ROME — Martin Scorsese, at the RomeFilmFest to present his $90 million crime drama “The Departed,” unveiled an initiative with fest organizers to preserve and restore 100 Italian classics, starting with Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.”
Preserving original film prints from the inevitable discoloration, scratches and other wear and tear has been a careerlong obsession of Scorsese.
The medium of film is incredibly fragile, Scorsese said Sunday before a packed Auditorium crowd of film buffs and journalists, plus thesps Ellen Burstyn and Martin Landau.
“You can find that color (deterioration) can happen as quickly as within six years,” he said. “Millions of dollars goes into this industry and nobody thought about preserving the film. It’s incredible.”
RomeFilmFest organizers intend to finance the restoration of a number of Italian films each year, beginning with Leone’s 1968 Western classic starring Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson.
“This is the first time a film festival will fund the hands-on restoration of a film,” Scorsese said.
How much the RomeFilmFest will put aside for restoration purposes was not disclosed; Scorsese said some films can cost more than $1 million to restore, as was the case with “Lawrence of Arabia.”
In recent years, Scorsese and the National Film Preservation Foundation have had success persuading Sony, Warner Bros. and other major studios to invest in the enhanced archiving of film prints, but only after repeated meetings with studio execs.
Scorsese said he has been trying to raise awareness among industry execs about the precarious state of the Leone pic since 1979, as few intact original prints exist.
“The original idea (for the film preservation project) came out of anger and frustration at not being able to see original works that we wanted to study, we wanted to watch,” Scorsese said.
Earlier, Scorsese said his next film project is “The Silence,” a low-budget adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel.