FIGURE 1.

Mariann Lewinsky, curator, II Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.

FIGURE 1.

Mariann Lewinsky, curator, II Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.

victoria duckett:

Thank you for agreeing to talk with me today. I would like to start by asking you to explain what you do.

mariann lewinsky:

I mainly do silent cinema programs for Il Cinema Ritrovato here in Bologna. Il Cinema Ritrovato is by now the major international festival for films of the past, screening not only silent films, but also [films that go] up to the present. This year, for example, the restoration of Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman (1975) was screened here. But I mainly work with silent films.

vd:

What do you do with these sections? What is your role?

ml:

I decide and propose which sections and films I would like to do. However, there is one section we do every year (since 2003), the “100 Years Ago” [Cento anni fa] section, presenting films from one hundred years ago. This is a very important source of inspiration for other [festival] sections. For example, the first feminist or women's section I did came from viewing films from 1905 and 1906, where I discovered how strong female comedy was in early cinema; it was a real surprise [figures 23]. These, of course, were also the years of the suffragette movement. So I decided to do something on comic actresses and suffragettes. With this program, which I curated for the 2008 Il Cinema Ritrovato together with Bryony Dixon and Madeleine Bernstorff, I managed to implement a “women's section.” Since then we have regularly done programs dedicated to a feminist—or let's say a female—subject or figure, like “Fearless and Peerless: Adventurous Women of the Silent Screen” (in 2010, cocurated with Monica Dall'Asta); directors Alice Guy (curated by Kim Tomadjoglu), Germaine Dulac (curated by Tami Williams), and Lois Weber (curated by Shelley Stamp); actress-directors like Musidora and Rosa Porten (curated by Annette Förster); and many others. By the way, Il Cinema Ritrovato always had a focus on great actresses, the Italian divas, Lyda Borelli [figure 4], Bertini, Menichelli, performers like Loïe Fuller or Sarah Bernhardt—which you curated in 2006.

FIGURE 2.

Lea si diverte (Italy, 1912), with Lea Giunchi and Giuseppe Gambardella.

FIGURE 2.

Lea si diverte (Italy, 1912), with Lea Giunchi and Giuseppe Gambardella.

FIGURE 3.

Justitia (Italy, 1919), with Astrea (Courtesy Monica Dall'Asta).

FIGURE 3.

Justitia (Italy, 1919), with Astrea (Courtesy Monica Dall'Asta).

FIGURE 4.

Lyda Borelli, ca. 1914.

FIGURE 4.

Lyda Borelli, ca. 1914.

vd:

So the feminist program in 2008 was a spinoff from the “100 Years Ago” program? You started [the latter program] in 2003, and from that programming you developed another focus?

ml:

Yes, the films viewed to prepare the “100 Years Ago” opened up completely unknown things to explore. The comic scenes were absolutely fabulous. You saw women beating up men; you saw a whole world of cross-dressing and an incredible play with gender roles. It was so unexpected because the general assumption was that female emancipation came only in the '20s, after the First World War, but in fact before the war there was so much going on. The war cut off many things. So in 2008, I made this festival program [“Irresistible Forces: Comic Actresses and Suffragettes (1910–1915)”] and two years later the DVD.1 

vd:

How do you do the programming? I'll go back to 2003. Why then?

ml:

It was not my idea. It was the idea of [the late festival director] Peter von Bagh, I think. And in 2003, the very first year, Tom Gunning did it. In spring 2004, Gian Luca Farinelli, the director of the Cineteca di Bologna, was wondering if this section was to be continued and who might do it. We were already in April. I happened to be there and said, okay, I can do it.

vd:

So then you became the curator of “Cento anni fa”?

ml:

Yes. The general idea is simple and very efficient. With early cinema, you don't know what films there are. You don't know the titles. It's an anonymous production, so no opening titles with casts and credits and directors. You don't know anything except the production company. But if you give the archive a year, they can retrieve from their vaults whatever they have catalogued as [being] from that year. It is the best means to get access to unknown film material.

vd:

