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Recreating titles for a 1915 film — Milestone intern, Austin Renna reports

Posted on August 31, 2018 by Amy Heller | 4 Comments

Milestone summer interns Luyao Ma and Austin Renna

Having just graduated college and completed internships at The Criterion Collection, Janus Films, and The New Jersey Film Festival, I didn’t know what my next move was within the film industry. I learned a great deal at all three internships: from how to run a small-scale film festival, to seeing first-hand how a film becomes a finished product on DVD, to how to prepare for a theatrical re-release of a cult classic, but I didn’t quite know where I should head to next. I was fortunate enough to hear about Milestone Film & Video through some former colleagues and to my surprise they had a large catalog of incredible and unique films. I was disappointed in myself for never having heard of them before so I reached out to the company to see what opportunities were available and what I could do to help them out. I knew I wanted to do something different than my previous internships and different is exactly what I got.

As my internship here at Milestone comes to a close, I want to express my gratitude towards Amy & Dennis for bringing me on board and letting me work on some very exciting projects. The most intriguing thing I got to work on over the summer was rewording and restructuring the intertitles for a 1915 Italian silent film called Filibus. The film was recently restored under the supervision of Annike Kross at the EYE Filmmuseum in 2K from a preserved 35mm print that meticulously matched the original tinting and toning of the 1916 print from the Desmet Collection.

I also assisted in the research and writing of the press kit for the film. With that there was a lot of time spent translating a variety of documents from Italian and Spanish into English. The reason being was a lot of the details about Corona Films, the company that produced the film, and Mario Roncoroni, the film’s director, was only available in those two languages. With the help of some Italian books, and our friend Eduardo Sastre Gómez in Spain, I was able to add a wealth of information to the press kit about these two subjects.

Back to the main task; the problem with the intertitles in the current restoration was that they originally came from a Dutch print of the film that was distributed in 1916. The Dutch intertitles were then translated to English sometime in the 1980s. The issue with that translation was that it was a very literal, one that didn’t account for the nuances and complexities of the English language. The translation was also littered with several grammatical and spelling errors and very awkward sentence structuring. All of this is what led me to tackle the revision of the intertitles for the new version of the film that is coming soon.

In preparation for the project, I became acquainted with the style and flavor of the language of  1910s detective fiction. Dennis entrusted me with a nice copy of An Arsène Lupin Omnibus and I got to work reading a few chapters. If you don’t know, Arsène Lupin was a gentleman thief and master of disguise who was charismatic, charming, and above all, cunning. It’s fair to say that Filibus would’ve been a worthy rival to Lupin, as they both share the same sly characteristics. Being immersed in these stories really did help me figure out what exact language I should be using when writing the intertitles. One specific example came early on in the film. There’s part of an intertitle that says, “Detective Hardy requests all who have any indication or information to report at the office of notary Desmond.” When rewriting this specific intertitle, we decided to change “notary” to “magistrate” because it was a word commonly used in the crime stories of Arsène Lupin, and we believed it fit the tone of the film better.

Another thing that helped prepare me for the task ahead was my studies and practice of poetry at Rutgers University. I was always very interested in what words sounded best next to each other and how a specific combination of words could make a person feel a certain way. I’ve written a lot of poems about films I’ve seen, people I’ve met, and memories that I want to keep safe. While I haven’t written a standard poem in a long time, I’ve transitioned now into writing fictionalized diary entries from the point of view of two different characters. I’m still waiting to see what shape this project will take, but it’s helped me a lot with just expressing very intimate and personal ideas in a removed sort of way. Above all, what interests me most about poetry is how words and symbols come together to accumulate meaning. That’s the point of view I took with revising the intertitles as well. To me, it was clear we had to get the right combination of words to make the meaning really shine through.

