LYON – Seven years in the preparation, and spectacularly designed by architect Renzo Piano the Jerome Seydoux Pathé Foundation opened its doors Sept. 8 to two results as eye-catching as its architecture: Average 80% occupancy rate over five days a week for its screening room; a take-up partnership with schools and young cinemagoers, down to 4- year-old tykes, which can serve as a model for other enlightened fun-while-learning programs around the world.
Rebuilding Paris’ historic Gaumont Gobelins, the Pathé Foundation has three arms, its president Sophie Seydoux said Saturday at Lyon’s Lumiere Festival, which showcases a brace of Pathé restorations, ranging from Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now Redux“ to Claude Sautet’s 1983 “Garcon!” back to Abel Gance’s lesser-known 1940 “Paradis Perdu.”
One Pathé Foundation arm is what looks like Europe’s first silent film-only cinema, a 70-seat screening room playing both 35mm prints, via two Kinoton projectors, and DCP copies at 2 and 4 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m., 2 and 4 p.m. on weekends.
A first Pathé Foundation program highlight may well be an Albert Capellani retrospective. Kicking off Oct. 18, it focuses on an early-last-century French literary adaptation specialist who directed the first big-screen “Les Miserables” (1911), 1913’s “Germinal,” which ran to two-and-three-quarter hours, and 1921’s “Le Chevalier de maison rouge,” which weighed in at two-and-a-half hours. All three feature in the season.
To accompany the screenings with music, the Foundation has struck a partnership with well-known pianist Jean-François Zygel, who has a class of piano improvisation, Seydoux said.
Pathé Foundation’s top floor, just below the spectacular shell-like wrap-around roof, houses a research hive center, affording film historians and students access to Pathé’s peerless archives. As Seydoux observed, founded in 1896, Pathé is the oldest film company in the world to have always archived all its records, without any interruption, right from its first board meeting’s minutes and accounts.
Meanwhile, Pathé has also linked up with Paris schools, in a partnership fully booked up to next June, inviting tykes and primary school pupils to visit the Foundation. The youngest get to handle and color celluloid film, learning how this was once performed. Slightly older students are presented with mini-projectors and film, to discover the principles of physical print projection. All then get to watch silent movies.
The Jerome Seydoux Pathé Foundation lies across the street from the Pathé-Gaumont Cinéma les Fauvettes, set to open around next Cannes Film Festival.
That can create valuable synergies, Seydoux said. “We have a very good public, mainly students and cinema buffs,” she said.
She illustrated that with one anecdote: “Last Wednesday – a free day at French schools – I was watching ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and there were children in the screening room, including a 5-year-old girl. I told her: ‘You have to realize that the pianist is playing in the total dark and he doesn’t have any music score. She looked at me and said: ‘But it’s so fantastic anyway! I want to queue and see another movie!’ ”