Footnotes: Bucharest, as seen from Bologna

14 July, 2022

I’ve said it before: the people of Il Cinema Ritrovato are rarely burned by the spotlight. On the contrary, it’s visible how the smiles of these phobics of all sorts slowly dry up the more their steps take them closer to the big stage. And when the timer starts and the fifteen minutes of fame start rolling, they will do their best to talk about anything else: mostly the film, mostly the filmmaker, never about themselves, the bearers, the carers, the messengers; the archivists, the restorers, the curators. “Applause for the projectionist!”, they say every evening in Piazza Pasolini. There’s something beautiful in this way of lacking self-sufficiency, of letting other things, film, external and pre-existent to yourself, fulfill you.

Even so, I’ve kept wondering if these people are my friends or foes. Because I’ve all too often hinted at their cinephile police uniforms, hidden beneath their breezy flax clothes. For me, a pirate of principle (and necessity), their closeness to institutions, to the market of re-releases, to the calls for eliminating all pirate copies from the internet to make way for “the good” copy, can only seem specious. I’m reading the following in one of my older essays, an ardent study of the “la loupe” movement:

„I don’t mean to suggest that poor images are the only thing circulating on la loupe and F.T. That’s not even remotely the case. On the contrary, they are among high-res films, recent restorations taken from Vimeo, and DVD rips. Their place is still on the periphery. The pirates have not abandoned the hierarchy of images. We still pursue those 1080, 2k, 4k; 720 is reasonable; 480 is exotic.”

To be fair, I wrote this during the first half-year of the pandemic, a time in which the ideal response seemed to be austerity, to me: cinema as information and emotion, lacking the worldly pleasures of perfect color and sound. In other words, under the impression that our days were numbered, all these projects in the industry of the image, with their decennial restorations, scrupulous integrals, and other such endeavors seemed to be intolerably slow. In its sovereignty, piracy became providential.

It’s just that now, when emergencies seem less urgent – and it must be said that the times have rendered us more uncaring than ever –, I realize that the people of Ritrovato are worthy of my entire admiration. And that their fight is not against pirates, but alongside us. It’s only when we finally acknowledge this that we will be able to care for each other, not another, but the same. In the end, the only thing that distinguishes an archivist from a corsair is the law. The seedy online copies of one I Don’t Want to Get Married (dir. Manole Marcus, 1961) don’t contradict the distinction, but only lead to the film’s ultimate screening in Brussels, at the Europalia festival, part of the fabulous retrospective organized by Andrei Tănăsescu a few years ago. There, in that small Belgian cinema, we saw the true colors of the socialist musical. But does it matter? I’ve just seen Changing Hues in Piazza Pasolini, a British short that is hand-colored, just like the fresh and famous telescope images published by Nasa, colored mostly by science and a bit by phantasy, yet somewhat kitsch, and so I do believe that yes, it does matter how we color history in.

I Don’t Want to Get Married (d. Manole Marcus, 1961)

I remember a fast and mistrustful reply that I got from a pirate once, regarding both some factual errors that I had made about Karagarga, but also a courageous assertion that I would never take back, that the platform practices a high standard of curatorship. I was especially referring to the endless requirements that any member of the pirate community has to accomplish in order to upload a video file to Karagarga – provenance, subtitles, video quality, etc. Technical stuff, not curatorial ones, the pirate said. Well, cinema curatorship, seen in its largest sense, of taking care of a given film, has much to do with these little knick-knacks. And that’s how it’s always been. Just like a proper archivist cares a lot whether a film was kept on a negative or inter-negative copy, in X country, maybe even in a cut made by the local censorship board, a pirate cares if the copy available on torrents of Piotr Majdrowicz’s Misunderstanding – a random amateur short, yet one that is homoerotic, shot in the middle of Poland’s communist era (1978) – comes from somewhere other than the VoD platform of the Warsaw Modern Arts Museum: because the off-screen music might be different or completely missing (16mm), the ugly logo of the museum might be missing, anyhow, maybe the film itself is completely different and should be checked.

