Thursday, October 7, 2010

A week at Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy

I have just returned from a most illuminating week at Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy. This festival, now in its 29th year, is unique; a highly concentrated week-long event which presents a rare collection of archival films in the presence of many (perhaps most) of the world's best qualified experts in film history – scholars, historians, archivists, collectors, programmers, critics, musicians and enthusiasts.

The festival sets and maintains incredibly high standards of film presentation. Most of the programme is projected from 35mm film: luminous black and white sometimes interspersed with reproductions of original tinted and toned sequences;  projected at a variety of speeds from 16 to 24 frames per second (the choice of which proved a popular topic for heated debate among purists). Films are generally accompanied by piano played by a handful of the world's leading exponents of the art. They are occasionally joined by others - percussionists, vocalists, flautists. 

Giornate Del Cinema Muto 2010 featured a number of special programmes. The lead programme focussed on the work of three outstanding filmmakers from Japan's Shochiku studios – work virtually unkown to western audiences. I was intrigued by Yasujiro Shimazu's Love Be With Humanity (1931), a four-hour epic of family treachery featuring the tumultous realtionships between a ruthless stock-broking pater familias and his children, borne of a series of compliant wives. A second strand of Soviet cinema, featuring directors active in Stalin's Soviet Union, presented some powerful, muscular dramas and a smattering of oddities – such as Chess Fever, a Pudovkin comedy about the International Chess Tournament held in Moscow in 1925.

My rationale for attending was two-fold. Firstly, to present a programme celebrating the centenary of the birth of the late Liam O Leary. Liam was the creator and nurturer of a cinema culture in Ireland through his founding of the Irish Film Society in 1936 with Eddie Toner. He directed a number of educational and propagandist films in the 1940s and 50s before taking up the post of Acquisitons Officer at the British Film Institute in 1963. Author and creator of the Liam O Leary Film Archive, he was a great friend and supporter of the fledgling IFI Irish Film Archive. The film programme included a montage of Liam's cameo appearances in a variety of fiction and non-fiction works; Our Country (1947), an election campaign film for Clann na Poblachta; At The Cinema Palace (1983), Donald Taylor Black’s profile documentary about Liam and his passion for cinema. It was a pleasure to present the film about this wonderful cineaste to a large auditorium filled with like-minded people. Many of Liam's friends were there; David Robinson (the festival director), David Francis, Kevin Brownlow (a protegé of Liam), and Jean Darling (Aunty Poppy to Irish radio listeners), a friend of Liam in his RTÉ days and a star of silent cinema herself. We hope to reprise this programme at the Cork Film Festival next month; appropriate as Liam was born in Youghal, Co Cork in 1910.

The second reason for attending was to continue conversations which Kasandra O’Connell and I had begun about bringing an Irish programme to Pordenone in 2011. It was important to see the range of material considered presentable at the event. Would the focus be entirely on feature and fiction films? Was there room for non-fiction? Could an Irish programme include newsreel, actuality, anthropological and advertising material? And how strict were the rules about silence? Was there a cut-off point at which the sound period ended (with the Jazz Singer in 1928 say?) Or could we consider programming semi-professional or silent amateur material from the 1940s?  How elaborate or modest could the musical accompaniment be? Could we aspire to bring local Irish players with us? All of these questions and others were considered and answered.

We look forward to moulding a wonderful programme for Giornate Del Cinema Muto 2011 and to  attaining the standards of presentation created and maintained by the world’s leading festival of silent cinema.

Sunniva O’Flynn
IFI Curator

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