Who do you contact? Who are the archives you contact?

ml:

Those with interesting collections, like EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, the BFI, the major French and Italian archives, NFA [Národní filmový archiv] in Prague, Gosfilmofond in Moscow, Vienna and Berlin. … I work mainly with European archives. Up to 1914, European cinema is less explored and more sophisticated than American film, and film history has been for a long time American film history, with D. W. Griffith as the founding father. But actually up to 1914, Europe was leading in terms of aesthetics, production volume, technology, length of films, everything. So we put the accent on European production or, more precisely, distribution—Vitagraph was a huge success in Europe starting from 1911, and since there are many prints of Vitagraph films in European archives and they are lovely, I did quite a few programs on Vitagraph.

vd:

That is a lot of archives. What did you do? Did you just go to the archives?

ml:

I go to the archives to view the films. I usually don't screen a film I have not seen.

vd:

Do they first send you a catalogue?

ml:

I ask for a list of their films from the given year and also ask about the films for other sections I am planning to do at the upcoming festival, like this year Armenian silent films, Bluebird Photoplays, Valentina Frascaroli, and Gaston and Maurice Velle, plus Mary Murillo. I then send the list with the films I would like to view back to the colleague in the archive and calculate how many days of viewing it will take. We then agree when I will come [to view the films]. I watch everything on the viewing table, a Steenbeck.

vd:

You watch everything?

ml:

I watch everything.

vd:

These films have not been digitized?

ml:

It depends on the archive, but I'll view the 35mm prints anyway. I usually take notes by hand, because it is easier and faster than [working on] a computer. And you get a better memory [of what you are watching]. I then go through the notes and start to select the best films. In the end, I have viewing notes of several hundred films and can discern the themes that are important that year. I start with the films and get the ideas; I do not approach the films with some idea of what I want to find.

vd:

How much time does it take you to do this?

ml:

It depends on the year. This year it was seven months. I start viewing in October, and the festival catalogue goes into print in June.

vd:

Do you watch for full days?

ml:

Yes. I always go very fast, maximum speed. Now, for 1914 and 1915, there are more and more long feature films, which I find tiring. Up to 1913, when films were short, I would watch scores of films a day and had a wonderful time.

vd:

While you are watching, do you take notes?

ml:

I take notes. I give marks. Good film, bad film, beautiful print, boring, incomplete. … it is very judgmental. Of course, I do also write down a synopsis and everything I can learn from the print: production company, color or black and white.

vd:

And how do you decide?

ml:

Very quickly, on my own judgment. Beauty is certainly important. But there are also films that are fun. Or films that are documents of things of the past we do not know about, like the pacifist demonstrations of 1911 during the Balkan War. Or the wonderful Danish film from 1915 that shows a pageant of women [The Constitution, 1915] thanking the king for granting women the right to vote. It is amazing: you see the streets filled with women and the men as spectators. And you see these women—many of them aged women—who are joyful, radiant. It is a beautiful film.

vd:

Is it only after you finish viewing all the films that you do the [Il Cinema Ritrovato] program?

ml:

Yes, of course.

vd:

That is an enormous amount of material [to watch].

ml:

Yes, it is. But it also nourishes the other sections. For example, “Views” [“Views from the Ottoman Empire, 1896–1914,” a program presented at Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2014, cocurator Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi; figure 5]: at one point, I realized that I had seen a large amount of films shot in the territory of Ottoman, material not necessarily interesting from an archival point of view—or, let's say, from a film historical point of view—but it seemed important to show what a wealth of material exists on early cinema on Africa, on the Near East, Turkey, and the Balkans—and also to point out that the First World War was not only fought in Europe, but also brought down the Ottoman Empire.

The programs on Albert Capellani (2010–11; figure 6) were another spin-off from “100 Years Ago.” Within the Pathé production, in general of top quality, some films of 1907 were really outstanding, and all of them were directed by one Albert Capellani. At that point I had not seen what Capellani made in 1908 or further on, but I started to do research and to view any film by him I could find.

