*ATA @ SFPL: Experience Reel Cinema

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Artists' Television Access (ATA) teams up with SFPL to mine the treasures in the Library's 16mm film archive. Join us for our quarterly screening series of fantastic movies. That's real film, not video!

Night And Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955, 16mm, 32 mins)

"Some films are pleasant, others beautiful, some magnificent. This film is NECESSARY," cineaste Ado Kyrou wrote upon Night And Fog's release in 1956. "This is what war looks like, and fascism. Every man alive on this Earth should see this film. And as a result, maybe things will get better." Sixty years later Kyrou's hopeful hypothesis remains untested. It takes a certain courage to confront the ghastly images presented in this, arguably the first artful film made about the Nazi Holocaust. Perhaps that's why, despite its critical acclaim and historical importance, Night And Fog is rarely projected before audiences.

Alain Resnais was commissioned to direct Night And Fog by the organizers of an exhibit commemorating the end of World War II ten years after the fact. By then he'd made several short documentaries, including one on Picasso's Guernica and another investigating why African art was displayed in the Musée de l'Homme rather than the Louvre. Resnais asked concentration camp survivor Jean Cayrol to write a poetic voice-over narration to be recited by actor Michel Bouquet, to compliment the haunted visuals he'd arranged. For the most part, black-and-white images were selected from archives, and color images were filmed by Resnais's crew at the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Intercutting these elements, the filmmaker created a work that, while focused on the particular horror experienced by the Nazis' victims, complicates the viewer's relationship to history and memory.

Controversy has followed Night And Fog from the beginning. Pressure from West German officials caused the Cannes Film Festival to revoke its planned premiere there; ultimately it was reinstated out of competition. A shot of a recognizably French policeman was censored for years while political expedience demanded minimization of Vichy collaboration with the death camp system. Later the film was attacked for its universal approach; Bouquet only utters the word "Jew" once. But Resnais's sensitivity, the foundation of a feature film career beginning three years later with Hiroshima Mon Amour and lasting until his 2014 passing, has ensured Night And Fog remains an essential document of the twentieth century's most terrible depths.

Film discussion will follow screening

This is a Films & Videos program from SFPL. From feature films to youth-made videos, we’ve got something great to watch.

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*Funded by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.

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