When the time came for me to start on this project, I was fortunate enough to be working off of an early draft that Amy & Dennis had already wrote. This provided me with a nice foundation to not only double-check their work, but to also offer my own spin and suggestions on things. It’s funny working on a project like this with multiple people because everyone has their own idea and unique vision of how sentences and words should be structured. It definitely allowed for some great debates and deliberations at Milestone HQ; we even had Amy & Dennis’ son Adam, our other interns Malu and Zach, and Rodney Sauer (Director of The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra), weigh in on certain phrasings and ideas. It was a great big party in some regards, even if the debate got pretty heated at times 

Here are a few examples of what the intertitles originally looked like and what we decided to change them to:

This intertitle comes at a point in the film where Detective Kutt-Hendy is trying to frame Filibus for a crime with a tiny spy camera. Filibus is much too cunning for this, so she decides to use Kutt-Hendy’s trap to frame him for the same crime. The original intertitle doesn’t really do justice to the meaning of what’s actually happening in the film. It’s quite melodramatic and the word “fight” is kind of a leap from what Filibus is actually doing. We decided to change this intertitle to:

“I shall ensnare him with his own device!” This more accurately reflects what Filibus is doing and the verb “ensnare” makes much more sense than the word “fight” in this scenario.

Here’s another example:


This intertitle comes after the point where Kutt-Hendy finds that a mysterious object, with handprints on it, has been planted on him when the lights go out at a party. As you can tell, the main idea of the intertitle is there, but it’s shrouded in awkward phrasing and punctuation. We decided to change this intertitle to: “There is an excellent magician among us. Who is it? Please don’t feel insulted, but I would like to collect the handprints of everyone present.” With this we wanted to expand the main idea of the intertitle and make it more coherent. We decided “conjurer” wasn’t the right tone for this situation so we deliberated between “magician” and “pickpocket” before finally settling on the former. We also took out the ellipses and made the language much more straightforward and clear.

There’s definitely a fine line you have to walk when revising and editing intertitles. You want to make sure you’re not straying so far from the main idea of what it was originally trying to say. It’s important to note the style, tone, and nature of films released of that time period, and in that specific country, and honor the history and tradition that they set for themselves.

I can’t say I’ve ever really worked on a project like this before, but the experience felt similar to the process of editing a poem or piece of writing. For me, when writing a poem or diary entry, every word and every punctuation mark matters. If you were to ask any of my friends, they’d tell you that sometimes it takes me an hour or so just to write a short diary entry. This is because I’m always so concerned with the words and punctuation I’m using. I always want to be proud of the writing that I put out into the world. When I was editing these intertitles, I felt the same way. I knew there would be new audiences coming to see this film so I felt it was my duty to make sure everyone on the team was satisfied with the way the intertitles were worded and written. I believe it’s important to care about the work you do and the words you choose on a daily basis; this project felt like an extension of that very belief. It was a great honor and privilege to work on  Filibus and it’s exciting that audiences will be able to see these revised intertitles, complete with a new text designed by Allen Perkins, and be totally immersed in the world of Filibus.

Posted in Allen Perkins, Austin Renna, Filibus, Interns, internship, Intertitles, Italian cinema, Luyao Ma, restoration, Rutgers University, Silent film, Zach Zahos

Journalist Susan Stone on learning A LOT about Lotte Reiniger

Posted on August 02, 2018 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments

I’d heard about Lotte Reiniger and seen stills and clips from her films, but I didn’t know the whole story of this fantastic animation pioneer.

So when I found out that this talented creator came from Berlin, the city I’ve lived in since 2005, I knew I had to suggest her for the Dead Ladies Show. The Dead Ladies Show tells the stories of amazing women from history live on stage, and I produce a monthly podcast from the events. Lotte’s famous film The Adventures of Prince Achmed debuted at the Volksbuhne, just a few blocks up the road from where I stood on stage telling her story. Afterwards, Rike Reiniger — a playwright and theatre director (who also works with puppets!), and a relative of Lotte’s through marriage — came up to tell me how much she’d enjoyed my talk. It was truly a rewarding moment.

I chose to tell Lotte’s story in the form of a fairy tale in five acts. I think she would have approved. But as I said in my presentation, fairy tales, especially those set in Germany, tend to be a little bit more Grimm than Disney.