Some discoveries came by chance. [For example,] I did not know that there was a major Soviet woman film director from the '20s called Olga Preobrazhenskaya [figure 7]. Then, while I was viewing films for a section called “Colour in Silent Cinema” in Prague, Blazenka Urgosikova, the curator there, told me about a tinted print of a Soviet film. It did not have many tints, she said, but was still of great interest, since Soviet films usually were not tinted. They screened the film, Kashtanka [1916], for me. A masterpiece. [As noted,] I had never heard of the director, Olga Preobrazhenskaya. So I went to Moscow and viewed all her films there. The following year [in 2013], we did a section in Bologna on Preobrazhenskaya and her codirector, Ivan Pravov.

FIGURE 5.

Danses des Ouled-Naïls (France, 1902).

FIGURE 5.

Danses des Ouled-Naïls (France, 1902).

FIGURE 6.

Marie Stuart (France, 1908, dir. Albert Capellani).

FIGURE 6.

Marie Stuart (France, 1908, dir. Albert Capellani).

FIGURE 7.

The Peasant Women of Ryazan (Soviet Union, 1927, dir. Olga Preobrazhenskaya).

FIGURE 7.

The Peasant Women of Ryazan (Soviet Union, 1927, dir. Olga Preobrazhenskaya).

vd:

What you are saying, then, is that you are doing the “100 Years Ago” program, where you are seeing, choosing, and making selections of films based on a variety of criteria. As you are doing this, you are also “doing” film history.

ml:

Exactly. The conditions are these: I am a freelancer. I have no institutional obligations. Nobody tells me what to do. I follow the trails I find promising, the themes I find fascinating or necessary. There are the limits of what I can afford, but I move freely and I am in between. The archives trust me, and the festival trusts me.

vd:

Do you research women in those years? Your programming is based on what you are seeing. Are you also reading around, for example, the 1910s, [on] what is happening in suffragette movements in London or wherever? Or are you only looking and choosing stylistically, visually?

ml:

The visual impact counts a lot, but then images do not necessarily say what they are, and I need to do research. For the catalogue, I try to work with knowledgeable friends and colleagues. For the program on Gaston Velle [figure 8], Maurice Velle, and the screenwriter Mary Murillo [for this year's festival], I asked Luke McKernan, who had worked on Murillo but had not realized she was Maurice Velle's partner.

In a festival like this—a great festival with a wonderful audience—you still have to keep a constant eye on the female figures and angles. It can happen very easily, even today, that an all-male film history is shown and taught. I use my privileged position as a free curator to do research on female figures in film history and to present them at the Bologna festival and then get women researchers to present their research topics. Heide Schlüpmann and Karola Gramann, who curated the Asta Nielsen program in the past, now are considering a program on Elvira Notari, the film director from Naples. This year I did the actress Valentina Frascaroli and the Bluebird Photoplays. And, as I mentioned before, researchers like Annette Förster or archivists like Bryony Dixon or Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi propose films or programs and help with catalogue notes and with restorations.

FIGURE 8.

La peine du talion (France, 1906, dir. Gaston Velle).

FIGURE 8.

La peine du talion (France, 1906, dir. Gaston Velle).

vd:

It is really collaborative. You are at the coal face, but you have a lot of collaborators.

ml:

Yes. It is much nicer to work together.

vd:

Elif was saying that she watched films with you when you went to the EYE Filmmuseum. She really enjoyed it.

ml:

Yes, Elif will stay with me if she has time [to watch the films]. It is an occasion to talk about new ideas and see if we could again do something useful and interesting together, not only in Bologna. Last year there were the first-ever “Silent Cinema Days” in Istanbul, done by two young Turkish colleagues, and we try to support them in their work, helping them to get the films. For early and unknown films, a festival is the ideal situation because the audience is there. It is an audience that will multiply the event—what they have seen here, they will carry somewhere else. This year, among the Bluebird Photoplays [“Beloved Bluebirds”], was a film directed by Elsie Jane Wilson [figure 9]. Who has ever heard of Elsie Jane Wilson? Seen The Dream Lady? Nobody. The audience here is ready to see these films and to appreciate their quality.

