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Guy Borlée, Coordinator of Bologna’s Film Festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato


Ravenna, Italy

Guy Borlée, Coordinator of Bologna’s Film Festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato,

interviewed by David Garyan

DG: Bologna’s annual film festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato, has been a household name in the city for over thirty years, attracting not just locals but also individuals from all over Italy and Europe. Can you talk about how it all started?

GB: The story really starts thirty-five years, maybe thirty-six years ago: Two young guys from Bologna, Gian Luca Farinelli and Nicola Mazzanti went to Pordenone for the silent film festival and they were fascinated by the atmosphere dedicated to film history. They proposed to do something similar in their hometown. Initially, things started on a small scale; only two film archivists were invited to Bologna, from Luxembourg and Munich; they were good friends, and so each one decided to bring their favorite films and most beautiful posters. In Munich, there was Enno Patalas, a great historian, and he came with his best prints of three Ernst Lubitsch comedies while Fred Junck was from Luxembourg and he had an incredible collection of American movies. Things began with about one hundred spectators and then slowly word started to spread.

An important step was in 1994, which is also when I started working for Il Cinema Ritrovato; that year the International Federation of Archives Congress (FIAF) met in Bologna and all the archivists from around the world came to the city; the festival, hence, grew from a simple local gathering to having international dimensions. Throughout the subsequent years the demand for cinemas grew and we now have seven spaces available for use during the day and three for the evening. There was only one open air-screening at Piazza Maggiore twenty years ago and it was like a miracle having the orchestra of the opera house at that time; slowly the event grew—two nights, then one week, eventually two weeks at some point, and now the events runs for two months. Things progressed quite nicely and attendance kept on increasing until, of course, the pandemic.

DG: The festival has grown to be so popular that it has embarked on collaboration projects all across the world—just two notable examples are Brown University and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, a city which many consider to be the epicenter of film. Along with dates in the US, the festival has also made stops in Belgium and France. Will we see more such projects in the future?

GB: I hope so. We are open to any proposals—anybody who wants to screen good films at festivals, whether at a university or at a film club can write to us, and if we have the right titles for them, collaboration is certainly possible. We’ve restored films for many occasions; the range of those projects have included silent classics, such as The Kid by Chaplin, to very rare and splendid Iranian movies like Chess of the Wind. When digital restoration work has been done in the best possible way, it’s really available to anybody, and so the collaboration can happen on a big scale, but we’re also happy to have a screening inside a small university class that wants to learn more about the history of WWII, for example; in fact, we recently co-produced documentary called The Forgotten Front about the topic. Our aim, hence, is to promote cinema heritage among individuals, organizations, and educational institutions.

DG: It’s fair to say, then, that you’re open to working with anybody?

GB: We consider ourselves as part of a world community of cinephiles. We are inspired by the concepts and projects of people working in other countries, such as historians and archivists. We try to gather as many ideas as possible and share what we’ve learned with the world in our own way.

Il Cinema Ritrovato at AfricaDoc Film Festival in Saint-Louis, Senegal

DG: Let’s move to logistical issues: The unforeseen outbreak of COVID more than a year ago has drastically altered the dynamics of society—it seems that every aspect of life is affected, from the “essential” activities of commerce right down to the way culture is transmitted. And yet, even before the pandemic, there were surely ever-present difficulties that had to be overcome during the organizational process of a festival like Il Cinema Ritrovato. What are now the additional challenges that will present themselves in addition to those which always had to considered—if authorities allow the festival to proceed?

GB: I would say that in terms of the programming things haven’t changed much. If you look at the catalogue of the previous festival and the one before that as well, it’s more or less similar. We managed to keep the same high level of programming quality and cultural diversity; however, we had to reorganize all the spaces to make sure that social distancing guidelines were respected, so for the first time we had to create a booking system—before COVID, you just needed a day or week pass and you could go anywhere. Now, you have to book your seat and be there in advance—all the while taking extra safety precautions for yourself. We had to do many things very quickly and for the first time, but it worked rather well; it was a big challenge but fortunately our cineteca had the capacity to adapt to the new measures. Also, the open-air screenings were difficult to organize; a lot of our staff had to be involved in the process but we managed to accomplish it and I’m sure many other festivals were able to have success in this respect as well. Had it not been possible for us to organize the event in presence last year—with capable staff that could ensure safety, quality, and security in those circumstances—then the prospect of doing it online would certainly have been there. Many festivals have already started thinking along such lines, allowing those who could otherwise not attend an event in presence to do so online. At the same time, there’s a vast difference between a live, big-screen projection with the stars above you and the people around you—it’s so much better than watching something alone on your sofa or while eating chips with your family.

DG: We have spoken at length about international developments related to Il Cinema Ritrovato. Can you give readers, along with those contemplating attending the festival, a sneak peak of what they might expect in 2021? Indeed, things can change quickly, but it’s also exciting to look forward—perhaps some possible screenings or well-known personalities that have already been scheduled would be wonderful to know about.

