Italy’s L’Immagine Ritrovata Film Restoration Lab Doing Brisk Asia Biz

Italian lab is particularly proud of work on Bruce Lee oeuvre

Italy's L'immagine Ritrovata Film Restoration Lab Doing Brisk Asia Biz
Courtesy Fortune Star Media Limited

ROME — Italy’s L’Immagine Ritrovata film restoration lab, known globally as a prime film preservation entity, is expanding its activity in Asia having recently forged a pact with India’s Prasad Film Laboratories to revive a large chunk of India’s cinematic heritage just as its Hong Kong outpost is making inroads in the region with restorations of works by such masters as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, John Woo, Hou Hsiao-hsien and influential Filipino auteur Lino Broka.

L’Immagine Ritrovata, which is run by the Cineteca di Bologna film archives, has long collaborated with the top classic movie players in Europe, including Pathe, Studiocanal, and Lyon’s Institute Lumiere, which is headed by Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux.

They are also in charge of restoring preserving Charlie Chaplin’s entire oeuvre.

The film archives also hold the annual Il Cinema Ritrovato festival dedicated to resurrected and rediscovered cinematic treasures which recently wrapped its 31st edition in Bologna attended by an increasingly international crowd.

Two years ago L’Immagine Ritrovata opened a Hong Kong subsidiary as a point of entry for vintage Asian cinema gems. The lab earlier this year joined forces with India’s Prasad Film Labs on one the world’s biggest restoration projects ever in terms of sheer scope. This pact involves an initial round of 2,500 films of all genres ranging from commercial fare to works by name auteurs such as Indian-Bengali master Ritwik Ghatak and the revered Satyajit Ray.

“There is a growing awareness that Asia’s film heritage needs to be saved,” says Davide Pozzi who heads the restoration lab, “though it is still in danger [of going to rot] in certain areas.” India’s film heritage is immense “which poses a huge problem,” Pozzi notes.

The first Asian pic restored by L’Immagine Ritrovata was 1940 Chinese pic “Confucius,” directed by Feil Mu, a damaged nitrate negative of which was donated anonymously in 2008 to the Hong Kong Film Archive.

It spawned “an increasing number of relationships [in Asia],” says Cineteca di Bologna chief Gian Luca Farinelli. In 2013 they decided to try to get closer to where Asian film prints are actually located. And in 2015 L’Immagine Ritrovata managed to open the Hong Kong outpost “which covers the first part of the restoration work — the digitalisation — so that once it’s a file we can easily send it to Italy where we do the rest of the [restoration] work,” says Pozzi.

As a result their business volume has increased and expanded beyond Hong Kong. Il Cinema Ritrovato now works with the Chinese Taipei Film Archive, Singapore’s Asian Film Archives, the Thai Film Archive, and other film preservation entities including in Myanmar and the Philippines besides, of course, India.

Asia now accounts for a sizeable portion of their work, 85% of which consists of non-Italian cinema. They’ve given a new life to many classics and also to more obscure works by many Asian masters. But the Asian restorations Farinelli is most proud of are Bruce Lee’s five masterpieces, including “Fist of Fury” (pictured) commissioned by Hong Kong-based powerhouse Fortune Star Media Limited. “It’s a tangible recognition from a great company that has entrusted us with a most extraordinary cinematic icon,” says Farinelli who compares the honour to when the Bologna lab was “entrusted with restoration of the Lumiere Brothers’ works.”

Getting commissions from mainland China is tough, Pozzi points out, because the Chinese have their own state-run film labs. Still Bologna is slowly starting to work with mainland China, where L’Immagine Ritrovata has developed a close rapport with the Shanghai International Film Festival which has spawned several restorations including Xie Jin’s pre-Cultural Revolution masterpiece “Stage Sisters” (1964) and John Woo’s groundbreaking 1986 actioneer “A Better Tomorrow,” done with input from Woo himself. They also run a film restoration training program in Singapore.

“We are creating the rapports, showing our works in important Asian film festivals,” says Pozzi who underlines that “China is very competitive and selective.” “We’ve gotten off to a good start,” he notes. “In a few years we will take stock of where our Asian adventure has taken us.”