FIGURE 9.

Elsie Jane Wilson. (Alexander Turnbull Library)

FIGURE 9.

Elsie Jane Wilson. (Alexander Turnbull Library)

vd:

You started working when some catalogues were already online and things were being made available digitally. But it seems that you are still working largely with analogue, that this hasn't changed.

ml:

No, it has not changed much, since most of the [film] material I'm working with is not digitized, and since I do theatrical screenings, the films will be seen on a cinema screen. Much of the beauty and visual impact of European cinema before 1914 gets lost when reduced to the small screen. It's simply not there to be seen. What remains is movement and plot, but early cinema is not about plot. There are so many films that will work only on the big screen. This is especially true for early cinema. It is a mystery [why this is so], but it seems to me that the people who made films then were conscious, as a matter of course, of the dimensions of the eventual screen, and they worked for those dimensions. [The screen] is like early film's natural size. It is life-size.

vd:

So the move toward digital archiving has not changed how you program because you are still having to travel around and look at everything.

ml:

Yes, for me all the material is not available [online], and digitized versions are of limited utility. Sometimes a screener can be very handy, though.

vd:

You do not know what you will find in the archives, and the material is not yet online. Even in the catalogue: they send you what they have, but you can't know what you will see.

ml:

It depends on the archive. [EYE] in Amsterdam has digitalized virtually everything. BFI hasn't done this, but their written catalogue is online and very informative. The Archives français du film and Cinémathèque française in Paris have not much in digital, but you can find some of their films on the site of Gaumont-Pathé archives.

vd:

When you are doing this kind of work, you are not within an institution asking: “How are we going to preserve these works or these films? Are we digitizing everything? Where is the public interface?” Your public interface is actually the projection of the film with the audience in front of it.

ml:

Yes, but a part of my work is also to view nitrates [nitrate prints] and to propose restoration projects. Like the first film by Lyda Borelli, Ma l'amore mio non muore! (Everlasting Love, 1913). This is the period when great actresses like Borelli would be the creative force of the film. Nobody—not even [Mario] Caserini, the director—would tell her how to act. Never. Yesterday, for example, we saw La princesse aux clowns [André Hugon, 1924]. Here you have a pretty woman, Huguette Duflos [playing Princess Olga], as the love interest. But in the 1910s, with these major actresses [like Borelli], we are in a different situation. It is the actress who creates her roles.

vd:

This ties in to questions of authorship: the actress drives the film.

ml:

Yes. To return to the restoration project of Ma l'amore mio non muore!, [the Fondazione Cineteca Italiana in] Milano had the camera negative, [with] beautiful image quality but no intertitles. These had to be reconstructed from written sources. I did the restoration project together with Claudia Gianetto from the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Torino.2 The restoration of The Dumb Girl of Portici [starring Anna Pavlova, dirs. Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, 1916; figure 10] took three years. The actual restoration was done by the Library of Congress, but the project started with the Bologna program of Lois Weber and finally was realized for the Bologna screening this year. The festival can be a lever to get films by women to be restored and screened.3 

FIGURE 10.

Anna Pavlova on the set of The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916, dirs. Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley). (Library of Congress)

FIGURE 10.

Anna Pavlova on the set of The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916, dirs. Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley). (Library of Congress)

vd:

What kind of research, what kind of work, is undertaken with the restorations? How do you even know where to begin? Obviously these histories have not been written. What, then, do you do?

ml:

Academics use their energy mainly for writing, for producing text, [and] in order to find or confirm or improve their position within the academic world. I am completely focused on saving films, on having them screened and finding audiences for them. I am focused on creating a context with other films that provide an interpretation or underline a specific aspect. I also show films that have no reputation whatsoever.

