Sag Harbor Cinema Presents a Festival Focused on Preservation

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Howard Hawks's 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” starring Marilyn Monroe will be among the offerings screened at “The Sag Harbor Cinema Festival of Preservation.”

When you think about the film festival circuit, the first thing that comes to mind are slates filled with cutting-edge films — those new releases highlighting the latest and greatest the world of cinema has to offer.

This weekend, the Sag Harbor Cinema will be turning back the clock by offering a festival line-up that is not about exploring film’s future, but preserving its past. “Martin Scorsese Presents: The Sag Harbor Cinema Festival of Preservation” will feature four days of film screenings and panel discussions that reflect the importance of preserving the medium.  Scorsese has always been supportive of Sag Harbor Cinema and in light of his commitment to film preservation, lent his name as an endorsement to this initiative. Among the many organizations that have been instrumental in the preservation movement  in recent years is The Film Foundation. The non-profit was founded by Scorsese and several other leading filmmakers in 1990 and is dedicated to film preservation and the exhibition of restored and classic cinema. On Saturday, Margaret Bodde, The Film Foundation’s executive director, will discuss the movement  in a panel discussion at the cinema, along with Cineric Laboratories’ founder Balasz Nayari, who will share insights on the process of restoration.

There will also be plenty of interesting films to catch this weekend at Sag Harbor Cinema as well.

“There are film festivals that have new films, but anything that addresses the past of cinema doesn’t exist,” explained Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, the cinema’s artistic director when asked how the festival came about. “There’s not a repertoire exhibition out there, no older films, and that was always my intention.

A scene from George Romero’s 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead.”

“I travel the festival circuit and I see the impact,” she added. “I thought it would be a treat for our audience to access this world, and make it annual opportunity where you learn a little more.”

When it comes to film preservation, there’s an assumption that the movies that haven’t held up well with time (physically speaking, that is, not thematically), are the older ones. It is true that serious deterioration issues can be found in films made prior to the 1950s, when the use of flammable cellulose nitrate film was common and movies were prone to dangerous decay that often made them explosive. As expected, the festival will highlight some of those older films, including Ernst Lubitsch’s “Forbidden Paradise” from 1924, Michael Powell’s “The Red Shoes” from 1948 (a Martin Scorsese favorite), and Howard Hawks classic 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

But as the line-up of films this weekend makes clear, many newer movies are also in danger of disappearing, and often for surprising and unexpected reasons. For example, on the docket are unusual selections, like George Romero’s 1968 black and white horror classic “Night Of the Living Dead,” Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 “Sweet Sweetback Baadasssss Song,” and Marlon Brando’s 1961 western “One Eyed Jacks,” the only film the actor ever directed (both Scorsese and Steven Spielberg were consultants on this restoration).

“Often, it becomes an issue of storage or rights,” Vallan explained when asked why some of these newer films are in danger of disappearing. “Like with ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ It’s a beautiful film and was a huge success. It’s such a gigantic irony that young, adventurous filmmakers often failed to copyright their films and never made any money. With ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ it entered into the public domain so people could remake it. The negative was in one of the original filmmaker’s cellars all these years, and he refused to part with it until the lead archivist at MoMA [Museum of Modern Art] met with him and he agreed to take it out and restore it.”

Vallan was close friends with Romero, who died in 2017, and she curated a complete retrospective of his work in Italy and at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

“We showed a crappy print of ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ When MoMA got a hold of it and scanned it for the first time, George saw it and got possession of his own film,” said Vallan. “He was present at the film scan and sound correction session. When they scan a film digitally, there are decisions to be made. He had a list of notes.”

One of the things Romero wanted to add into the film was the sound of a gunshot that was missing in a scene because at the time the film was made, he didn’t have the money for the effect.

“He really wanted that gunshot,” Vallan noted, adding that in another point in the film, there is a continuity error that could have easily been fixed, but Romero opted to leave it in. “That was so moving to me. The film was remade many times, but he had no control over it. Independent films like George Romero’s or Melvin’s tend to be more fragile because there’s no structure to protect them and the negative is not preserved.”

