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Cinema Revival 2024

Lynn Redgrave and James Earl Jones in Charles Burnett’s The Annihilation of Fish (1999)

The tenth edition of Cinema Revival, the festival of film restoration at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, will open and close with films by Ousmane Sembène. Ceddo (1977), screening Wednesday afternoon, “implicates Africans in a slave trade that is further facilitated by hypocritical white Christian and totalitarian Black Muslim missionaries,” wrote J. Hoberman in the Village Voice in 2007. “Like many of Sembène’s films, Ceddo takes the form of an ongoing argument; it’s filled with speeches that in their fulsome metaphors suggest a form of collective poetry.” Hoberman called Xala (1975), which wraps the festival this coming Monday, “a scathing satire of post-colonial Senegal’s pompous Francophone elite.”

“Like Sergei Eisenstein,” wrote Kelley Dong for the Harvard Film Archive just a few weeks ago, “Sembène rejected socialist realism in favor of a cinematic language both didactic in function and supple in style. He aimed directly at his targets—capitalism, neocolonialism, patriarchy, religion—with nimble montage, sumptuous mise-en-scène, freeze-frames and zooms, flashbacks and visions, blistering caricatures and frank depictions of sex and mortality.”

When Ceddo screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato last summer, Aboubakar Sanogo of the African Film Heritage Project called the film “a masterclass in political philosophy and African constitutionalism.” Sanogo will be in Columbus to introduce a program of Senegalese newsreels made between 1966 and 1976—two of them focus on Sembène—and Idrissa Ouédraogo’s debut feature, Yam Daabo (The Choice, 1986), which screened as part of To Save and Project at MoMA in January.

A major highlight of this year’s Cinema Revival will be the world premiere of the new restoration of Charles Burnett’s The Annihilation of Fish (1999), starring Lynn Redgrave as a woman who believes she’s destined to marry nineteenth-century composer Giacomo Puccini, Margot Kidder as her lively landlady, and James Earl Jones as a Jamaican widower wrestling with invisible demons. In a 2006 appreciation of Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep with Anger) in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas called the film an “underrated farce.”

Writing for the Columbus Dispatch, Peter Tonguette tells the story of the rescue of The Annihilation of Fish after it was practically snuffed by an especially harsh review in Variety—a single well-placed critic could do that twenty-five years ago. It took Milestone Films cofounders Dennis Doros and Amy Heller many more years to negotiate and finally secure the rights, and the restoration was eventually carried out by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The Annihilation of Fish next heads to Paris, where it will screen as part of next month’s Festival de la Cinémathèque française.

In Columbus, Burnett, Doros, and Heller will take part in a discussion of Missing Movies, a nonprofit that aims “to empower filmmakers, distributors, archivists, and others to locate lost materials, clear rights, and advocate for policies and laws to make the full range of our cinema history available to all.” Other participants include preservationist David Stenn, producer Richard Guay, and filmmaker Nancy Savoca, whose recently restored Household Saints—a 1993 adaptation of Francine Prose’s novel starring Lili Taylor, Tracey Ullman, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Michael Imperioli—will screen after a new documentary by her daughter, Martina Savoca-Guay, The Many Miracles of Household Saints.

The Cinema Revival program also includes Emilio Fernández’s Victims of Sin (1951), shot by Gabriel Figueroa and starring vibrant fireball Ninón Sevilla; Jean de Limur’s The Letter (1929), featuring Jeanne Eagels; Bahram Beyzaie’s The Stranger and the Fog (1974), which “may be considered the first folk horror film in the history of Iranian cinema,” according to scholar Farshid Kazemi; Franco Rosi’s Smog (1962), in which an Italian lawyer explores the hazy urban landscape of Los Angeles; and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), which filmmaker and theorist Laura Mulvey has called “one of the great films about cinema.”

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