I think it is amazing that the last article written about Olga Preobrazhenskaya was by Bryher [Annie Winifred Eleman], the editor of Close-Up,4 so you have a woman film critic in the early 1930s writing about this Soviet woman director, saying she is incredible, she is just great. After that, silence. In a way, with Lois Weber, the same thing happened. She was a major filmmaker, and when we did the first major retrospective here on Lois Weber—Shelley Stamp did it [in 2012]—most of her films were not even restored.

vd:

But why not? Why are there these gaps around Lois Weber?

ml:

I think that there is and has always been a very narrow canon of film history, based on a simple narrative of male authors and female stars: D. W. Griffith and Lillian Gish. For example, someone approached me about my 1915 [“Cento anni fa”] program and asked: “Why didn't you screen The Cheat?” My job is not to screen the classics of 1915. It is to give insights into the films that were actually produced, a production history in opposition to the history we have canonized.

vd:

You talk about the context of other films. The films create their own context instead of film historical literature creating it for us. Do you sometimes get surprised by what you see? I know you find new films and so on, but do you get surprised visually?

ml:

I got surprised less lately, viewing the films from 1914 and 1915. But the period between 1904 and 1912 was clearly one of the best and most exciting periods of film history in terms of quality. This came as a real surprise [for me in programming the “Cento anni fa” program between 2004 and 2012]. I did not encounter an “early” or “primitive” cinema. There was a different kind of filmmaking. It is stunning, inventive, beautiful. I also like the relationship the filmmakers established with the audience, inviting the audience to watch the films they have made and being sure their films would be appreciated. It's a very sociable cinema. From the 1920s onward, the films instead are made to be overwhelming, to impress. And another big surprise was these women, the comic actresses. This kind of general, unfettered fun.

vd:

For me, it has been a surprise to see how much agency [the actresses] enjoyed.

ml:

Yes, how much energy and how much agency.

vd:

With established stage actresses, I would expect this in a way. I would say that someone famous on the live stage should be able to take control of performance on screen. But I was amazed when I saw some of the comic actresses.

ml:

Yes, Sarah Bernhardt, Lyda Borelli, or Vera Yureneva, we expect it. Maybe comedy is in general underrated. These comic actresses were great performers. The Bluebird Photoplays I did this year were not major films. We did not screen Shoes by Lois Weber again. But just the fact that the central character [in these films] is a female character really changes something. You realize once more [that you] have grown up watching all those films with male heroes and with the woman as a sidekick or a love interest or something secondary. But to have a girl in the center, in the position of the subject, looking with desire at men: how often have you seen that in film history?

vd:

You are right. We have the occasion here to see those films, and we can therefore rewrite, ideally, the histories of film. Well, you are anyway rewriting, through your programming, how we can look at film history. What about the effect of these films online? Will the digital archive change how we look at these films?

ml:

Of course, it is very good [if they are online]. I mean, any channel of information is fabulous. For example, DVDs. I hardly ever watch DVDs; I dislike them as a means of viewing. You see only 30 percent of the film, and on YouTube even less. But not everybody can come to Bologna. DVD editions are useful. The DVD of comic actresses and suffragettes [Cento anni fa: Attrici comiche e suffragette 1910–1914] has become a long seller.

vd:

Yes, I use it in my teaching.

ml:

I am not a purist about material. If there is [an] audience and you can screen only DVD, as we did for some films in Istanbul, then it's the thing to do.

vd:

When you are viewing in the archives, do you ever film what you are viewing on, say, an iPhone?

ml:

No. I have to work by memory. There is one go, and then I do everything on the table on paper. Because I have to combine the films. Making a program is like making a film.

vd:

You remember visually what you have seen?

ml:

Yes.

vd:

You don't have to take a picture of a shot or shots to help you recall them later?

ml:

No. I wouldn't have the time to view it afterward. I have one viewing. Now it is a bit different [with the longer feature films], but in the past, it would be several hundred films that I was viewing. You don't have time to go back to several hundred films.

vd:

No. How would you organize that?

ml:

In Bologna, you see how the festival works. It is very efficient. When you do academic research, you might need to work slowly, shot by shot. But here we are producing a festival with more than four hundred films. We are like peasants: we grow a festival each year, and then we grow another one the next year.

