October 2018, arsenal cinema

Film:ReStored_03: The Festival of Film Preservation

For the third time now, “Film:ReStored” is presenting recently digitized films accompanied by lectures and studio reports dedicated to questions surrounding how we can digitize our cinematic heritage. This year’s focus is on the combined efforts of film and television archives in keeping cinematic heritage alive. The history of German film since the 60s would look very different without the role played by television. To this very day, up-and coming-directors receive support from television and some big box office successes are made possible via funding from individual broadcasters.

Dani Levy’s comedy about the clash between orthodox and urban, secular lifestyles within a Jewish family ALLES AUF ZUCKER! (Germany 2005, 28.10.) was, for example, originally commissioned by WDR as a television film. The film developed into a huge success with cinema audiences and won several Lolas, the most important award for German cinema films.

Margarethe von Trotta’s examination of armed resistance in West Germany DIE BLEIERNE ZEIT (West Germany 1981, 25.10.) also undoubtedly belongs more to the history of cinema than that of television, despite having been funded by broadcaster Sender Freies Berlin (SFB). Loosely based on the biography of Red Army Faction terrorist Gudrun Ensslin, the film doesn’t just reflect upon the political mood in West Germany post-1968, but also tells the story of a very particular relationship between sisters. Another female filmmaker from Germany was also able to shoot single-minded, radical films in both aesthetics and content thanks to television support: Helma Sanders-Brahms made SHIRINS HOCHZEIT (West Germany 1976, 26.10.) for WDR. The tragic story of a young Turkish woman named Shirin unfolds in archaic seeming black and white images, detailing how she flees a forced marriage to look for her imaginary lover in Germany and lives there as a guest worker on the margins of society.

The 70s are seen as an era of glory for television experimentation and its prominent editorial lines. Far away from the standard formats of today, a work such as the essayistic documentary FLUCHTWEG NACH MARSEILLE (Ingemo Engström, Gerhard Theuring, West Germany 1977, 28.10.) was able to transcend the usual categories relating to genre and length. The three-and-a-half-hour film is a piece of research about German emigration from occupied France that takes Anna Seghers’ novel “Transit” as its starting point. Archive images, witness testimonies, and text passages are edited together with footage of the places the two filmmakers visited during their journey. Although FLUCHTWEG NACH MARSEILLE was more or less lost and is only available again now – newly digitized – it enjoyed a lasting reception, stretching from Harun Farocki to Christian Petzold.

Petzold belongs to a later generation of filmmakers for whom television occupies a fixed place in their work, whether as a viewer or within production contexts. His 2003 film WOLFSBURG (Germany 2003, 26.10.) was shot for ZDF, but is a film entirely conceived for cinema despite this: a coolly directed melodrama about a mother whose pain following the death of her child in a car accident leads her to search for the driver who caused it and fled the scene of the crime. Driven by his guilty conscience, he seeks to get close to the desperate mother, although the love that grows between them is doomed from the very beginning. The schooling in previous films discernable in WOLFSBURG came from exposure to television programming dedicated to communicating film history, something experienced by no means just by Christian Petzold. Nowadays, film historical works are only shown at night by individual television broadcasters. By producing new compositions for silent films, ARTE is at least concerned with finding new ways of communicating our cinematic heritage. DER GEIGER VON FLORENZ (Paul Czinner, Germany 1928, 27.10.) was recently restored and given a new soundtrack in collaboration with the Murnau Foundation. With Conrad Veidt and Elisabeth Bergner playing father and daughter, two of the most notable character actors of Weimar-era cinema appear before the camera: at the instigation of her stepmother, the young Renée is sent to a Swiss boarding school, from which she eventually flees, dressed as a boy. She meets a painter fascinated by the boy’s androgynous charm who seeks to make her into his model.

In East Germany too, television deliberately sought to throw its weight behind noteworthy directors and prestigious projects in the early years. Konrad Wolf was thus supposed to adapt Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s literary classic DER KLEINE PRINZ (East Germany 1966/1972, 28.10.) for Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF) for the premiere of color television. The lavish production swallowed up huge quantities of money and also aroused political suspicions during the 11th Plenary Session. Yet the television broadcast and cinema release were ultimately prevented by the lack of properly acquired authorial rights.

Helke Misselwitz, one of East Germany’s most important filmmakers, worked for television both before and after reunification, albeit without letting the medium restrict her dramatic and aesthetic needs. For her feature ENGELCHEN (Germany 1996 | 25.10.), her long-term cinematographer Thomas Plenert created piercing, poetic images that would not be showcased to their best advantage on the TV screen. Susanne Lothar’s moving portrayal of the introverted Ramona, who blossoms briefly when she falls in love with a Polish cigarette smuggler, which only makes her downfall all the more tragic, can only truly unfold on the big screen – in the close-ups of her face and how lost she appears in the film’s inhospitable locations.

The combined influence of television and film archives doesn’t just play a role in production contexts. Passing on film heritage in material, technical terms can easily become precarious at the point where the two meet, such as when television productions don’t find their way into archives. ENDSTATION LIEBE (West Germany 1958 | 26.10.) is an example of how film heritage can be passed on via broadcast prints. After his success with Die Halbstarken, Georg Tressler once again put Horst Buchholz before the camera to play self-confident factory worker and ladykiller Mecky, who suddenly falls in love for real. Together with author Will Tremper, the director succeeded in narrating a big city ballad with tinges of Neorealism that captures how life felt for young people in the 50s.

The Israeli-German co-production SHTIKAT HAARCHION – GEHEIMSACHE GHETTOFILM (Jael Hersonski, Israel/Germany 2010, 27.10.) shines a light on another aspect of the film/television interface: the ethical aspects of the use of historical archive materials in television documentaries has long been a subject of much discussion. SHTIKAT HAARCHION – GEHEIMSACHE GHETTOFILM address the problems of decontextualizing historical footage by reconstructing the story of several rolls of film material from the Warsaw Ghetto. Filmmaker Jael Hersonski poses questions here about the authenticity and thus “innocence” of documentary material, as well as how the latter can be treated in responsible fashion.

This year too, “Film:ReStored” offers a view from the outside on the subjects in Germany addressed in the presentations and discussions via a guest speaker from the FIAF (Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film). Kieron Webb from British Film Institute, London, will give a report on the experiences gained and strategies employed in archiving and passing on film and television history in the United Kingdom. Within this context, he will present the 4K restoration of Terence Davies’ autobiographical “musical” DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES (GB 1988, 27.10.). In scenes edited together base on association, the filmmaker depicts a childhood and adolescence within a family marked by violence, fear, and resignation. Song from pubs and popular music from the 40s and 50s structure the film, which won prizes in Cannes and Locarno, amongst other places. (ah) More information and to reserve tickets: filmrestored@deutsche-kinemathek.de.