GB: For the guests we really don’t know because we’re not sure if people will be able to travel. What I can say is that as of today we’re in touch with many notable personalities. Usually, we establish communication when we want to restore a film—from directors that are still alive, of course; we do our best, for example, to establish contact to have a restoration approved. We strive to build a relationship from the beginning and maintain it—the premier is naturally always the high-point of this experience, such as when Francis Ford Coppola was here for the screening of Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, so this is the kind of moment that’s really a dream, but I really don’t know what we’ll be able to do this time around. Last year, we had some guests from places like Paris and Berlin, for example. As far as the programming for 2021, we’re working on something substantial, but that’s something we prefer not to announce before the publication of the first newsletter because we have to conduct a press conference beforehand.

DG: A festival like Il Cinema Ritrovato undoubtedly requires a great deal of coordination between people of different skills and backgrounds. It would be intriguing to hear about some of the main actors involved in the organization of the festival and their respective responsibilities, along with your own background and duties. It would also be interesting to know more about the path that eventually led you to become the coordinator of this large festival.

GB: I’m of the opinion that there’s no “school” which can teach you the skills required to organize a festival like Il Cinema Ritrovato, or others like it. Usually people pick up these aptitudes best when they’re working directly in the field. In our case, I would say the festival staff is divided in two camps: There are the permanent workers of the cineteca; in this respect, I work with some excellent colleagues and experts in restoration, programming, book archives, video archives, and so on. As you see, we already have a big team on hand year-round. To supplement our expertise, we periodically bring in talented technicians, projectionists, translators, and other experts that are crucial for the organization of the festival. Also, we try our best to involve our young staff, such as students who’ve volunteered to help us in the process, and I’m sure this is no different from what other festivals aim for as well. We try to be both a dynamic and efficient team; having said that, at one hundred individuals we’re not a very big group. It sounds like a lot but for a large festival it’s not that much. We manage many theaters and screenings. Just last year, we screened around five hundred films (among which 350 were short); from 9 am till midnight, we screened six or seven different films in different theaters.

DG: What has been the most memorable moment you experienced at Il Cinema Ritrovato?

GB: There are many. The screenings in Piazza Maggiore are always very beautiful, and most of all, memories of the orchestra from the opera house also come to mind. If you show The Gold Rush, for example, which is a masterpiece, accompanied by music being played by one of the best orchestras in Italy, the moment really becomes quite special; when everything blends together perfectly, it’s pure magic. Unfortunately, I end up missing most of these occasions because during the festival I can only watch one or two minutes of the beginning of many events, and then I must run somewhere else in order to manage an issue that needs attention or to resolve a problem at another screening. If I’m able to see just one film from start to finish, it’s already a small miracle. Usually, there are one or two I can catch every year and I consider this the best moment of my own festival experience. I love to go the movies and when I retire—hopefully within a hundred years—I would love to remain a real Il Cinema Ritrovato spectator, or also keep on attending festivals organized by others.

DG: I would like to ask this final question: You’ve discussed the interesting history of how the festival started over thirty years ago—can you tell us how your own journey began in Bologna, and what led you to become the director of this cultural event that so many people treasure?

GB: You may say I was very lucky. I first discovered my passion for cinema in Brussels when I was still a student, at the age of fifteen. There was a film club at my school, the College Don Bosco, and it was run by the students. I became a member—quickly starting to organize screenings of, as I now recall, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and many other interesting titles. I remember us going wild and it was a lot of fun; until now, I have fond memories of those days. What I tried, and continue trying to do, is keep that spirit alive—the sense of having fun while performing this activity that eventually became my job—precisely the one which allowed me to be part of an even bigger audience that’s experiencing emotions together. After that, I immediately started working for another film club in Brussels; every Sunday morning—there was a screening with complementary coffee and croissant—Les petit déjeuners du Cinéma. That was a lot fun of too—I had to wake up at six o’clock in the morning, but okay. As it happened, I moved to Italy, and shortly thereafter submitted an application to the Cineteca di Bologna—without knowing anybody who worked there. And that’s how it all began—with a job for the FIAF Congress in 1994; the subsequent year, the person doing all the coordination work left and a meeting was held to find a replacement. I had to take my chance—I raised my hand and said a little bit shyly: “Well, I can try to do it, if you want.” Though you have to try your luck in life, a strong cultural background is fundamental for this type of work. Despite the fact that my duties these days mostly revolve around technical matters related to organization and communication—ensuring the proper coordination of the festival—I very much believe that having a strong cultural background can only help that process. For example, I try to see a good selection of films from directors we invite—and this I try to do in advance so my work does not simply become a “technical” job but a positive experience for my own life.

We hope the festival can still take place between June 26th and July 4th, but given the circumstances we find ourselves in, the event may need to be postponed by one or two months in order to make it happen in presence.

If you are interested, the easiest way to stay informed is sign up for our newsletter.

And if you are in Italy, you can follow a wonderful program of restored films called Il Cinema Ritrovato Fuori Sala on the platform MYmovies.

Guy Borlée has served as the coordinator of Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato since 1994. He lectures regularly on film, festival programming and development at FIAF conferences throughout the world and universities as well. Borlée has also coordinated the Sotto le Stelle del Cinema (Under the Stars of Cinema) which presents classic films in an open-air environment at Piazza Maggiore, the main square of Bologna.


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