Lotte’s painstakingly crafted silhouette films — some 80 in all — stemmed from her precocious talent, or what she called “an uncanny ability” for paper cutting. And while her basic tools were minimal, they led to the creation of the earliest surviving full-length animated feature film (Prince Achmed in 1926) and the animation desk and multi-plane camera that made the film’s intricate details and layered vivid depths possible, along with previously unseen special effects courtesy of wax and sand.  

Making magic out of not much was a skill that followed Lotte throughout her days, especially before and after the war as she and her husband Carl fled from Germany around Europe to the UK and back in a flight from the era’s horrors. One of the most touching things I saw in my research was a British newspaper article talking about how Lotte created puppets from discarded laundry soap boxes. She scavenged cardboard and paper where she could — anything to continue her art.

And while she was little known for decades, it seems there in fact are many, many fans and friends dedicated to bringing Lotte and her work out of the shadows.

Lotte’s influence can be seen in the work of notable contemporary animation leaders including Michel Ocelot and Rebecca Sugar, and even a scene from Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows Part 1 has Lotte’s fingerprints on it. And, there’s this year’s Lotte that Silhouette Girl, a 10-minute short film by Elizabeth Beecherl (director and animator) and Carla Patullo (director and composer) narrated by Lotte herself via a 1976 interview; it uses shadow puppets and a multi-plane camera based on Lotte’s own designs, and was named best short film at the American Documentary Film Festival.

I first heard of Lotte Reiniger and Prince Achmed from Milestone Films, via Amy, who I met and interviewed at the Berlinale a decade ago, in the course of writing a story on The Exiles for NPR. Amy and Dennis’s passion for film, along with their DVD of Prince Achmed (which includes a documentary and other extras) got me started on my Lotte learning curve, a trajectory that was quickly accelerated by Whitney Grace’s incredibly in-depth 2017 book Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation. Find Grace’s book if you want to read more. But of course the very best place to begin is by watching Lotte’s films.

Posted in adventures of prince achmed, Animation, Berlin, Dead Ladies Show, Lotte Reiniger, Lotte that Silhouette Girl, susan stone

Film scholar Linda Ehrlich on creating a commentary track for Maborosi

Posted on June 11, 2018 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments

Linda Ehrlich with Milestone designer and former intern, Lauren Caddick

You have to love a film to watch it more than 10 times while writing and recording a full-length commentary. Luckily that’s the case for me with Maborosi.

I’ve seen most of Kore-eda’s films, and they all fascinate me, to varying degrees. But Maborosi never loses its place as the top. Maborosi is the story of a young Japanese woman from the working-class, and her subtle process of facing traumas. This luminous film was shot on location, using only available light and some low-key lighting.

When Amy and Dennis asked me to record a full-length commentary, my first reaction was: “I won’t have enough to say.” But it turns out that I did! Of course I’m hoping everyone will watch the film for the first time WITHOUT the commentary (that’s for a subsequent viewing).

My goal, as I state at the beginning of the commentary, is to “accompany” the film with my words. The film is in the foreground; my words are an unobtrusive background. In fact, at first recording, I left some extended moments of silence in the commentary where I wanted viewers to focus on certain dramatic sequences or narrative ellipses. Afterwards I realized I had left out some information that was crucial. Milestone kindly allowed me to do a second short recording of about 15 minutes which we “glued” into the original commentary with the help of the excellent recording technician.

I admire people who can just “kibitz” (chat) as an offscreen commentary, but that’s not my style. At times I think I got the timing just right to match word with image. The film is based on a story by Japanese writer Miyamoto Teru entitled Maborosi no hikari (Illusory Light). In comparison to the film, the short story offers more insights into the protagonist’s world, and more dialogue stemming from that world. I drew the story into the film, and also I pointed out many details about everyday Japanese life, with invaluable details added by my Japanese colleague, Yuki Togawa (now Gergotz).

