paths with other departments of the Cineteca as well as with foreign partners so it’s an ongoing learning process. I’m still busy with the Chaplin Project, which has led to the restoration of all of Chaplin’s films and the digitisation and cataloguing of Chaplin’s massive paper and stills archive. I’m very much invested in the World Cinema Project, a special program launched by Martin Scorsese and The Film Foundation in 2007 which the Cineteca has partnered with since the beginning. And then Il Cinema Ritrovato of course.
The Il Cinema Ritrovato festival shows a mix of acclaimed masterpieces as well as works by lesser known film-makers and frequently gives cinephiles the opportunity to see strands of film making they would not have the opportunity to view otherwise. What films have you been particularly excited to show this year?
I’m very excited about the festival happening in theatres with actual, socially distanced, people sitting in the dark in front of a screen! Il Cinema Ritrovato is the opposite of an organized group trip, it’s about daring to get lost and enjoying the discovery. This year there’s also plenty of possibilities ranging from carbon-arc projections of early 1900s films to George Stevens, from Indian Parallel Cinema masters to Volker Schlöndorff’s look at Romy Schneider.
Among many other things, the festival is renowned for its presentation of silent films with accompanying live music scores. It must be a very particular skill to do this. How do you find the musicians?
There’s a good but limited amount of specialists who work in the field. There are those who improvise, mostly pianists, but we try to experiment a bit so we also have a harp and percussion. We also have special events at night which are accompanied by the Opera House Orchestra of Bologna. For that we commission brand new scores. For silent cinema you compose to give a voice to what is not heard – to the rain, to laughter, canons or trains. It’s a very special art and we’re lucky to have had a long tradition of performances so we never have problems finding musicians.
You have been streaming certain films for those who were unable to attend the festival in person. Is this an initiative you will continue with post pandemic as a way of expanding your audience?
The first time we did the streaming experiment was last year because no one could travel. We decided to keep it this year as a lot of the most affectionate members of our audience still weren't able to travel, especially from India. We cap the number of viewers and it’s only for people who purchase an accreditation to the festival. I do think it might continue as something that can be done to reach out to more people. Our festival is a community of film lovers and some of them are very far away.
The Cineteca di Bologna is a partner of the French Pavilion in the Venezia Biennale 2022 for the project of artist Zineb Sedira and is also her consultant helping her with cinematographic research. Could you explain how you are assisting Sedira?
Zineb Sedira is working with Italian, Algerian and French scholars and archivists. She wanted to do something that has an Algerian soul, as she is of Algerian origin, but as the Biennale is in Italy and she was assigned the task by the French government she wanted to bring in cinema that imbued all those cultures. She gave us an indication of what she wanted to see represented in a very immaterial way and we tried to translate her vision and bring her some suggestions to watch. That’s another use of restoration these days. Artists are more and more using film history to make new films, to use archival material to speak with a new voice.
You are also involved in the African Film Heritage Project, a partnership between FEPACI, Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, the Cineteca di Bologna and UNESCO. Can you tell us more about it?
African cinema truly begins in the 1960s, around the time of independence, that’s when the African people were first able to look at themselves instead of being looked at by others. Cinema became a natural extension of ancient oral tradition, a way to communicate with everybody. Unfortunately, African filmmakers were always forced to rely on foreign laboratories to develop their films and this is one of the reasons why we have lost track of the original negatives of so many African films. The African Film Heritage Project was created to restore and locate African cinema. It is also FEPACI who select the films the project restores. It’s a real voyage of discovery for us. I’m very excited for the project’s latest restorations: Lumuba, la mort du prophète by Raoul Peck (1990) which just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and Sambizanga by Sarah Maldoror (1992) which has been screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato for the first time in many years.
Some films restored as part of the African Film Heritage Project are screened internationally by the Institut français.
The Institut français offers a catalogue of over 2,500 titles, enabling the French cultural network and its partners to screen French films around the world. Discover IFcinema
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