vd:

What about your sequence of films? I know that when you program, you get ideas about a theme, and you develop them within the programs. Often I look at how you put films next to each other.

ml:

Yes. For example this year, I would put the Bluebirds films after the programs of the 1915 [“Cento anni fa”] section, which was mostly films of war, dark matter. The Bluebird Photoplays were released in France after the war, so there was a chronological, historical reason to put them in this order, but also after the those dark war documents and documentaries, the audience needs relief and consolation. In past years, with the films from “100 Years Ago,” there would be a dramaturgy [that ran within each program]. Now the whole day and the whole week need a bit of a dramaturgy. Maybe people don't even notice. But you cannot have two heavy-going, long feature films one after the other, and you cannot have two programs with shorts—it takes a lot of energy to view short films. You need variety and coherence.

vd:

You are thinking about the audience, too, which is really interesting. You have to ask how you are going to make the experience something that can be seen and digested as well, yes?

ml:

[Programming] is like making a film in the sense that you have to keep your audience alive and awake. I try to switch between different kinds of stimulation and to combine contradictory perspectives, to show, for example, a comic actress in a short film after a melodramatic diva film. There is not only one image that the cinema gave of the female body. The diva films present victim heroes and femmes fatales, but the comedies of the same years show women picking and choosing their men and throwing them from bridges. These [different images of women] could be in the same program. I like to show how wide [the representation of women] is.

vd:

Do you have to cut out films that you want to include?

ml:

Of course, all the time. But it is always good [to do this]: the programs become more concise. Sometimes a whole section has to be cut and moved to another festival year. For example, the Frascaroli section was actually scheduled for 2014, but then we did it only this year.

vd:

You always have more programming you could do.

ml:

Yes, every year there are so many films we would like to be seen by the audience. Especially films that are not known at all and need the festival context to find an audience. Often they are films that I find worthwhile for some reason but that might be incomplete or weak in some respects. I try to find a place that brings out their qualities.

vd:

Where do you put them? Do you sit down with a whole week's schedule and look at it together?

ml:

Yes. I work on pieces of paper. I write down the duration of the films, combine the programs, calculate the length of the programs, try to fit them into the slots of the venue, and check the programs of the other venues.

vd:

What is running at the same time, you mean?

ml:

Exactly.

vd:

Do you talk with the other programmers?

ml:

I talk a lot with [Gian Luca] Farinelli informally, and then there might be external curators I have to coordinate. The sound film coordination is done by the festival staff. We have very few meetings. One or two meetings before Christmas to decide which sections there will be in the following June.

vd:

Do you just email everyone?

ml:

I come up with a near-to-final version of the schedule of my venue, the Sala blu, while Farinelli and his coordinators have done the near-to-final versions of [the schedules for] the other venues. We mail this to each other and then start to resolve the remaining problems by cutting films and shuffling things around. At the final stage, phoning is better, or I come to Bologna for a couple of days.

vd:

Do you keep a record of all your notes? Do you scan them?

ml:

No. I have the notes on paper. I have two files for every year. One [is] ordered by archives, containing the film lists and the notes I wrote while viewing in the archive. The other is divided by the sections I do and contains the programs in their various stages, the research material, early ideas for the catalogue notes, and so on.

vd:

You have never digitized your own notes just in case you lose them?

ml:

No. Some part is documented in the printed festival catalogues.

vd:

You would have a decade of material already. That would be an enormous amount of material, just in terms of keeping a record.

ml:

Yes, but when I need it, I remember where it is. I say: “There was this wonderful film, and we could not screen it.” You always have some favorites.

vd:

That is the sense I got from Elif, too, and a few other people I have spoken to in the archives. Your visual memory of film; the way you have of looking and remembering and making links between films is quite incredible. I think it is a real skill.

ml:

Well, it is like any skill or talent. The films stay with you. I have a poor musical memory and a good visual memory. For my first job, I was working with ancient Greek coins for a numismatist. I did identification of coins and had to find them, that is find illustrations of coins struck from similar or identical dies in books and old sales catalogues. It takes pattern recognition and visual memory.