When I saw the new print (after doing the recording), I was amazed how much brighter it is than the original one I had been using as my source. I’m so glad to hear that Kore-eda-kantoku (director) approved this more-legible print. Alas, I then realized I had misidentified one scene! But all in all, I’m proud of my work and hope it adds to the viewing pleasure of a second viewing.

Posted in commentary track, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japanese film, Kore-eda, Linda Ehrlich, Maborosi, restoration, second sound track, Yuki Togawa, Yuki Togawa Gergotz

Artist and Designer Lauren Caddick on creating the original artwork for the re-release of “Rocco and His Brothers”

Posted on June 11, 2018 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments

When Milestone called and asked me to design the poster for Rocco and His Brothers, I was humbled and excited. The opportunity to work on a film of such magnitude with Martin Scorsese's name attached was a dream I wasn't going to turn down. Both Amy Heller and Dennis Doros know that my love for the dramatic holds no bounds...and this film was no exception. 

Before attending design school at NC State University, known for it's architectural foundation and technological advances, I apprenticed with an oil painter for almost five years. All of my design fundamentals originate from the core of atelier or "in studio" painting. While learning from a master painter, I learned to love big brush strokes, bright pops of color, and constantly shifting textures.  

During my time at NC State, I was able to incorporate some of my painting into my work as an undergraduate, but for the most part, my paints were set aside for Adobe software. Knowing this and looking back on my process to create the Rocco poster, it doesn't surprise me that I attempted to create a digitally rendered poster at first; I wanted to have the ability to change the narrative based on the decision of each brushstroke in minute detail - from color to shape to size, digital software allows for a constantly shifting story to unfold.  

But I could do better for Rocco. The film tells a raw story of love, family, and career that could not be reflected in the impermanence of a digital line — it deserves a poster that shows its authenticity. Amy Heller knew long before I did that it should be hand-painted, just as it would have been in 1960 for its original release. It just needed to be updated for modern eyes and modern printing. 

Painting Rocco was great challenge and one I won't forget for a long time! It was a graphic design puzzle and a truly humbling undertaking as an illustrator.

Completing this poster reminded me how much I enjoy storytelling through painting and thinking back on this experience encourages me to continue working and challenging myself creatively. I am so grateful for the inspiration that Milestone Film provides for me - an artist with an archivist's heart. While no assignment is ever dull, Rocco and His Brothers had everything I could ever ask for. 

Posted in Design, Lauren Caddick, Original art, Original painting, Poster design, Rocco and His Brothers

Friends and Films, Old and New in Ashland!

Posted on April 30, 2018 by Amy Heller | 1 Comment

Last month, Dennis and I were excited to be invited to the Ashland Independent Film Festival in southern Oregon. Neither of us had ever visited this part of the Pacific Northwest (we are both NJ natives) and we were excited to experience another great film festival led by our long-time friend, Richard Herskowitz. Richard, who we each first encountered in the 1980s when he headed the Cornell Cinema, is a brilliant film programmer and scholar. Over the decades Richard has invited us to all the venues he has programmed — Ithaca, NY, Charlottesville, VA, Houston, TX and now, Ashland. He is a marvelous host and he always brings amazing people and films together. And the 2018 AIFF was another cinephile’s delight.
(Dennis and Amy and breathtaking views)
But first, the place! In Ashland, all you have to do is turn your head to see panoramas of glorious snow-capped mountains and verdant hills. The town itself, nestled between these gorgeous peaks, is absolutely charming. All year, Ashland is host to a wonderful Shakespeare festival and the town is designed to cater to the needs and wants of vacationers and theater geeks. Walk down Main Street and you pass dozens of excellent restaurants, charming clothing and shoe stores, well-stocked record shops, great vintage clothing and antique dealers, and bookstores (our weakness).
The town also has two wonderful movie theaters, a science museum, and Southern Oregon University. Also, for those who like such things, it is a center for great cheese (with blue a specialty), wine, and hard cider. Everywhere we went in Ashland we encountered active and engaged filmgoers and festival volunteers who had chosen to retire to this amazing community — and we could see why. 

