Il Cinema Ritrovato A first-timer's experience

As Festival Coordinator for Widescreen Weekend, I find myself organising festivals more often that attending them - so to be able to head off and experience a festival as a delegate, a programmer and a cinema advocate was exciting. And for it to be Il Cinema Ritrovato, the ultimate festival of archive film, was something else.

Here are my highlights, experiences and thoughts as someone who attended the festival for the first time.

What is Il Cinema Ritrovato?

For those of you unfamiliar with Il Cinema Ritrovato: it takes place in the heart of Bologna, Italy, has been running for over 30 years, and calls itself 'a grand museum of film, open for just nine days a year.' It focuses on archive film and new restorations, and has a rule of screening nothing younger than 30 years old. This is a broad spectrum of film. However, it's expertly curated, and their strands and celebrations are neatly packaged, with programmes covering everything from 19th-century films to newly discovered world cinema.

With Widescreen Weekend being a unique festival with a specific remit - celebrating big, bold cinema experiences and technology past, present and future - Il Cinema Ritrovato was the perfect place to gather inspiration, meet new friends and indulge in a bit of classic cinema.

The Programme

Although the thematic strands, plus a few film highlights, are announced well in advance, the schedule and full programme isn't released until a few days before the festival begins. As someone who likes to plan, this was quite stressful. But, armed with a highlighter (and, shamefully, Google Translate as quite a lot of the programme is in Italian), I created my dream itinerary.

I set a rule to experience at least one film from every strand. This may have been a bit ambitious, but I managed about half, including The Rebirth of Chinese Cinema 1941-1951 (which wasn't really to my taste) and Luciano Emmer 100: The Art of Gazing (I think I've found a new love).

My favourite was In Search of Color: Technicolor & Co. It may not feature the most undiscovered, obscure films, but nothing can compare to those rich, saturated colours, especially when projected from original 35mm prints. The packed screening of Meet Me in St. Louis told me I wasn't the only one who thought so: it was so popular that people were stood at the back and sat on the stairs.

The screenings

The screenings were always well attended, even early in the morning, which meant I needed to turn up at least 20-30 minutes in advance to get a good seat. Only at Il Cinema Ritrovato is there a queue for a 10am screening of a John M. Stahl film.

The highlight of the festival is always the outdoor piazza screenings. They were magical. These events are free and open to the general public - a clever way to engage the city with the festival. The atmosphere during the Martin Scorsese introduced Enamorada was electric. It seemed the whole of Bologna had turned up to catch a glimpse of the legendary director.

Then there was the amazing carbon arc lamp projector of Piazzetta Pasolini. This small courtyard only has a handful of seats, so not only do you need to book in advance by email, you need to be fast. It was worth it. I saw a selection of Neapolitan films of the 1910s and '20s (part of the festival's Song of Naples: Tribute to Elvira Notari and Vittorio Martinelli section) presented alongside glorious live music and singing. It was an amazing experience that will always stay with me.

Il Cinema Ritrovato's dedication to showing prints where possible meant that almost half of the films I saw were projected from 35mm. As a treat, I went to watch Marnie - one of the few Hitchcock films I hadn't seen - on Tuesday, 26 June. I almost squealed with delight when Michael Pogorzelksi from the Academy Film Archive, who introduced the film, told us it was an original 1964 release print. It was perfect.

The Talks

Despite having only been in Bologna for a few hours, I was lucky enough to secure a golden ticket for the festival's 'In Conversation' event with Martin Scorsese. Maybe it was a combination of an early flight and getting used to the heat, but as much as I loved what Martin Scorsese had to say, the event itself felt exhausting. All questions were in Italian, with Scorsese's answers in English then translated back every few sentences. After an hour, we had only made it through 4 questions. Still, just being in the presence of a great director and a passionate advocate for film preservation in the beautiful Teatro Comunale di Bologna was enough.

Although there were talks and sessions running consistently alongside the film programme (including the FIAF Summer School which I was kicking myself for not booking onto), I only managed to make it to a handful. One of the highlights was Sir Christopher Frayling's talk, The Cinema According to Sergio Leone. With Sir Christopher regularly being Guest Curator for Widescreen Weekend, I may be biased, but the talk was insightful, funny and engaging.

The Atmosphere

The most notable thing about Il Cinema Ritrovato was that every single festival-goer seemed to be there because they loved film. I'm sure there were meetings happening and business being done somewhere, but it felt as though people were primarily there for the films. In Martin Scorsese's introduction to Enamorada, he spoke about the festival being a 'pilgrimage' for cinema lovers. I felt he was right. Or maybe it was the romanticism of a packed screening under the stars, amongst the beautiful architecture of Bologna. But for people to favour sitting in dark cinemas over the sights of the city, its food (the gelato!) and the sunshine, they must truly be cinephiles.

Il Cinema Ritrovato, you became my happy place for 6 days. Until next year.

Rebecca Hill, Festivals and Cinema Events Coordinator at National Science and Media Museum, attended Il Cinema Ritrovato with support from our Bursaries scheme.