GFT Blog: Cinema Rediscovered

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It's a great time to be a fan of old films. It seems not a week goes by at GFT without hearing news that another popular classic or previously neglected gem is to be digitally restored and reissued to cinemas. At the same time, the resurgence of enthusiasm from audiences who want to see films on film - sparked in a large part by influential filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese - has led to more distributors digging into their archives and pulling out original prints for cinemas who still have the ability to play 35mm and 70mm reels. Bristol’s Cinema Rediscovered film festival is capitalising on this moment. Taking inspiration from Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato, the festival returned for its second edition this year, presenting a feast of restored classics over a packed 4 days at the end of July. It's organised by the excellent team at Watershed, an indie cinema very close to GFT in terms of vision and purpose, and I jumped at the chance to go and experience it. Here are a few of my highlights.

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Manipulating the Message

The festival’s headline theme was Manipulating the Message, with a strand that presented a set of classic films in the context of the news distortion that we are now familiar with in the Trump era. The series began with a screening of Network, with a great introduction from Front Row presenter Samira Ahmed. She highlighted the relevance of Ned Beatty's terrifying "there is no democracy" speech to Peter Finch, and the fact that while there are outdated elements to the film, its central satire still bites today. The film is also notable for showcasing Faye Dunaway’s remarkable eyebrows. The other films in this strand were equally effective in contemporary context. Alexander McKendrick's Sweet Smell of Success - which was as brilliantly-written and sophisticated as I had been led to believe - is remorseless in exposing the dark hearts of both Burt Lancaster’s all-controlling columnist JJ Hunsecker and the amoral (but so charming and pretty) press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis, never better). It’s not difficult to see the truth that these characters are telling us about Trump, Scaramucci et al.

Likewise with Citizen Kane, which screened on 35mm. So often relegated to a time capsule of sorts – hugely influential, but resident in its particular moment – the film takes on a vital relevance when viewed as a Trump parallel. On one level this is heartening, knowing the reality we live in is the same one that people have been dealing with for years. But on the other hand, it’s thoroughly depressing to know that we are fully aware of the evils we live under, and yet we put up with them.  

Citizen Kane is a film that is so easy to dismiss, or feel that you already have the measure of, given it's 'greatest film of all time' status. I almost didn't go and see it, as I was so sure it had nothing more to offer me. I was so wrong. This is the brilliant opportunity that festivals like Cinema Rediscovered offer, and hopefully something we also do at GFT: creating the context for audiences to pay fresh attention to films that may have passed them by, or they may have 'shelved' in their minds - and to, as the name suggests, rediscover them in a whole new light.

It wasn't all movies though. On my first afternoon I decided to look beyond the film programme and joined the festival’s Walking Tour. It turned out to be a great way to see a bit more of Bristol, and it felt connected to the wider festival as the tour guide was also one of the Cinema Rediscovered programmers. That sense of connected-ness ran through all the events and screenings I attended; a real feeling of a small group of passionate individuals making this festival happen, for the love of cinema. The tour also led me to stumble across the brilliantly-named Chance & Counters, evidently Bristol’s finest board game café.

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Watershed Bar & Bristol’s finest board game café


Having duly checked out the statue of famous Bristolian Cary Grant, I joined the brave souls who had signed up for the festival’s bona fide cinephile challenge – a very rare chance to watch all 10 hours of Kryzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog on the big screen, in a new digital restoration. I dropped in for the final 3 hours, having watched the previous 7 on dvd (over a much less concentrated period!). The contrast of experiences was incredible, and the cinematic quality of these works shines on the big screen. Consider that it was made 30 years ago, long before the current proliferation of cinematically-shot TV series. The pioneering aspect is also felt strongly in the episodes’ style and content. Nothing is neatly tied up, and often characters’ motivations are only hinted at. Instead we get ten complex moral dramas that approach the 10 Commandments in continually surprising and challenging ways. Excitingly, we are showing Dekalog at GFT at the beginning of October.  

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Blood Simple blues band

Dawson City: Frozen Time

There was one film that really seemed to capture the essence of what Cinema Rediscovered is all about, and it was the final film I saw. Dawson City: Frozen Time is a documentary made by Bill Morrison, but it's quite unlike any documentary I've seen before. It took me a while to understand what the film was doing, as it begins as a story about the discovery in the 1970s of a haul of old archive film, buried in the city of the title. But the film develops to tell the story of the city itself, and its part in the gold rush, while using archive footage to communicate the true story of the discovery of that same footage. It's also about the physical quality of celluloid, and how our relationship to time is affected and changed by capturing moments on film. It's deep stuff, but about halfway through, it clicked for me, and I was pretty much transfixed. The film has a quality that is almost hypnotic - aided endlessly by the atmospheric score by Alex Somers - this is a unique documentary, with so many layers to uncover.  

That kind of experience, both revelatory and familiar, is what cinema can do so well. I experienced it over and over at Cinema Rediscovered, in the films mentioned above and others - including DA Pennebaker's lightning-in-a-bottle music doc Monterey Pop, and The Music Room, my first thrilling encounter with the work of Satyajit Ray. I can't wait to show some of these films to GFT audiences, and I love that I get to be part of the ongoing rediscovery of cinema.

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Cinema Rediscovered comments board

I must finish with a practical note. We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and this is even more true when at a film festival, as you don’t know when you’ll get another opportunity to eat once your day of films has started.  I made a couple of excellent breakfast discoveries in Bristol – Source and The Bristolian – both highly recommended and worth seeking out if, like me, you value breakfast almost as much as classic cinema.

Paul Gallagher
Marketing Manager  

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