A scene from Melvin Van Peebles’ second film, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” from 1971.

She explains that was a particular issue for Van Peebles, a self-financed independent Black filmmaker that no studio wanted to risk backing. Van Peebles just died in September, and Vallan notes that it was the filmmaker’s son, Mario, who has taken an interest in his father’s legacy in recent years, seeking out the various elements of his work.

“On our opening weekend [in May], we showed ‘The Story of a Three Day Pass,’ one of Melvin’s earliest films,” Vallan said. “I wanted to show that the notion of preservation is not confined to early cinema. The Film Foundation has done an amazing job going after the early cinema, but also international cinema and independent cinema. They’ve been really far reaching in protecting the history and keeping these things relevant.”

Besides The Film Foundation, MoMA and the Museum of the Moving Image, many other organizations have had a hand in the preservation effort as well, including the UCLA Film & Television Archive in California

“These organizations have created a culture of preservation. Sometimes it may feel like a stuffy subject, like an old museum, but I see this festival is not just about preservation of film, but the culture of film. It’s a beautiful and live history of the medium, but always relevant.”

One of the films to be screened this weekend is actually brand new — Bill Morrison’s “The Village Detective: A Song Cycle.” The film begins in the summer of 2016 when a fishing boat off the coast of Iceland reeled in a most unusual catch — four reels of 35mm Soviet-era film, which turns out to be a print of a popular comedy starring Russian actor Mihail Žarov.

Archival and lost film footage is a particular field of interest for Morrison. Back in February 2020, Sag Harbor Cinema hosted the director at Bay Street Theater for a screening and discussion of his 2016 film “Dawson City: Frozen Time.” That documentary was about 500-plus reels of silent-era nitrate film discovered in 1978 in the Yukon Territory, buried under an abandoned hockey rink in the Gold Rush town of Dawson City. Because the town was at the end of the film distribution line, the reels were simply never returned at the end of their run, and instead, in 1929 were disposed of by burial. It turns out that the Yukon permafrost helped to preserve the footage.

Brothers Fayard and Harold Nicholas in Andrew L. Stone’s “Stormy Weather” (1943). Courtesy Photofest.

Another highlight this weekend will be “The Fabulous Nicholas Brothers,” a presentation by Bruce Goldstein, the Film Forum’s director of repertory programming and founder of Rialto Pictures. African American brothers Fayard and Harold Nicholas, who died in 2006 and 2000 respectively, were two of the 20th century’s greatest dancers. Self-taught, they headlined at Harlem’s Cotton Club and later, performed on Broadway and in Hollywood movies. But despite their considerable talent, the brothers were typically cast in films as guest artists, not the main stars, which allowed their scenes to be cut from the prints screened in the South. Goldstein was the writer and co-producer of an award-winning 1992 documentary on the dancing team.

“This is a show of clips and stories about the Nicholas brothers. It’s just a marvel,” said Vallan. “Bruce Goldstein was friendly with the brothers and he’s been working on their legacy for a long time. He’s also an extremely fantastic entertainer, he tells their story and shows the choreography.”

The festival not only features restored and rediscovered Hollywood films, but also some local rarities, thanks to Sag Harbor’s Joe Lauro. Through his company Historic Films Archive, since 1991 Lauro has provided vintage film and musical footage to feature films, museum exhibitions and television shows. On Sunday, November 21, Lauro will present excerpts from several recent preserved finds, including footage of the 1915 East Hampton Fourth of July parade, photographer Amalie Rothschild’s “student films” shot at the Fillmore East in New York City, and the long-gone Chicago Maxwell Street Market as captured in Michael Shea’s 1964 documentary “And this Is Free.”

“It’s an embarrassment of riches,” said Vallan in referencing the festival’s line-up of films and speakers. “I tried to present the festival as a little more nuanced, both in choice of films and by introducing elements not necessarily about restoration, but engaging in-person events in the cinema.