I think of Vivien Kristin Buchhorn, a tireless propagandist of Sohrab Shahid-Saless’s cinema, and the erstwhile director of the Berlin Critics Week and, at last, director of the Shahid-Sales archive, the provenance of the restored version of one of the most beautiful ex-pat film in the history of cinema, Far from home (1975). On the stage of the Jolly, Buchhorn could only be interrupted after about 15 minutes of curatorial foreplay, when she apologized and, smiling nervously, said that it’s difficult to hurry up after spending more than ten years on a single project. In the same vein, curator Karola Gramann and restorer Lutz Gatmsen didn’t spare any details while presenting a completely unhinged film: lesbian punk sci-fi flick Flaming Ears (Ursula Pürrer, Dietmar Schipek, Ashley Hans Scheirl, 1991). I won’t get into technical stuff, since I can’t fully understand them anyway, so the only thing I’ll say is that the film’s new copy (“from Super8 to 16mm to 4K”), as they say, has apparently been reconstructed starting from the memories of its spectators in the nineties, a conceptual peak of the idea of community cinema (and of horizontal queer memory), but also of a way of thinking about restoration as an act of faithful restitution (to whom?). Walter Benjamin would have marveled at the fact that so many people have ended up being preoccupied with the positive copy of a film.

Flaming Ear (d. Ursula Pürrer, Dietmar Schipek, Ashley Hans Scheirl, 1991)

So many out there in the world, so few in little-big old Bucharest. I laughed at the book stand, as I saw a French edition of Films, Films, Films, an anthology of Gopo’s drawings from the sixties. Romanian cinema seems to have somehow made some space for itself. Not that this would be a loss on the part of the festival, but it’s clear to me that we have an “export” problem. An Italian curator (of another festival) told me how difficult it was for him to gain access to a few Romanian documentaries; and I don’t even know if he even managed to get them, in the end. It really looks like anyone interested in anything other than The Reenactment is on their own. And it’s becoming quite clear that our provincial obsession with discovering the definitive masterpiece of pre-Revolutionary Romanian cinema did much more harm than good, in the end. We have thousands of interesting films, but we pretend that there are only three of them that are any good.

Forgoing the act of pretending makes it quite hard to work with Romanian cinema, especially with the kind that is stored in any kind of archive other than the national one. The films made by amateur cine-clubbers, in particular, are nowhere to be found, either lost, or spread across dozens of offices, apartments, drawers, and disputes. The workshop experiments by artists, barring kinema ikon, but rather, thinking of Grigorescu, Mihuleac, or Brătescu, have been spread across so many different exhibitions and collections that it would entail a lifetime of work to gather them all in a single archive, dedicated to the Romanian Neo-Avantgarde. And with each passing day, a collection of home movies, which are quite rare in Romania anyway, becomes increasingly fragile due to the ephemeral nature of film stock. Yet, all these problems are dwarfed in size by that of the National Film Archive, an infinitely secretive institution that remains incomprehensible. I just found out today that a restored version of The Delta Space Mission (dir. Călin Cazan, Mircea Toia, 1984) has just been released in the United States on Blu-ray. Absolutely wonderful, but maybe the National Film Archive could’ve also announced it in a local press release.

In its chase for time, our industry managed to find its contrabandists of the second in Ana Szel, Andrei Rus, Melinda Blos-Jáni, Andra Popescu, Adina Brădeanu, and all those who traffic ideas on the history of cinema. New ideas, not the same old, same old. And others will follow in their path, because the Romanian film history class at UNATC, which, for the longest time, was suffering from the illness that is Manuela Cernat, has found a new face, one that is bright: that of Gabriela Filippi. Our cinema’s past is now running at a different speed, which makes it the right moment for us to envy the long hours that the people of Ritrovato enjoy. We know that we can be fast and, more than at any other time after the Revolution, that we have things to do in our archives. But we could, indeed, make good use of the lengthy times of institutions, 25 hours a day. And back in Jilava, the National Film Archive would do well to start its timer.


Film critic and journalist. He is an editor at AARC and writes the ”Screens” features for Art Magazine. He collaborates with many publications and film festivals as a freelancer and he is strangely attached to John Ford's movies.