The 17th annual AIFF brought a wonderful selection of films, filmmakers, and cinema experts to town — including some old friends of Milestone… and some new! We were very happy to get the chance to hang out with pals Jonathan Marlow (filmmaker, musician, and self-described “purveyor of moving images’); filmmaker and activist Helen De Michiel; Claire Aguilar, programming director of the International Documentary Association; and Courtney Sheehan, the wonderful head of Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum. It was great to reconnect with artist and animator Stacey Steers, who we first met a few years ago in Houston, and to see how she is continuing to use silent film imagery in her gorgeous, hypnotic films. Other old friends we didn’t get to schmooze with, but were happy to see included Clemence Taillandier, Laura Thielen, and Betsy McLane.

We even “met” a wonderful British composer we first collaborated with many, many years ago — Joby Talbot, who wrote the wonderful score for one of the Evgenii Bauer melodramas on Milestone’s Mad Love DVD. Now living in Ashland, Joby and two wonderful musicians, performed his score accompanying Bauer’s The Dying Swan. And we were happy to meet festival juror Cameron Swanagon —nontheatrical and festival coordinator at Oscilloscope Films, which is Milestone’s  partner for streaming and video distribution. It’s amazing how often we run into fellow NYC-area friends in far-flung festivals. 

(George taking a photo of the audience at a screening).

A highlight of our festival experience was the amazing reception that the festival goers gave Milestone’s restoration of No Maps on My Taps and its effervescent filmmaker, George Nierenberg — who made it a point to shake the hand of every person on a line for a special screening for school kids. The crowds loved the joyful dance documentary and the tap dance demo by local hoofer Suzanne Seiber and her students.

(Dennis sitting far left next to Joby Talbot and others on a panel about commissioning and composing scores for films.)

Another great treat was discovering Saving Brinton, a documentary about a real-life cinema hero — Michael Zahs. The film brilliantly chronicles one year in Zahs’s decades-long quest to save and preserve a collection of pre-1908 films, lantern slides, wax-cylinder audio recordings, and papers from the estate of two Iowa promoters, Frank and Indiana Brinton. The documentary is wonderful and we were absolutely thrilled to meet Zahs and filmmaker, Andrew Sherburne. The film will be screening in New York at Cinema Village in May and at the Monica Film Center in Los Angeles in June. Catch it if you can! 

Other new friends include Dan Miller and Suzanne Clark, the creators of the documentary, Citizen Blue: The Life and Art of Cinema Master James Blue, and Richard Blue, the brother of the filmmaker (who died in 1980). We also really enjoyed meeting trans activist, artist, and filmmaker, Zackary Drucker, who turned out to be a fellow fan of Portrait of Jason. Erica Thompson, the festival’s Filmmaker Liaison, was incredibly welcoming and lovely — she is one of those festival angels who keeps things going smoothly and does so with real grace and kindness. And her volunteers were also wonderful — we send special thanks to Vicki Augustine and Nicole Gullickson, who drove us around and made us feel like Oregonians. We look forward to keeping in touch with all these wonderful folks! 

Finally, we had a blast at the closing night Awards Ceremony, which Courtney Sheehan MC-ed like a boss. And we were very moved when Thom Southerland, whose film Fort Maria won the juried award for Best Narrative Feature, came up to us and told us that his experience seeing Killer of Sheep and meeting Charles Burnett in 2015 had been a powerful inspiration for his own filmmaking — he even shot his feature in black and white in tribute. 

Dennis and I were really thrilled to be honored by such a wonderful film festival and community. And, if you have time next spring, we heartily recommend planning to spend April 11–15, 2019 watching films at the Ashland Independent Film Festival... maybe you want to mark you calendar now!



Posted in Amy Heller, Ashland, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Dennis Doros, Evgenii Bauer, Film fesival, Fort Maria, George Nierenberg, Joby Talbot, Michael Zahs, No Maps on My Taps, Oregon, Richard Herskowitz, Saving Brinton, Stacey Steers, The Dying Swan

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