Margaret Bodde, From Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, Kicks Off the Lumière Festival’s Classic Film Market

Margaret Bodde
Credit: Jean Luc Mege Photography 2021 / Institut Lumiere

A non-profit organization dedicated to film preservation and the exhibition of restored and classic cinema, the Foundation has overseen the restoration of over 900 films to date. In her keynote address at the Lumière Festival’s Classic Film Market, Bodde explained how it came about.

“It was 1990 and Martin Scorsese and a group of his fellow filmmakers like Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Kubrick and Pollack were really agitated at the idea that the cinema they grew up loving was literally fading away.

“At the time, there was no home video market and the studios had not instituted a systematic approach to their collections. So they created the Film Foundation to build a bridge between studios and the non-profit archives to raise awareness and funds for film preservation projects.”

As time went on, the Film Foundation turned its attention to independent films too. “Films that are independently produced are quite vulnerable, they are not housed necessarily in an archive or a studio vault,” Bodde explained. “What’s amazing is that, as these films are brought back out, it revitalizes filmmakers – women, people of color – that weren’t given proper attention when they were made, like Nina Menkes’ ‘The Bloody Child’ (1996) or ‘The Juniper Tree’ (1990) by Nietzchka Keene,” she went on.

In addition, the Foundation also works on experimental and avant-garde films through an annual grant, which has helped restore works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas or Barbara Hammer. “If indie films are at risk of being lost, avant-garde, experimental films are orders of magnitude beyond that,” said Bodde.

The dialogue is ongoing between the Foundation and the film archives, which are invited to submit projects to the Foundation’s board once a year – a selection is made by the board based on criteria such as historical and cultural relevance, the film’s condition and its estimated restoration budget.

“The archives are our allies,” she said. “The studios are more challenging. They are not moved by morality, they are moved by economy, so you have to see what’s in their best interest.

“There has to be a recognition on the part of the studios that there is value to the library. At the moment, everyone is looking for that horrible word: ‘content’ – things they can monetize – and the library would be one of those. So you appeal to the fact that there is an audience for everything.”

In 2007, the Film Foundation decided to extend its reach beyond the U.S. with its World Cinema Project (WCP), launched in collaboration with its long-time partner Cineteca di Bologna, and a decade later the African Film Heritage Project was born. To date, 46 films have been restored under the WCP.

“The WCP is unique because once at-risk films are identified and restored, and the program takes on available distribution rights. Often, the films have only been seen in their country of origin, and we help bring them out and they become these discoveries,” said Bodde, who brought clips of one such film, the recently restored Iranian cult movie “Chess of the Wind” (1976) by Mohammad Reza Aslani.

Confiscated during the Islamic Revolution it was believed to be lost. Rediscovered in 2014, it was smuggled to Paris for restoration. The film has toured the festival circuit and is distributed globally by Foundation partners like France’s leading heritage film distributor Carlotta and Criterion in the U.S., which has released several DVD boxsets of WCP movies. It is partnerships like these that give restored films a second lease of life, said Bodde.

“As one newspaper said: It’s like walking around with a film festival in your bag,” she joked. “To put these films into context the way Criterion does so well, with essays and background and notes about the restoration, is fantastic,” she enthused. “These partnerships help the films reach a wider audience: they fill in a lot of gaps and shift our understanding of film culture.”

Asked about the future and the ever-growing changes in film consumption, accelerated by the pandemic, Bodde said: “We’ll keep doing what we do. The technology changes – it changed in 1927 with sound and then color! How we look at film’s changes: we stream things. I can watch a film on my phone if I so choose. But the films still have the same power – I mean not on my phone, I don’t think,” she joked. “But they are still communicating and inspiring, so we’ll keep that as our guiding light.”

The MIFC runs alongside the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon until Oct. 15.