Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Great British film director celebrated with restoration of 10 films

David Lean centenary year packed with tributes and celebrations

Ten films directed by David Lean during the 1940s and 50s have been faithfully restored by the BFI National Archive, in partnership with Granada International, to coincide with the centenary year of the great British film director. The sparkling new restorations were announced today at the BFI as part of a year-long programme of events, screenings, tributes, book and DVD releases involving different organisations and allowing people across Britain to discover and rediscover Lean’s work.

The £1 million restoration project was completed thanks to generous funding from the David Lean Foundation. The Foundation was set up at Lean’s request to promote the appreciation of film as an art form and to encourage skills and technical excellence in filmmaking.

David Lean remains one of Britain’s most widely known and respected directors and many of his films are part of our national memory, whether the forlorn couple in the station café or that tiny figure shimmering on the desert horizon. A master of visual storytelling, Lean was meticulous in his craft and admired by filmmakers for his loving attention to detail. Like Hitchcock, Lean loved to explore the nature of British – or English – identity whether on the Home Front of wartime drama, literary adaptations and doomed romances, or on the larger canvas of his later Hollywood-backed epics.

Most of us know the great Lean epics that won many awards here and in Hollywood – The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) – but he directed 16 fiction films and edited numerous others in a career that spanned six decades. The BFI and its partners aim to cast new light on his earlier work which includes the classics In Which We Serve (1942), Brief Encounter (1945) and Great Expectations (1946), also enabling people to rediscover lesser-known films such as The Passionate Friends (1948), to be released by the BFI in June.

At BFI Southbank in June and July there will be a retrospective of the 16 feature films Lean directed, as well as a number of the more significant ones he edited, including Pygmalion (1938) by Anthony Asquith and 49th Parallel (1941), directed by Michael Powell. The two-month season, in association with Film 4, will also include events with documentary clips, discussions and feature presentations from experts exploring themes around his career and working style. Full details of the programme will be announced in the spring.

Throughout the year, brand new 35mm and high definition digital prints of the restored films will be screened up and down the country by Granada International, through its theatrical partners Park Circus and the BFI, and by Optimum Releasing. A complete season is also planned for screening on Film 4 in September, taking Lean’s films to a wider audience across Britain. Also ITV DVD and Optimum will release the newly restored pictures on DVD in the UK in August.

BAFTA is a charity organisation with long-established links with David Lean, which supports, develops and promotes the art forms of the moving image. BAFTA will be holding events and screenings in London, New York and Los Angeles for the public and for Academy members, starting with a tribute to David Lean at the Orange British Academy Film Awards on 10 February. There will be further tributes in the US later in the year, and during the first weekend in August four restored prints will be screened publicly at BAFTA’s headquarters on Piccadilly. The annual David Lean Lecture will also take place as usual this year, details of the date and 2008 lecturer are yet to be announced.

Also paying tribute to David Lean will be Carnforth Station in Lancashire, the location for most of the key scenes in Brief Encounter (1945). This poignant story of unfulfilled passion and guilt will be shown along with other Lean classics during a week of screenings in March at the station itself or in nearby Lancaster.

In February David Lean: A Biography is being republished by Faber & Faber UK. Written by filmmaker and historian Kevin Brownlow who spent many hours in conversation with David Lean and his family and co-workers, the book is universally acknowledged to be the definitive biography and provides the reader with a unique insight into the man, the director, his career and his work.

A two-day conference gathering together filmmakers, writers, scholars and collaborators of Lean is planned for late July at Queen Mary University of London and will offer a broad range of perspectives examining aspects of the director’s life and career in cinema.