Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tour: Algeria in Flames + Les Mains libres


The Main 3 Sat, May 13, 2023 2:30 PM
Film Info
Program:Il Cinema Ritrovato On Tour
Runtime:78 min


Algeria in Flames + Les Mains libres

Saturday, May 13 at 2:30pm

Highlighting restored, archival, and silent cinema from Il Cinema Ritrovato's annual festival in Bologna, Italy.

Introduction by Joëlle Vitiello (Macalester College).

About Algeria in Flames (Algérie en Flammes)
Algeria, France | Directed by René Vautier | 1958 | 22 min | Courtesy Moira Chappedelaine-Vautier

René Vautier was a filmmaker-combatant and the director of the first anticolonial French film (Afrique 50); between 1956 and 1957, he made a documentary about and with the National Liberation Front during the war that would ultimately lead to Algerian independence in 1962. After meeting Frantz Fanon, and having ensured he was to be granted freedom of expression, Vautier immediately headed for the border between Tunisia and Algeria. The deal with the FLN was clear: Vautier would shoot for free alongside the maquisard, with 16mm Kodachrome film provided by the Algerians; the footage would have to be screened by the Algerian authorities, not for reasons of censorship but to ensure that the itineraries of the combatants were not disclosed.

The film depicts acts of resistance during wartime (the images of female soldiers are priceless) and in everyday life, as well as documenting the tragic massacre of Sakiet Sidi Youssef. Film processing took place in France and Germany but the film was printed in East Berlin; in order to avoid censorship, Vautier used the pseudonym Willi Müller. Three versions were produced, in French, German and Arabic, and the film was widely distributed (also thanks to the fact that the rights for the whole of Eastern Europe belonged to DEFA), but it was first shown in France only ten years later, in the Sorbonne during the student occupation. The film cost Vautier physical injuries and a long spell in prison, but he had no regrets. He would always claim that Algérie en Flammes was a necessary film, for both France and Algeria, and that “the film camera is a weapon—not a weapon that kills, but rather an instrument of peace.” -Elena Correr

About Les Mains libres
Algeria | Directed by Ennio Lorenzini | 1964 | 56 min | French | Courtesy Casbah Entertainment

The restoration minimized the red and green halos caused by the misalignment of the Technicolor strips during printing and to restore the original black and white of archival footage shot on color stock. The Eastmancolor portions of the film, on the other hand, suffered strong decay and it was not always possible, during grading, to recover the original colors.

I came across Les Mains libres while researching my project Dreams Have No Titles for the Venice Biennale, centered around militant cinema and co-productions between Algeria, France and Italy. Although this title was often referenced, very little detailed information was provided. Produced by Casbah Film (who would later back Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers), Les Mains libres was shot by Italian filmmaker Ennio Lorenzini in 1964—only two years after Algeria’s independence from the French colonizer—and it is the first international Algerian production. As time went by, I became more and more interested in this film, that had not been seen for 57 years! A few articles in the newspaper “Alger républicain” and in “Cahiers du cinéma” confirmed that the film premiered in Algiers at the Cinéma l’Afrique and was followed by a sidebar screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965. Several months into my investigation, a 35mm print of Les Mains libres showed up at AAMOD and thanks to the Institut français’ partnership with Cineteca di Bologna I was able to see the film, which was later restored.

It touched me greatly to discover, not only the newly created Algerian state in color, a rare sight at the time, but also a multifaceted nation, away from the simplistic view created by the French press and army. For the first time, it was possible to see footage sweeping the entire Algerian territory and witness the richness of the landscapes and the diversity of its traditions. Using the aesthetic of militant cinema of the time, Les Mains libres displayed a rich array of archival material from the Algerian war: rarely-seen photos, footage, press clippings. Was the abundance of surviving material related to the presence of Italian reporters?

Les Mains libres is a discovery, a political and militant testimony to the enduring traces of colonization and of the talks to come once a country has newly gained freedom.

But one question remains: why was the initial title Tronc de figuier (literally “Fig Tree’s Trunk”)—a rather racist nickname used by French settlers against the Algerians—eventually changed into Les Mains libres? –Zineb Sedir

Joëlle Vitiello (Macalester College) bio: Joëlle Vitiello is Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Macalester College. Her fields of specialization are contemporary women’s literature from France and the post-colonial world, and post-colonial francophone literatures and cultures (especially North Africa and the Caribbean). She also integrates film in most of her classes. She has taught classes on African, North African, Mediterranean, Immigration cinema, and a course on African and European Cinema in Dialog. She co-led a three-day Colloquium on Cinemas of the Maghreb in Tunisia in 2008 and she has participated in several curated film programs in local institutions. She recently presented on De Sable et de Sang, a film on and with René Vautier by Michel Le Thomas at an international colloquium.

Sponsored by:

About Il Cinema Ritrovato On Tour–Minneapolis

Il Cinema Ritrovato On Tour–Minneapolis will feature recently restored archival films at The Main Cinema from May 11–13, 2023. Presented in partnership by Archives on Screen, Twin Cities, the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Cineteca di Bologna, the festival will screen eleven highlights from Il Cinema Ritrovato’s 2022 lineup. Il Cinema Ritrovato is an annual international film festival that exhibits new restorations and archival films in Bologna, Italy. Archives on Screen is proud to partner with Il Cinema Ritrovato and Cineteca di Bologna to curate selections from their festival for Twin Cities audiences.

About Archives on Screen, Twin Cities

Co-organized by Michelle Baroody and Maggie Hennefeld, Archives on Screen is dedicated to bringing rare, unseen archival films from around the globe to movie screens in the Twin Cities. Animated by a love of cinema and a commitment to making visible excluded images from the past, we work with international film archives and local film venues to expose students and audiences to the richness of film history. We program events that foster open dialogue and community engagement between university students and local film audiences across the Twin Cities. Our programming draws on local, national, and international film archives, and it spans the early history of silent cinema, studio feature films, experimental counter-cinemas, third cinema, amateur and non-theatrical films, short films, unfinished films, and contemporary independent filmmaking.