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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

CINEMA REBORN - Max Berghouse offers some thoughts

Cinema Reborn was the brainchild of the editor of this blog, Geoffrey Gardner. A regular and passionate voyager to the annual Bologna festival of the same name, I well remember very shortly after his return from the last festival in Italy, his telling me that he wished to put on a similar, but necessarily shorter, festival in Australia. I was at the very least surprised. Geoff I think was also somewhat daunted by the prospect of what he had in mind. I asked him "Do you want to look at movies, or do you want to show them?"
Jean Renoir
To my very significant surprise he said "I want to show them!". My surprise, no astonishment, is because cinema lovers can never get enough films to see and to organise a short festival, as he had in mind,  is a very significant undertaking. I should say at this point although I have had discussions with Geoff about what he had in mind, I was in no way involved in the "hard yards" of actually organising what transpired. Considering that a similar albeit larger festival (the Sydney Film Festival) is down on subscriptions as I write, even to contemplate a small festival, running for less than a week, is a very significant ambition.
Firstly, as I know, Geoff gathered a group of cineastes to organise a programme of films. Practically everyone looking at such a grouping of cineastes, would realise that disagreements must have been legion. Yet Geoff and his fellows managed to navigate all the natural difficulties of people all wanting their particular "unknown and unrecognised masterpiece" to be shown. And those choices boiled down to a very robust selection of films. Some I knew, some I didn't, some I had seen and some I had not. That's probably like most of the audience. One might note that about 50%, perhaps more, of the films shown, are readily available by streaming and some are even available on YouTube. So it takes tremendous courage to envisage showing things largely in the public domain, on the basis that the desirability is due to their being shown in a genuine cinema.
Max Ophuls
I think the group of "volunteers" worked for about six months. Just like the duck paddling in the stream I feel certain there was much more activity and much more regularity of activity, than any of the volunteers would wish to admit. Early in this process, Geoff had gained the attention and interest of AFTRS which resulted in very desirable terms for the use of that school' s very fine theatre. The theatre at Moore Park in Sydney is in a very central location, and this presumably facilitated the attendance of many people. So the balance of the six months was much more comfortable for Geoff and his associates.
Yasujiro Ozu 


Nonetheless they took on a significant potential financial burden – one I would not have been prepared to contemplate. As it transpires, rather more than the minimum necessary number of subscribers, paid "upfront" so that all costs will be recouped. There may even be some slight profit. By slight I mean sufficient for the volunteers all have a pleasant Chinese banquet together. Apart from that, nothing of significance.
I believe that all the active participants in this festival are to be much congratulated. As a film lover myself, all I can think I of is watching more films. I would not have the dedication that Geoff and his fellows have shown. I doubt that I would have had the catholicity of taste to collect so many unusual films and wonder whether they have general appeal.
Shadi Abdel Salam
Because it all does come down to "bums on seats". There was to be free entry to AFTRS students. But apparently very, very few indeed availed themselves of this opportunity. My experience of student filmmakers and recent graduate filmmakers is that they have no interest whatsoever in anything cinematic, extending beyond their own lifespan. So one ought to note that the overwhelming bulk of participants were: "Friends of Geoff" who wanted to assist – so he can be sure he has at least about 90, and other rather "elderly" lovers of film. None of this bodes well for the future. For persons of my generation, going to the cinema was the only available means of seeing film. Cinema film and in the cinema itself were a ritual so intertwined that they were like the celebration of Mass at the church. For younger people that does not seem to be the case. Despite the availability of well over 50% of the shown films, either by streaming services, or indeed on YouTube, it would seem that older people still prefer to view worthwhile films at a cinema. But I don't think this is going to last.
There seems to be some parallel with newsprint which all analysts agree, seems to be in a state of terminal decline. The antidote to this decline might be a more discursive and in-depth, essayistic format and whether by luck or design, the festival had this, in introductions to all the films I saw by recognised and recognisable experts, whose commentary materially assisted comprehension and evaluation of the relevant film.
In the second last night of the festival, my wife and I saw Jean Renoir's The Crime of M Lange, about which no real comment from me as necessary. It is an out and out masterpiece. As the lights came on I saw Geoff, a few rows in front of me, with tears in his eyes, still fascinated by his favourite film. I was a little offhand with this display of emotion, but isn't it wonderful to be involved in an activity where you see people at their emotional best and their most open.

Au revoir, Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (Jean Renoir, France, 1936)
Editor's Note: I think, but am not certain, that
Jean-Luc Godard once said 'Anyone who doesn't weep with
joy at the end of Le Crime de Monsieur Lange doesn't love the cinema'.

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