One year ago in my FIPRESCI article from Pusan I wrote about the importance of seeing the old films at international festivals. This year in Thessaloniki I planned to continue the topic because in the festival program there were 18 Greek films from the fifties and the sixties. After discovering this while reading the catalogue I was extremely happy. After the first screening I became really unhappy. In the catalogue all of these films were marked as shown on 35mm prints and the print sources were marked as well. Almost all of these titles were shown in digibeta. This seemed so strange to me. During previous years I had watched a lot of old Greek films in beautiful 35 mm prints. Why not do this in 2006? Bad relations between the festival and film archives? Money problems?
Seeing The Young Runaway (O micros drapetis), made by Stavros Tsiolis in 1968, I decided that this beta screening was not that bad. Of course it does not show any background, any sky, any tree's leaves, but the child actors are so fresh, so naïve, so unexpectedly professional and the film itself - telling the story of a boy abandoned by his parents - became so connected with Soviet movies on the same subject made in the late sixties, I was almost pleased.
Eva (1953) – the passionate antic style melodrama by late veteran director Maria Plyta became my second and the last attempt to watch old Greek films on beta.
The story of a young, rich, married Eva seducing handsome Anthinois was made with a very strong direction. The actors did their best and the cameramen – I guess – presents to us a picturesque and in a way erotic landscape of the one of the Greek islands. But sometimes – unfortunately, very often – one part of beautiful Eva's body suddenly stopped to move in a time when the other part of this wonderful woman's body started trembling. This is how new technology transfers the old melodrama into horror film and it is definitely not what Maria Plyta wanted.
After this experiment I went to the festival headquarters and asked them to tell me which films will be shown in 35 mm. Of course it was Reconstruction (Anaparastassi, 1970) by Theo Angelopulos and (thank God) the film Kieron (1968) by Dimos Theos in which we can see Mr. Angelopulos playing one of the characters. The film tells the story of the famous journalist accused of the murder of an American citizen. The police did not have enough proof but they took the journalist to jail, questioning and torturing him. The year of production is 1968, the period of the Black Colonels reign in Greece . For sure they tortured and killed people but it was strange to me to see that dictators allowed a film director to show this on the screen. “How are things going?” asked the American guy arriving in Athens . “Very well,” replied the journalist, “we are building new hotels, prisons, concentration camps.” Listening to this I tried to imagine if it was possible to hear such words from the Soviet films before perestroika. I failed. What a strange dictatorship they have here in Greece !
This political movie was made partly in Godard style. The panoramas over the city streets, the way people dressed and behaved, the artistic structure with the opening shot, the pessimistic point of view on a situation – all of this reminded me of Alphaville. If the festival did not find the 35mm print the audience would find parallels not with Godard but with Romero, for example, with his Night of the Living Dead made in the same year, 1968.
The problem of watching old films on beta is not quite technical. It is an art problem. If you see the movie and can not feel the movie you'd be better reading someone describing a picture in a magazine. It is very important in a modern situation when, despite the absence of money, young filmmakers make their films on some sort of video camera and transfer them to 35mm as the best solution. Watching the old films on beta they can imagine the way they make films is the same as their colleagues from the past did.
It is the case that nowadays even many film schools introducing film history will show classic films on video and it's almost the only solution for film buffs and those who are interested in past years films to see those movies during festival retrospectives. Also, if the festivals will also present the films from the past on beta, digibeta, mini DVD, big DVD, medium DVD it will be not only a death knell for the film enthusiasts, it will be the death of a cinema as a visual art.