Futuristic Visions on Celluloid

in 67th Berlin International Film Festival

by Jennifer Borrmann

The combination of retro celluloid films – 35mm and even 70mm – and their common theme of futuristic science fiction is ironic in itself – in a very positive way. The section retrospective is the only section (maybe the Forum in its historical topics as well) that really cares about and of course, this is its task and purpose as well, screening films in their intended format. The retrospective is all about medium, format and originality to its core. This includes the historic background of the medium itself, but also the film historic, social and visual context of the film and its content. This year the main topic of the Retrospective at the 67th International Filmfestival Berlin was „Future Imperfect. Science – Fiction – Film“. And there were a lot of celluloid screenings, which is not only wonderful, but admirable.

Out of 27 feature films and 2 short films, there were 17 shown in their original 35mm print and one even on its intended 70mm print. All films were shot between 1918 and 1998 and show a range of 80 years of international film artists dealing with ideas, perceptions and visions of society systems in the near or very far future. Most of them are dystopian, some are positive envisionments and all of them are full of exciting technical, social, environmental developments that affect human beings in one or the other way. The idea that those futuristic films are printed on analogue material that seems old fashioned is what makes it surprisingly interesting and fantastic.

It took about 30 years and people like Alexander Parkes and George Eastman to develop what we now know as celluloid for the first film cameras in the 1890s. And still after that the development hasn’t come to an end, the range spans from nitrate film to polyester film. This material is an imprint of pictures, it shows today still what was filmed back then – with no digital correction of colour, sound, etc. For the history of a film it is important to show the original version of it with all its so-called mistakes in depiction or irritations. Exactly those are no mistakes. They are part of the history of the original copy, like a typing mistake in a first edition of a book.

We can see futuristic ideas on those original copies today, because there is a secure way to preserve them, to archive and file them – and it has been there for over 100 years. There is nothing to say against digitiziation of those classics for copy and duplication reasons, and there might not even be anything to say against it if they are restored to correct the old material, so they look like they were supposed to look like, when first screened. But this doesn’t mean that one can destroy the original, because of storage or any other reasons. This is a shame. And the old argument that doesn’t get old: There is still now way of knowing how long digitized files can be archived and still be valid and usable for screenings.

In the retrospective it always feels like watching the films for the possible last time in their original form and medium on the big screen. This doesn’t mean there is an apocalyptic mood in the viewers’ crowd. Quite the opposite, to be honest. In Cinemaxx 8, there’s always the best mood of all the hundreds of cinemas during the Berlinale, because there are often people who are enjoying the film with all its specific peculiarities, whose hearts beat faster, when they see the celluloid pictures projected on the big screen, and are counting each sign at the far top right-hand corner, when the act has come to an end and the next is going to start. And this year it was maybe even more exciting to watch the future of storytelling and the past of cinematic history intertwined.

It is a privilege to watch the originals in a real movie theater, shown by a real projectionist.

Himmelskibet (1918, Holger-Madsen, Denmark)
Hyakunen-Go No Aruhi (1933, Shigeji Ogino, Japan)
Le Tunnel (1933, Kurt Bernhardt, F/GER)
1984 (1956, Michael Anderson, GB)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, Don Siegel, USA)
Uchujin Tokyo Ni Arawaru (1956, Koji Shima, Japan)
One the Beach (1959, Stanley Kramer, USA)
Seconds (1966, John Frankenheimer, USA)
THX 1138 (1971, George Lucas, USA)
Soylent Green (1973, Richard Fleischer, USA)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Director’s Cut, 1977, Steven Spielberg, USA)
Test Pilota Pirxa (1979, Marek Piestrak, Peoples Rep. Of Poland/USSR)
O-Bi, O-Ba: Koniec Cywilizacji (1985, Piotr Szulkin, Poland)
Pisma Mjortwowo Tscheloweka (1986, Konstantin Lopuschanski, USSR)
Ropáci (1988, Jan Sverák, CSSR)
Strange Days (1995, Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
Dark City (1998, Alex Proyas, USA/AUS)

Eolomea (1972, Hermann Zschoche, GDR)

Edited by Yael Shuv