vd:

And that is what your training was? How did you get into film?

ml:

I was into Japanese silent films, and when doing PhD research I realized how much of Japanese silent cinema had gone lost. How and why did these films disappear? This made me aware how films are or aren't preserved and transmitted. What is quite amazing in Europe is that so much more is still here than what you can learn from official film history, and how different it is.

vd:

Were you trained to restore early films?

ml:

Training was learning by doing. My first restoration project concerned a hundred nonfiction films made in the 1920s in Switzerland by a family who ran an ambulant cinema. I was very ingenuous, thinking, “Fine, I'll restore these hundred films.” I did not know then that this meant a hundred different projects. Now I know.

vd:

Did you study history? You said you were working with Greek coins.

ml:

No, the numismatic job was before I went to university. It was a way to earn my living for some years. I graduated in Japanese studies. In 1989, a department of film studies was created [at the University of Zurich], with Noll Brinckmann, a very talented woman, as head. I became a research fellow there and taught. Then I hit upon this ambulant cinema collection, which was amazing. I discovered, however, that the university was not interested in the pragmatics of film history. My project was not very theoretical. I therefore left, did fundraising for two years, and managed to have the films restored, to do some research, and to publish the results on a website. Since then I've launched and directed all kind of restoration projects. The final step is the screening, [and] sometimes also a DVD edition.

A restoration project might also lead to making a new film, as I discovered only now with the film footage of Ella Maillart [1903–97], a Swiss travel writer and photographer. In 1939, she went to Afghanistan and from there to India, and while traveling she made photographs and filmed. The surviving film material was silent 16mm, with no intertitles and hardly edited, and after the restoration was done I had to find a solution on how to present this difficult material [to audiences]. The result was a new film, a montage of a part of the film footage combined with her photographs from the same trip and a narration made up from her letters and travel notes [Ella Maillart: Double Journey, dirs. Mariann Lewinsky and Antonio Bigini, 2015; figure 11].

Some films do not need a curator or a special project. There are, however, many films with a latent beauty and importance, and I try to bring them to the surface.

FIGURE 11.

Ella Maillart: Double Journey (2015, dirs. Mariann Lewinsky and Antonio Bigini).

FIGURE 11.

Ella Maillart: Double Journey (2015, dirs. Mariann Lewinsky and Antonio Bigini).

vd:

So the film becomes like an exercise in programming. It is a way to insert the weaker material into a context that enhances their qualities.

ml:

Yes. And sometimes the story is not in the images, and there are no titles. You need to do historic research, to identify the places and people the film images show. This was the case with the Maillart footage and also with documentary footage we screened this year in the Armenian programs. It was important to be able to tell the audience that these images were shot in Trabzon in 1915 and that another sequence was shot in Istanbul in 1923.

vd:

The films are documents that create context?

ml:

Crucial in some cases. On the other hand, if you have a visually stunning film, it needs nothing. It will work [with audiences]. A wonderful dancer, a hilarious chase, a good trick film: such films do not need anything to bring them to the present. Their performance creates a present. Take Gaston Velle's stenciled trick films. Nobody has to know about Velle to appreciate these films. They are visual events.

vd:

And another example is when you have to explain or contextualize the work, or no one will look at the film.

ml:

I enjoy both.

vd:

Me, too. What projects are you involved in now?

ml:

The next thing to do will be the DVD edition of Ella Maillart: Double Journey. In terms of new projects, I'm now embarking on Albert Samama Chikly and Haydée Chikly. Perhaps you have seen the programs [in the “Albert Samama Chikly, Prince of the Pioneers” program]? Chikly was a Franco-Tunisian pioneer, a very flamboyant figure. He was also a wonderful photographer, an amateur in a noble sense. His daughter [Haydée] acted in his fiction films and seems to have done the scriptwriting. This will be a project of research, restoration, and programming, and it might also become a next film. And the “100 Years Ago” program will continue.

