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This Weekend May Be Your Only Chance to See the Films at Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tour—EVER

We asked the event's organizers to explain why you have to see this baker's dozen of rare and restored films.

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Scenes from ‘A Page of Madness,’ ‘Ceddo,’ and ‘Leila and the Wolves’

What makes a film rare, and what makes a rare film worth restoring, and what makes a restored rare film worth showing? Those are some of the questions I asked Maggie Hennefeld and Michelle Baroody of Archives on Screen, the organizers of Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tour.

Now in its second year, this festival will present a selection of films that the duo watched at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy, an event that screens hundreds of rare and restored films every year. Most will screen at the Main Cinema, with the closing night event, Ernest Lubisch’s silent film Lady Windermere’s Fan, screening at The Heights with live accompaniment by the Poor Nobodys. 

Obviously, nerds like me are gonna be there. Tell me a movie is “pre-revolutionary Iranian,” “silent Japanese avant-garde,” or was made by some Russian exile best known for stop-motion silent films using dead bugs, and my boots are on before you finish the sentence. 

But this festival has just as much to offer someone who’s not a film nut but is maybe, shall we say, film curious. You know, someone who maybe has a Criterion Channel account (or at least someone else’s log-in), sees movies at the Trylon or the Walker occasionally, can name a handful of the major international directors. A “someone” who may in fact be you.

Last week, I spoke with Hennefeld and Baroody at Baba’s (who, incidentally, will be catering tonight’s opening night event) about how much our idea of film history is shaped by what movies have survived, or got international distribution, and how the Il Cinema Ritrovato restorations fill in some gaps we may have never known were there.

It was such an engaging and informative chat that I decided to let the organizers introduce you to the festival’s films in their own words, without any butting in from the interviewer. (That said, that interviewer has lightly edited and condensed their quotes for clarity.)

Opening Program: 5 Short Films

Hennefeld: We’re showing early 1930s French music videos made by the feminist surrealist filmmaker Germaine Dulac. They were called “illustrated records” at the time. There were cylinder recordings, so the sound wasn't synchronized with the film, and they were made the year that the French industry converted from silent to sound. The exhibitors attempted to sell the cylinders in the theater during the screenings. Dulac, you know, she made [the short, surrealist silent film] The Smiling Madame Beudet. That said, she was primarily an experimental filmmaker. These include popular French vocalists from the early ’30s. It's an example of pure cinema—with lots of beautiful street scenes in France.

There's an animated film by Ladislas Starevich, who is a Russian filmmaker best known for his object animation of dead bugs and insects. It’s a children's film called Voice of the Nightingale that combines live action with object animation and hand-drawn animation and color stenciling, and he made it in France in the early ’20s after fleeing the Bolshevik uprising. It’ll have live organ accompaniment by Molly Raben, who's amazing.

Baroody: So she's, yeah, she's bringing like a portable organ. Apparently this exists.

Hennefeld: The last film is called Patouillard Has a Jealous Wife, and it's a French slapstick comedy starring the indomitable Sarah Duhamel, who is kind of like an early 20th century Melissa McCarthy, and is undeservedly forgotten. She's one of the funniest comedians I've ever seen.

The Outsiders (Ceddo)

Baroody: We tried, with our program, to do things that we knew wouldn't come here—but also things like Ceddo, where maybe some people have seen it, but they haven't seen a restoration of it on the big screen. It’s also got some good anti-colonial sentiments which is always a top subject for me.

Hennefeld: So anyone who really loves colonialism, maybe will be less interested in that. 

Baroody: That's true. But maybe it would be worth it.

Hennefeld: They should see it more than anyone.

A Page of Madness (Kurutta ichipeiji)

Hennefeld: This was made in 1926. It's a Japanese avant-garde film that was lost for almost half a century. And then this director, you know, discovered it in his shed in 1971, like an original nitrate print. It's very rare and unlikely to show again. There are no inter-titles and it will be an experience. You will come out of that theater a different person than who you were when you walked in.

Baroody: This is one of those films that broadens our context for extreme and experimental cinema, where similar films you see from the 1920s are usually from Europe and the U.S. The story we usually tell skips from the silent era of Europe and the U.S. to suddenly, you know, we're in Hollywood. And lots of other places are left out of that narrative.

Hennefeld: Teinosuke Kinugasa, the director—this is probably his best-remembered work, but he was active as a filmmaker basically for half a century and worked in every possible genre. 

Bushman

Hennefeld: Bushman is a film about racism, migration, and mass incarceration. And it's a very tight film that, kind of shockingly, turns into a documentary about 80% of the way through. So I think it will appeal to folks in the Twin Cities who are passionate about social justice, who are outraged by a lot of the things happening locally and internationally in terms of like the politics of migration, mass incarceration, the exploitation of workers.

Bushman had just been presumed lost and fallen off the face of the earth. It's by a filmmaker named David Schickele, and it's about a Nigerian intellectual who's living in the Bay Area in the late 1960s and having all these sort of alienating interactions with members, mostly white people who participate in the counterculture. I think no one knew that film had even been made in the first place. Like it wasn't even on the cinephiles’ radar.

Baroody: Folks who are into '70s American cinema, they can see this engaging with the same kinds of politics and aesthetics that those kinds of films do.

Hennefeld: It looks like a Godard film.

Baroody: It does! And it offers a lot of the critiques of politics and government and the state that more familiar ’70s films do.

Leila and the Wolves

Baroody: A lot of these films are just engaging with similar kinds of ideas as films that people might be more familiar with, but in an international context. Leila and the Wolves is a kind of bizarre time-travel film, where you get to experience women's participation in Arab resistance movements through different moments in time, all of it through the lens of this woman doing research. And it’s made in the early ’80s, it's really interested in the same themes of resistance and oppositional images that a lot of films in the ’70s and ’80s were. It just puts that all into narrative form.

The Ballad of Tara (Cherike-Ye Tara)

Hennefeld: The Ballad of Tara is a pre-revolutionary Iranian film made in 1979 that never screened in Iran. It premiered at Cannes and then was just presumed lost or only accessible on degraded video for years. That's a film that you really wouldn't have been able to see anywhere else for decades.

Baroody: If you think of Iranian cinema, people may know [director and screenwriter] Abbas Kiarostami. If you are just a casual cinephile, you've maybe seen A Taste of Cherry and maybe Close Up, but that’s about as far as it goes there. But Beyzaie was making films during the Iranian New Wave, and he's using a lot of those same kinds of techniques and styles. He’s somebody who just didn't blow up in the same way that Kiarostami did. A lot of films that we know, especially internationally, they just happened to get big screenings at big festivals, and they had a moment, and if you don't… I feel like The Ballad of Tara easily could have ended up like A Taste of Cherry but just didn’t.

Bandits of Orgosolo (Banditi a Orgosolo)

Baroody: One thing we’re able to do is bring in films that are recognizable to people, or at least filmmakers or styles that they recognize. This is Italian neorealism, and some people know his name. But it’s been recently restored and hasn't been seen as frequently. For folks who have seen maybe Bicycle Thieves or other Italian neorealist films, it's a good next step. This is a film that you can engage with, just a different variety of something that's kind of similar.

Hennefeld: With a lot of these films, the term “archival” might set you back, but once you actually watch the film, you see it’s really accessible, easy to engage with on its own terms. It should be part of the canon, but the only reason it feels so far away is because it had to be salvaged from the dustbin of history just to be visible at all, right?

Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tour
When: Thursday, Feb. 15-Sunday, Feb 18.
Where: Main Cinema/The Heights
More info: Individual creening times and ticket prices here.

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