Film festival celebrates European cinema

This weekend, audiences flocked to the Whitney Humanities Center to watch films screened in their original 35-millimeter film prints.

The Thursday through Saturday film festival, the tenth in Yale’s “New Wave Europe” conference series, featured European cinematic works from circa 1962. Each year, the festival presents films from across Europe released during a certain year in the 20th century. This year’s event included screenings of 12 films from a host of European countries, including France, East Germany, the USSR, Poland, Italy and Sweden, as well as panel discussions with Yale scholars and film introductions by Yale experts. Organizers interviewed said the festival is grounded in the University’s interdisciplinary approach to film studies, adding that the year 1962 is significant in many academic fields.

Film and Comparative Literature Professor Dudley Andrew said that the festival aims to screen important films that “characterize the flavors of the countries” from which they come, in addition to films that are rarely screened and difficult to acquire, at least in their original celluloid prints. He explained that the conference focuses on European film because within Yale’s film studies program, each of the major European countries is the specialty of two faculty members.

“There are so many masterpieces from 1960s European film,” said Josh Sperling GRD ’15, who helped organize the event. “It’s like European painting in the 1860s or the European novel in the 1920s.”

Professor of Comparative Literature and English Katie Trumpener explained that 1962 was an important moment both in film history, because it followed the apex of the French New Wave, and in world history, as it was the year of the Cuban missile crisis and followed the building of the Berlin Wall. She explained that the initial idea behind the festival was “to bring people together across disciplines and think about films in context.” The festival’s cross-disciplinary approach, she noted, is largely a product of the structure of Yale’s graduate studies programs in film: graduate students studying film at Yale must also pursue a different field such as a foreign language or History of Art.

The festival’s organizing committee includes Trumpener, Andrew, Professor of Comparative Literature and Slavic Languages and Literatures Katerina Clark, Professor of Film Charles Musser and Film Studies Program Chair and Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature John MacKay. The committee begins planning the annual event in June, Andrew said, and decides on a year that is significant both politically and in the history of cinema.

“1962 was an important year because it hardened the boundaries between East and West,” Trumpener said.

The committee compiles a list of its favorite films from the chosen era and sends a doctoral student – this year, Sperling – to retrieve the films from various international archives, Andrew said. He added that sometimes the films are so rare that committee members have to create the subtitles themselves.

Sperling said he hunted down prints of the requested films from curators and distributers from New York to Warsaw. Even though some of the films shown would have been more easily accessible in digital format, watching a cinematic work shot in 35-millimeter digitally is like looking at a photo of a painting on a computer screen, he said.

Trumpener explained that in the past, the festival has drawn more visiting lecturers from across disciplines but that funding for the festival – much of which comes from the US Department of Education’s “Title VI National Resource Center grant” – has decreased, and that most discussions of the films now take place rather informally. Andrew attributed the decreased number of panels to the committee’s and audience’s desire to “see more films than talk.”

The festival ended on Saturday night with a screening of the 1962 Russian film “Ivan’s Childhood” by directors Tarkovsky and Abalov.

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