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Wex’s Cinema Revival Goes Virtual

Hope Madden Hope Madden Wex’s Cinema Revival Goes VirtualChess of the Wind - Courtesy Janus Films
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If there was going to be one annual film program unlikely to make the leap to virtual presentation, the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Cinema Revival would probably be the one, right? Their yearly celebration of the art and outcome of an industry’s painstaking efforts to find, preserve and archive film seems a misfit for streaming presentation.

Not so, says David Filipi, Wex’s Director of Film/Video.

“There was a moment where I was thinking, ‘Is this going to be possible?’ but that faded pretty quickly,” Filipi says. “Over the course of the last year, we got so comfortable with what was possible. Instead of dwelling on the negative, we thought about things that would benefit from being online.”

The truth is, although there are fewer opportunities to work with studios and their recent restorations, Filipi has programmed a set of treasures—some presumed lost, others that speak to the importance of our cinematic past on our cinematic present, some that are entirely new to the fold of preservation.

And for those of us feeling cooped up, Filipi offers a quick trip around Italy.

Grand Tour Italiano: Cinema Treasures from the Archives premieres Sunday, February 28, delivering an authentic, early-20th century tour of the country pieced together over decades by Cineteca di Bologna from archives around the world.

“It’s a program I’ve wanted to do for a number of years,” Filipi says. “Little actualities shot all over Italy. It’s striking to see some of these landmarks. The time machine aspect of it jumps out at you and they’re just beautifully restored.”

Grand Tour Italiano: Cinema Treasures from the Archives – Courtesy Cineteca di Bologna

Cinema Revival kicks off on Thursday, February 25 with a spotlight on the Black Film Center/Archive with its director, Terri Francis. Francis will introduce the short film An Ecstatic Experience by filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary, followed by Kathleen Collins’s restored 1982 film Losing Ground. Collins’ film was named to the National Film Registry in December.

At 7 p.m., Francis will host a conversation with Gary, whose film incorporates archival footage of a stage play starring Ruby Dee as well as recent material from Black Lives Matter protests.   

On Friday, February 26, the fest also shines a light on video game preservation.

“It was really compelling how similar the issues in video game preservation are to the issues in film preservation,” Filipi notes. “Video game preservation is kind of where film preservation was back in the 80s. They were still trying to convince people it was important, and it seems like video games are in that place right now.”

Rich Whitehouse, head of digital conservation for the Video Game History Foundation, discusses the process Friday, followed by a live Q&A.

One major fest highlight is the streaming of Mohammad Reza Aslani’s 1976 Iranian drama Chess of the Wind. Rarely screened and banned shortly after its release, the film itself was long thought lost.

“It was impossible to see this film the way you were supposed to see it,” says Filipi. “A few years ago, the director’s son was in a shop that specializes in props and costumes for films and in the corner were all these films. One was the negative for his dad’s film. He bought it and quickly shipped it out of Iran, and that’s where the restoration story begins.”

Here’s where a virtual fest actually created opportunities for Filipi.

“The conversation about Chess of the Wind—one person was in Tehran, one person was in Spain, one person was in Bologna, one person was in New York, and one person was me—that would have been hard to pull together in person,” he says.

And the bonus? All of the films stream for free.

The Wex’s 2021 edition of Cinema Revival: A Festival of Film Restoration begins Thursday, February 25 with premieres running through Sunday, February 28. Each film is available online for about a week after its premiere—another nice perk of being online.

Full lineup:

  • Spotlight on The Black Film Center/Archive with Terri Francis, Director, the Black Film Center/Archive, Thursday, Feb. 25 / Noon
  • An Ecstatic Experience (Ja’Tovia Gary, 2015) & Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982), Thursday, Feb. 25 / Noon – Wednesday, March 3
  • A Conversation with Terri Francis and filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary, Thursday, Feb. 25 / 7 p.m.
  • Spotlight on Video Game Preservation with Rich Whitehouse, Head of Digital Conservation, Video Game History Foundation, Friday, Feb. 26 / 7 p.m.   
  • A Conversation about Chess of the Wind with Director Mohammad Reza Aslani, Saturday, Feb. 27 / Noon 
  • Chess of the Wind (Mohammad Reza Aslani, 1976), Saturday, Feb. 27 / 7 p.m. – Friday, March 5
  • Grand Tour Italiano: Cinema Treasures from the Archives curated by Andrea Meneghelli / Cineteca di Bologna, piano accompaniment: Daniele Furlati, Sunday, Feb. 28 / Noon –  Saturday, March 6

Find more information here.

Follow Hope on Twitter @maddwolf and check out her weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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