It seems to me a good moment for early cinema right now. Everybody says times are bad, but for some things they are not. In the late '80s and early '90s, there was a surge of interest in early cinema. We discovered everything: color, divas, also the women pioneers. Feminist film history made major discoveries. And there were wonderful older colleagues who taught me so much, like Eric de Kuyper and Heide Schlüpmann. After some years, the momentum was lost. But now there is a new surge and a new public. And many conflicts and prejudices have disappeared into thin air. The antagonism of digital versus 35mm has gone. In Bologna, you now can see excellent digital restorations and the real thing, vintage prints. We do DCP projections and carbon-lamp projections [here at the festival; figure 12].5 Two years ago I did the “[Emulsion Matters:] Orwo and Nová Vlna” program, which was nearly all vintage prints. In the Technicolor section this year, six or seven fabulous dye-transfer prints were screened.6 To screen not only restorations, but also vintage prints will become more and more important for the festival from now on.

In terms of collaboration, I also feel a change. And it might partly be a gender change—in the network of archivists, there are now more women: Elif [of EYE], Bryony [of BFI], Caroline Patte [of Centre national de la cinématographie, Paris], Émilie Cauquy at the Cinémathèque française, Anna Batistova in Prague, Elizabieta Wysocka in Warsaw, and others. It is very easy to work together. The staff of the Cineteca di Bologna are great colleagues, too, both men and women. Year by year, we become more experienced as a team, and the festival is growing and changing. The teamwork is intense and a joy.

FIGURE 12.

Mariann Lewinsky, rehearsal of the carbon-arc lamp projection before Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014.

FIGURE 12.

Mariann Lewinsky, rehearsal of the carbon-arc lamp projection before Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014.

vd:

With your colleagues.

ml:

Yes. And with Gian Luca Farinelli, who directs it all. Still, he and Peter von Bagh wouldn't even realize that a festival has a bias, that it will include or exclude women. … They wouldn't see it that way.

vd:

Notwithstanding this, I get a sense of genuine collaboration. [These men] are not putting up blocks for you. Things are being allowed or enabled or facilitated in a nice spirit, even though you [as a woman] are carrying on the more feminist work. At least it happens.

ml:

Absolutely. They always cared enormously about making a good festival; they invariably accepted my proposals. The women's section is important for the balance of the festival program. Moreover, without flaunting it, Bologna is a highly political festival, since both Peter and Gian Luca did and do things with a strong political and cultural vision. We all love cinema and love to screen or see interesting films, but we also want to be useful and fully realize [that we] have the incredibly good fortune to be in a position of decision-making. We feel it to be a responsibility. And I'm glad to know the way in which to use this responsibility. I am [equally] very grateful for the feminist teaching that I have had, and that there is such a thing as “a gender issue.”

vd:

I think it is really important for people like myself, who very much follow the festival programs, learn from them, and then adapt your thinking and research [to our own work]. It is not us [as academics] saying that this is what we need to see. It is you, programming, that says, “This is what you need to see.” And then we accept that, yes, it is. We then write about it. I think that this process is also collaborative in a way. It's not us saying anything, but you show things and we see them. And then, for myself as an academic, work can be done. But it needs the first step, which is not going to be my own. Thank you, Mariann.

NOTES

NOTES
1.
Cento anni fa: Attrici comiche e suffragette 1910–1914 [One Hundred Years Ago: Comic Actresses and Suffragettes, 1910–1914], DVD and booklet in English and Italian (Bologna: Cineteca di Bologna, 2010).
2.
See www.museocinema.it/muti_restaurati.php?id=152&l=en for details on the restoration.
3.
The Dumb Girl of Portici was featured at Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2015.
4.
Bryher [Annie Winifred Eleman], Film Problems of Soviet Russia (Territet: POOL, 1929).
5.
See the carbo-lamp projections at the Piazzetta Pier Paolo Pasolini of Assunta Spina (dir. Gustavo Serena, 1915) and “The Velle Collection, 1900–1930: Gaston, Maurice, and Mary Murillo.”