“It’s so mind boggling how many beautiful things are out there and how many beautiful things have been restored in recent years,” she added. “There’s a movement and international understanding of the importance and once restored, they circulate in the world.”

The Sag Harbor Cinema Festival of Preservation runs November 19-22 at the Sag Harbor Cinema, 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor. For tickets, visit sagharborcinema.org.

 

“The Sag Harbor Cinema Festival of Preservation” is presented by director Martin Scorsese and funded in part by Suffolk County through the Suffolk County Film Commission.

“Enamorada” – November 20, 4:30 p.m.

Dir. Emilio Fernández. Mexico, 1946; 99 mins, in Spanish with English subtitles

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with Fundacion Televisa AC and Filmoteca de la UNAM. Restoration funded by the Material World Foundation.

“Forbidden Paradise” – November 21, 2 p.m.

Dir. Ernst Lubitsch. USA, 1924; 73 mins

Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with funding provided by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” – November 21, 7:30 p.m.

Dir. Howard Hawks.  USA, 1953; 91 mins, in English

“Night of the Living Dead” – November 20, 10 p.m.

Dir. George Romero. USA, 1968; 96 mins, in English

Restored by The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation and the Celeste Bartos Preservation Fund.

“One-Eyed Jacks” – November 21, 4 p.m.

Dir. Marlon Brando. USA, 1961; 141 mins, in English

Restored by Universal Pictures in collaboration with The Film Foundation. Special thanks to Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg for their consultation on this restoration.

“Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” – November 19, 9 p.m.

Dir. Melvin Van Peebles. USA, 1971; 97 mins, in English

A Janus Films release. 4K digital restoration approved by filmmaker Mario Van Peebles.

“The Red Shoes” – November 19, 6 p.m.

Dirs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. UK, 1948; 135 mins, in English

Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in association with the BFI, The Film Foundation, ITV Global Entertainment Ltd., and Janus Films. Restoration funding provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Film Foundation, and the Louis B. Mayer Foundation.

“The Village Detective: A Song Cycle” – November 22, 7 p.m.

Dir. Bill Morrison. USA, 2021; 81 mins, in English

During the summer of 2016, a fishing boat off the coast of Iceland made a most curious catch: four reels of 35mm film, seemingly of Soviet provenance. It turned out it was an incomplete print of a popular comedy starring beloved Russian actor Mihail Žarov.

“Ugetsu” – November 22, 4:30 p.m.

Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi.  Japan, 1953; 97 mins, in Japanese with English subtitles

Restored by The Film Foundation and KADOKAWA Corporation at Cineric Laboratories in New York. Special thanks to Masahiro Miyajima and Martin Scorsese for their consultation on this restoration. Restoration funding provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in association with The Film Foundation and KADOKAWA Corporation.

“The Fabulous Nicholas Brothers” with Bruce Goldstein – November 20, 7 p.m.

Dancers Fayard Nicholas (1914—2006) and Harold Nicholas (1921—2000) were self-taught African American brothers who eventually achieved international stardom. But Hollywood limited their appearances. Bruce Goldstein was the writer and co-producer of an award-winning 1992 documentary on the team.

“From the Historic Films Archive” with Joe Lauro – November 21, noon

Since 1991, Sag Harbor resident Joe Lauro’s Historic Films Archive has provided historical film footage and vintage musical performance footage to countless feature films, museum exhibits and television programs. This presentation will include excerpts from several recently preserved films and televisions programs which are housed at Historic Films.

Preservation Panel – November 20, noon

Moderated by SHAC’s artistic director Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan

How do we keep cinema and its history alive, available and relevant? Learn about the culture of film preservation by Margaret Bodde, executive director of Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation and Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory at Film Forum and founder of Rialto Pictures. How do we “save” a film? Meet Balasz Nyari, the founder of Cineric Laboratories, the premium film restoration center in the country, and discover the challenges of restoring films. This event is free to the public.

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