Italy • Il Cinema Ritrovato Ehsan Khoshbakht • Co-director and curator
by Manuela Lazic, Cineuropa
“There's some magic to Bologna, and it clicks here because it's absolutely international”
470 films in 9 days: these are the days in which the doors of the cinephile's Paradise will open. The 37th edition of the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival, promoted by the Cineteca di Bologna, will take place in Bologna from 24 June to 2 July.
9 days of screenings from morning to evening, in 7 theaters, every evening, in Piazza Maggiore where On Saturday 24 June the restoration of 'Spellbound' by Alfred Hitchcock will be inaugurated.
Ahead of the repertory festival’s 2023 edition, one of its co-directors discusses the importance of knowing about prints and the role the gathering plays in enabling the renaissance of filmmakers.
Official Image Il Cinema Ritrovato 2023
For the 37th year, Il Cinema Ritrovato, taking place this year from 24 June-2 July in Bologna, will showcase films from the entire history of cinema. With a focus on collective viewing, the festival will present 470 movies, including 35 mm, 16 mm and restored works, plus forgotten films from all over the world. Cineuropa met up with Ehsan Khoshbakht, the co-director of the festival and one of its curators.
Cineuropa:What does your job at Il Cinema Ritrovato entail?
Ehsan Khoshbakht: It's a great deal of sleepless nights, free gelato and access to the biggest toy shop in the world, which is film archives all around the world! My job is to oversee the artistic side of the programming along with my other colleagues, to pick the right retrospectives for every edition of the festival and, when necessary, to take responsibility for and support our guest curators. With the majority of people who collaborate with us, they know their stuff, they know their films and they know the prints, which is something that is becoming increasingly rare in programming and curating films. If you don't know your prints, you don't know films. I just don't understand people who come with their ideal list of all these lost films and want to show them. You know, if you've done your film history, that you cannot get these works.
You are also a curator, and this year, you have chosen to show films by Rouben Mamoulian. How do you select which directors to focus on and what to programme?
If they have something to say to me, then it’s very likely that they can say it to someone else as well. If there's no personal connection with the director, there's absolutely no chance it’s going to work. At the end of the day, when people come to the cinema, you have to have something to say to explain why, in this ocean of films, you chose this or that particular director. But I'm always looking for a kind of personal angle which must be deeper. In Mamoulian's case, it is, first and foremost, my deep fascination with Armenians and people of Armenian origins, especially in cinema – with the way they introduce modern ideas to the countries they travel to and the way they are at ease when it comes to working within the framework of popular genres. They can easily switch from horror to musical, to comedy, to fantasy, to a western. I understand why, because these are people who had to cope and adjust in every country they went to. It's a very small community of people scattered around the world and trying to respond to new environments. For instance, Henri Verneuil in France, Samuel Khachikian in Iran and Mamoulian in America have many things in common: they do exactly the same thing, moving from genre to genre with such ease.
This is a festival in the heart of Europe, and it’s interesting that it's Europe that is taking on so much of the work of restoring, preserving and rediscovering all of these films, with some of them even coming from Hollywood.
The way that we present the films, of course, could help establish a director who hasn't been celebrated in their own country. One good example is someone like Wolfgang Staudte, the subject of a retrospective two years ago. He’s a German filmmaker, and when I saw my German friends coming to the screenings, I said, “What are you doing here? Go and watch a Brazilian film or an Indian film!” They said, “But we can't see these films in Germany, as they don't play them!” So it could be true, but at the end of the day, it all comes together in collaboration with the people actually from those countries because they have the prints – the Deutsche Kinemathek or the Film Archive in Dusseldorf, for example. These people have done their job, too.
But for some reason, there's some magic to Bologna, and it clicks here, I think, because it's absolutely international. You see a film, but you also see it through the eyes of people from a varied range of backgrounds, and the way they respond to it affects even me – the things I hear or that people share with me are just so amazing.Sometimes, the reception of a filmmaker or a film goes in a completely new direction! It becomes a complete discovery for me as well. And I think it's the magic of the place and also the frenzy of Bologna. You get into this vortex, and it forces you, perhaps, to come up with ideas, and in all that heat, people tend to respond immediately to the films. That's why it's also so exhausting for everybody! Otherwise, I still see it as something very much done in collaboration with people, so we can take responsibility for some of it, but not all of it.