Marco Bellocchio Retrospective: Two Approaches to Screening Specialty Movies


The recent Museum of Modern Art series Marco Bellocchio: A Retrospective was a case study in divergent approaches to screening movies.

A collaboration between MoMA and Instituto Luce-Cinecittà, the retrospective covered Bellocchio's remarkable 50-year career through eighteen of his features, from his directorial debut Fists in the Pocket to his latest release, Dormant Beauty.

Toni Servillo and Alba Rohrwacher in Dormant Beauty. Courtesy Studio PUNTOeVIRGOLA

Almost all of the films were shown in new, 35mm prints, assembled and restored from the best available elements, a two-year process under Bellocchio's direct supervision.

Bucking a worldwide trend, Luce-Cinecittà did not digitize Bellocchio's films. Instead, the retrospective, which will be traveling to other cities, is primarily 35mm prints. (Dormant Beauty, the newest title, is being screened digitally.)

Speaking in Manhattan during the retrospective, Camilla Cormanni of Luce-Cinecittà admits that working with 35mm prints can be difficult, especially since the simple act of projecting can damage them.

"We had an earlier retrospective of Pier Paolo Pasolini movies, also 35mm prints. They've been touring for two years now, after opening at MoMA in 2012 and going to the BFI in London and several other cities," she said. "Now we will take them back to the lab and see the damages and try to repair, it's what happens with film prints. But the experience you have watching his movies in his black-and-white, without pixels, is incredible."

Finding technicians who understand film prints, especially black-and-white, has become so difficult that Luce-Cinecittà is forming its own school. "We want to have a sort of artisinal lab, so young people can learn from the experts who are still working on our restorations."

Money is a constant problem—a 4K restoration of worn elements can cost 160,000 euros—but Luce-Cinecittà receives some government support, and has been able to attract sponsors like Gucci.

Cormanni's next project is a restoration of Cinema Paradiso under the supervision of director Giuseppe Tornatore. "It's wonderful to see how memory and reality collide," Cormanni says. "Even for the filmmakers themselves, sometimes they remember a scene as darker than you see in the print. Sometimes it's not as dark, it's not as red as you remember, so restoration becomes a more artistic, creative process."

Cormanni admits that for mainstream moviegoers, digital is quickly becoming the only option. "We can screen 35mm prints in museums in Turin, Rome, Bologna, places like that," she says. "But for movies in general, I think they are becoming a niche medium. Even if younger people watch movies on TV—well, really you have to worry if they're watching on their computer or iPad or iPhone, and then they watch for ten minutes and switch to something else.

"And  I'm reading that the younger generation won't go to movies anyway. Going to a theater where you have to pay attention for two hours—it's too much like going to a class in school."

Luce-Cinecittà is partnering with Emerging Pictures to distribute Dormant Beauty in the United States. The Bellocchio movie is part of a five-film series, "Cinema Made in Italy." Dormant Beauty will open on June 6 in theaters equipped with Emerging Pictures servers.

The "Cinema Made in Italy" series started with The Great Beauty, the Paolo Sorrentino film that won last year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. Honey by Valeria Golino was released to strong reviews in March. Following Dormant Beauty, the series will offer Me and You, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, and L'intrepido, directed by Gianni Amelio.

As co-founder Ira Deutchman explains by telephone from his office in New York, Emerging Pictures was designed for independent films, not studio releases.

"We actually make it easier and less expensive to get films into theaters," Deutchman says. "We send out encrypted digital files by broadband to our servers in theaters, which then show them through digital projectors.

"By last count we have about 130 theaters, in major and minor markets. In some cases we're dealing with an art house that might be in a small town, in some cases we're dealing with a single screen in a large multiplex, sometimes we're in a stand-alone art house that might have our system and a DCP system side-by-side."

Deutchman estimates that Dormant Beauty will play in 40 locations. The series is supported in part by Italy's Ministry of Economic Development, which offered producers incentives provided their films played in at least five US cities. The Great Beauty spread to 25 cities after its Oscar win.

Distributing movies through the Internet, with no physical prints, was a pipe dream just a few years ago. Emerging Pictures offers theaters a secure way of exhibiting specialty movies that otherwise might not be seen at all.

On the other hand, Luce-Cinecittà brings classic movies to viewers the way their filmmakers originally intended. As Cormanni put it, "The best way to see these movies is on film, on a big screen, surrounded by people you don't know."