Walking into Film History: Exploring the Cineteca di Bologna

by Andrea Gelardi @ Cineteca di Bologna


Figure 1, The Blue Screen – Palazzo Marescotti, Inner Courtyard – Bologna, July 2019

In 2018, the Fife based Russell Trust awarded a research grant to my doctoral project entitled “Locally Rooted, Internationally Involved: the Case of Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna”, generously enabling me to undertake three research trips to Bologna. I was nicely surprised to be granted support by such a highly competitive scheme. So, as planned, through the summer of 2018 I carried out the first of three research trips in Bologna, visiting the Biblioteca Renzo Renzi, Archivio Storico del Comune and Cineteca’s Film and non-Film Archives. Time-wise, this summer trip was mainly intended to attend two different events: the seminar series, Mediating Italy in Global Culture, organised by the University of University and the Cineteca’s summer archival film festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato, arguably the most important showcase of restored films in the world. Evolving from an event designed for local and specialised audiences to a world-class venue that caters also for cosmopolitan filmgoers and tourists, Il Cinema Ritrovato is a site where new trends and tendencies in cinephilia and film scholarship take form. It is now an event that orchestrates the re-discovery of film classics and the re-construction of film history.


Figure 2, Il Cinema Sotto le Stelle, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

Established in 1963 in the form of a municipal institution, in 2012 this institution was transformed into a participatory foundation to be managed with a mix of public and private experiences and funds, so as to capitalize on work opportunities in the international context. Without shelving its local commitment, the newly-formed foundation was mandated with a serious commitment towards the world film heritage. Today, the Cineteca is one of the most visible institution of its kind. A stable member of FIAF from 1989 and ACE from 1991, the Cineteca actively cooperates with private and public institutions from all over the world, such as the UNESCO, the Film Foundation, the EYE Film Institute and the FEPACI. Through this relational system, in the last 25 years Fondazione di Bologna was able to extend its operative perspective beyond Italian peninsular boundaries, contributing to the preservation of world film heritage (Charlie Chaplin Project, World Cinema Project, African Film Heritage Project), circulating it among international film festivals (Cannes and Venice festivals) and (directly or indirectly) commercialising them through home-video distribution channels.

Figure 3,Cinemalibero’s Conferences, Cineteca di Bologna, Bologna, July 201

Even though this Italian foundation is a key actor in global film culture, so far only little academic research has been conducted on the Cineteca. My project explores the history of this institution from 1963 to 2016 and map its strategic behaviour, international development and cultural work. Building on this specific case study, with this research I make a significant intervention in the study of film institutions, feeding the understanding of how world film heritage is moulded through institutional processes and actions.


During the last two decades, Scorsese’s non-profit The Film Foundation has been cooperating with the Cineteca di Bologna on the World Cinema Project and the recently presented African Film Heritage Project. Both projects are intended to locate (arguably the most uncertain aspect of these missions), restore, preserve and promote often overlooked classics from outside the Western canon. In the 2018 edition of the festival, Cecilia Cenciarelli, co-director of Il Cinema Ritrovato and Director of the Research at the Cineteca di Bologna, curated the World Cinema strand –renamed this year Cinemalibero after the Porretta Terme’s Mostra del Cinema Libero–, offering to the audience a series of screenings and conferences dedicated to the African cinema.

Figure 4, Cineteca di Bologna – Cinema Lumiere, Manifattura delle Arti


As a highly networked Italian organisation that cooperates with institutions from around the world and A-class film festivals, the Cineteca di Bologna is itself a vibrant presence in contemporary film cinephilia that crucially contributes to connect non-Western film cultures with Western audience. The Cineteca di Bologna is today a pivotally leads the (re)discovery, promotion and circulation of the films that we generally label as world cinema. The choices and actions, the networks and international projects, the restoration and promotional strategies of this cinémathèque contribute to define the limits of the world cinema category, that is, which films are deemed worthy of being praised or ignored by Western audience generally and by film scholars specifically.

Figure 5, Into the Archive, Bologna, Cineteca di Bologna, July 2019

Walking among pillars of films, carefully stored to preserve the memory of cinema, I could not but perceive both the ephemerality and the sacredness of such a space. Thus, conducting my research in the Cineteca’s film archive has been an immersive and insightful experience that has opened new and intriguing ways to (re)imagine film history. As a matter of fact, the Cineteca is not concerned with the production and/or the awarding of non-Western cinemas, but with the restoration and preservation of the history of world cinema. The Cineteca “does” –selects, restores, circulates and makes available— world cinema retrospectively. It is not focused on discovering brand new world cinema filmmakers, as the majority of festivals is, but in their re-discovery. In this vein, this Italian cinematheque wields the power to shape not just contemporary canons of cinema, but of the very structure of film history itself. In other words, the Cineteca’s cultural work is not only retrospective, but also retroactive. I maintain, therefore, that its conscious theoretical and historiographical vision makes the Cineteca di Bologna an outstanding case to study the material (re)construction of world cinema; thereby, to understand this process contributes to reshape our discursive understanding of world cinema.