x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The man who mended the moon

Thanks to a facelift that is remarkable even by the standards of Hollywood, though, A Trip to the Moon, the 1902 masterpiece by French filmmaker Georges Méliès, is ready for its close up.

The French filmmaker Serge Bromberg rescued a long-lost colour print of A Trip to the Moon in the most expensive restoration in film history. It cost more than two million dirhams.
The French filmmaker Serge Bromberg rescued a long-lost colour print of A Trip to the Moon in the most expensive restoration in film history. It cost more than two million dirhams.

At 109 years old, one of the stars of today's screenings at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival might be considered on the elderly side for the red carpet treatment.

Thanks to a facelift that is remarkable even by the standards of Hollywood, though, A Trip to the Moon, the 1902 masterpiece by French filmmaker Georges Méliès, is ready for its close-up.

While the special effects can hardly compete with Star Wars, or even Flash Gordon, this 16 minute silent wonder is regarded as the world's first sci-fi movie, as well as being the genesis of the special-effects industry.

Open any chronological compendium of the greatest movies ever made and it's likely that you'll see the same iconic picture on page one: the Moon, depicted with the features of a human face and a rocket embedded in one eye. The film also features many of what would become staples of the sci-fi genre, including crazed scientists, hostile aliens and out-of-control technology, while at the same time keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek.

This screening, part of the festival's family day and held at the Vox Cinemas at Marina Mall, will be hosted by Serge Bromberg, a French filmmaker with a passion for rescuing and restoring old movies. It will feature Bromberg accompanying films on the piano, includes an early colour film from the creator of Mickey Mouse and The Love Nest, a long-lost comedy short by Buster Keaton.

Bromberg has called his programme "Saved from the Flames", but in the case of A Trip to the Moon, it is more a case of "saved from disintegration". When it was first released in 1902, most prints of the film were in black and white, but a colour version, with each of the 13,375 frames painstakingly hand painted, was also produced for limited distribution.

While the black and white version became the first film to suffer from widespread piracy (and, as a result, sending Méliès into bankruptcy), the colour prints vanished without trace and had long been considered lost until one was discovered in Barcelona in 1993.

Its condition was so poor that there was no possibility of even screening a fragment. Instead the crumbling pieces of ancient nitrate film were slowly picked open and unrolled, to enable digital copies to be made of what remained. A decade later, the technology existed to carry out a full restoration. Costing more than two million dirhams, it was the most expensive restoration in the history of film and involved three different companies, including Bromberg's Lobster Films and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage.

A year after work began on the project at a Los Angeles studio, the film was fully restored in time for the 150th anniversary of Méliès's birth. It was shown for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival with a new soundtrack specially composed by the French electronic band Air.

Elsewhere on the slate, the cinema of Sweden is celebrated with three films by the country's beloved purveyor of doom Ingmar Bergman - once described by Woody Allen as "probably the greatest film artist … since the invention of the motion picture camera". From romantic-entanglement comedy Smiles of a Summer Night, to his deeply reflective and existential Wild Strawberries and his final theatrical release, the multi-Academy Award-winning epic Fanny and Alexander, there's enough to delight avid Bergman-philes and newcomers alike.

The "Naguib Mahfouz - Man of Cinema" programme includes no fewer than seven films based on writings by the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian. Described as Arab cinema's take on 12 Angry Men, 1960s Between Heaven and Earth sees a group of people trapped in a lift for hours - among them an actor, a thief and a pregnant women, they represent a microcosm of Egyptian society.

The 1955 drama Fools' Alley similarly sees the residents of an archetypal Cairo street pitted against one another. The Thief and the Dogs tells the noirish tale of an ex-con bent on revenge, and 1964's Palace Walk looks at the changes in Egyptian social values around the time of the First World War and the country's nationalist revolution.

Also set in the early 20th century, 1986's The Hunger about a man who accidentally kills a local gangster and becomes corrupted by power himself, is an example of Mahfouz's use of Egypt's past to comment on contemporary dictatorships. Finally, two of the writer's stories that were adapted for the Mexican screen, with Mexico City substituted for Cairo, will also play. They are the family drama The Beginning and the End from1993, and the widely celebrated 1995 tale Midaq Alley, which featured one of Salma Hayek's first big-screen performances.

Co-organised with New York's Museum of Modern Art and ArteEast, the "Mapping Subjectivity" programme returns for its second year with two contemporary Arab classics, both about young men dreaming of moving to France. Presenting a portrait of rural Moroccan life, Oh, the Days! from 1978 (the first Moroccan film to screen at Cannes) is about a poor farmer torn between his widowed mother and his hopes of finding a better life for himself overseas. El Madina, from 1999, sees a young Egyptian head to Paris to become an actor, much to the disgust of his father, who wants him to make his fortune in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, the 1964 Indian Bengali picture Charulata, directed by Satyajit Ray, the first Indian filmmaker to become widely recognised outside the subcontinent, will be screened. Intended to mark the 150th anniversary of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (upon whose novella it is based), it tells the story of a tragic love-triangle in late 19th-century India.

 

For details of performances and tickets visit www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae