Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hope for Cinema: PFA's 'Pather Panchali' Sold-Out, 100 Turned Away

For longer than I care to recall, the death knell  has rung for cinema as we've known it at film festivals, the dwindling number of art or repertory houses and in magazines around the globe. The rise of home theaters, online streaming and the phasing out of making movies on actual film or screening of celluloid prints are contributing factors behind the exaggerated claims of cinema's demise.

Thanks to the wonderful administrators and funders, and devoted patrons, of the Pacific Film Archive I am here to say loudly and clearly there is hope for cinema and I witnessed it with my own eyes on Friday, January 17.

The occasion was the launch of the PFA's extensive Satyajit Ray retrospective with a screening of his first film "Pather Panchali", and a restored 35mm print no less. Showing up forty minutes before the scheduled showtime, I was pleased to see a horde of folks milling about the entrance on the UC Berkeley campus and as I got closer I realized there was a rate stand-by line. A lobby door displayed a "SOLD OUT" sign, which made me happy so many wanted to see the film but I also worried my comp ticket might have been sold. It wasn't!

I shot a few minutes of video footage of the stand-by line, dozens of people streaming over the steps from the walkway to the entrance (reminiscent of the ending of Ray's "Distant Thunder"), a young man asking to purchase a ticket and then a mature gentleman selling an extra ticket to the first person on the stand-by line.

Before the show, programmer Susan Oxtoby made introductory remarks about the Ray series and how it continues into the summer months, then turned the mic over to preservationist Josef Lindner who shared tales of locating and restoring Ray's works. While it was fabulous to hear their remarks, I also wished they held a short chat afterward to further enhance the special evening, now that we had all seen the beautifully restored print and heard that terrific Ravi Shankar music.

All 222 of the PFA's seats were occupied during the film and in addition to us old-timers, there was a healthy number of 20-and-30-somethings (with lots of that age range turned away), and in the row behind me a couple with two boys around 7 or 8 years old. I estimate at least 100 people were turned away during the time I was outside and the disappointment of those without ticket was pronounced.

Needless to say, I hope to catch as many of the other Ray films in this series and smart cineastes know to run to Berkeley for this rare opportunity to see this great director of world cinema's output on the big screen and on 35mm film.

Cinema is not just the projection of images with light onto a screen. True cinema, in my book, is complete only when an audience has gathered in a communal venue -- a film archive, a theater, a school classroom or church basement -- to collectively watch movies. The most important image is that of people in seats gazing up at the silver screen.

In response to the overwhelming number of people who couldn't get into see "Pather Panchali" on Friday, the PFA will be showing it, and the entire trilogy of which it is part one, in the early summer. For more info check the PFA site.

Do your part to keep cinema alive and well, especially at our Bay Area art houses including the PFA, the Rafael Film Center in Marin County, the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, and Yerba Buena Screening Room, the Castro Theater and the Roxie Film Center all located in San Francisco.


garymey said...

This is a wonderful response, especially because this is the first time since they were released that the films can be seen in beautiful prints looking as Ray wanted them to be seen.

Michael Zonta said...

What is the movie about?

Unknown said...

Gary, I just knew you would be pleased to learn about the sold-out show and the deep interest in the Ray series.

Michael, "Pather Panchali" is about a poor rural family in India in the 1950s, and their struggles for food, work and the life of their village. Be sure to catch the repeat screening at the PFA in a few months.

Unknown said...

Longtime movie PR maven and film-lover Karen Larsen shares her response to this post:

Those are some of the first "foreign" films I ever saw when I was young. They made a lasting impression. I am so happy that the series is a success!! We will put your post on our FB.

Unknown said...

This response came via email from Becky Mertens, who is the house manager of the PFA theater:

What a great piece you wrote on the Ray series - I'm with you that it shows there are
still folks out there ( and younger ones!!) who want to come see these films on the big screen.

It's a very positive turn of events for the future of public film screenings in the Bay Area!
I, like you, have been availing myself for 26 years of all the amazing rep houses around us, and, it's been sad to
see them dwindle down to almost nothing. But, here at the PFA we've been carrying on, and finally it seems to be paying off.

Thank you for being part of the celebration!