Cinema Reborn 2022

Sarah Maldoror’s Sambizanga (1972)

Even if you’re thousands of miles and more than a few time zones away from Sydney, Australia, you’re going to want to poke around the site for Cinema Reborn, the festival of new restorations opening at Ritz Cinemas Randwick on Wednesday. Each classic of Hollywood or international cinema and every recent discovery has its own page with notes from the program on the director, the film, and the restoration.

Read Adrian Martin, for example, on the opening night film, Claire Denis’s Beau travail (1999), which is “among the freest, the most lyrical and inventive of films.” Adrian Danks offers a crash course on both Sergio Leone and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), the centerpiece presentation. The festival will wrap on May 3 with Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947), and John Baxter ties up his notes with haunting details on the demise of William Lindsay Gresham, who wrote the novel that Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan turned to for last year’s second adaptation. “He died at fifty-three,” writes Baxter, “a suicide, in the New York hotel where he wrote the only one of his four books to show a profit. Police searching his body found some business cards. Under his name, they announced, ‘No Address. No Phone. No Business. No Money. Retired.’”

Along with big-screen presentations of such perennial favorites as Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932), Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975), and Joseph Losey’s Mr. Klein (1976), Cinema Reborn will also offer a sampling from the Kinuyo Tanaka retrospective currently touring North America. The Moon Has Risen (1955) was written by Yasujiro Ozu and Saito Ryosuke, and “Ozu’s fingerprints are all over the narrative and indeed, some of the stylistic choices,” writes Jane Mills. But Tanaka “brings an energy to the film that is unmatched.”

Ruan Lingyu, the great tragic figure of Chinese silent cinema portrayed by Maggie Cheung in Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage (1991), appears in the role that made her a star in Wu Yonggang’s The Goddess (1934). Though “her gaze eluded ours,” writes Janice Tong, “as spectators, we were drawn to her as a ‘complex entity,’ as a Deleuzian affect-image: in that each look is singular and resists being blended into the indifference of the world.”

Other relative rarities include Philippine director Mike de Leon’s Batch ’81 (1982) and Australian filmmaker Ray Argall’s Return Home (1989). Writing about Masoud Kimiai’s The Deer (1974), Ehsan Khoshbakht finds it “hard to believe the sheer bravery that went into making this militant ‘buddy movie,’ which makes all the ‘political’ films of the new Iranian cinema look pale and vapid in comparison.”

The festival is run entirely by dedicated volunteers, and the organizing committee has collaborated with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia to present restorations of short films made in the 1950s by the Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit, which was created “to counter what the union saw as misinformation and anti-worker propaganda in the mainstream press.”

Before it heads to the Film Foundation’s Restoration Screening Room in September, Sarah Maldoror’s Sambizanga (1972), likely the first feature to be made and distributed in Africa by a woman of African descent, will screen in Sydney on May 1 and 2. In 1961, before Angola won its independence from Portugal, a young mother wanders from village to village in search of her husband, a tractor driver who has been arrested for what the colonial police suspect are revolutionary activities. Sambizanga is “a gripping neorealist drama that is both instructive and propagandist,” writes Helen Goritsas.

Past criticisms of Sambizanga for its sheer beauty come up in a roundtable discussion of Maldoror and her legacy hosted by Another Gaze. “I don’t think we could render the politics of Sambizanga without the community-focus that the ‘beauty’ brings with it,” says Ghanaian filmmaker Nuotama Bodomo. “I think Maldoror uses what we’re calling ‘beauty’ to highlight the community surrounding the imprisonment and violence in the film. I think the community ultimately is what is victorious at the end of the film. I don’t understand how we could render Sambizanga without that beauty.”

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