Anti-Bourgeois Film Festival
9th Anniversary Double Feature
Pontecorvo Night @ The People’s Forum
Presented by The Left Academy & The Marxist Education Project
The celebrated, newsreel-like film, shot in Algiers in black and white details the national war for independence as fought in Algiers against the occupying French forces. Director Gillo Pontecorvo and writer Franco Solinas created several protagonists in their screenplay, who are based on historical war figures. The story begins and ends from the perspective of Ali la Pointe (Brahim Haggiag), a petty criminal who is politically radicalized while in prison. He is recruited by FLN commander El-hadi Jafar. This character is played by Saadi Yacef, who was a veteran FLN commander.
Presentation and discussion of significance of Pontecorvo’s two great films during his time and ours
A film of revolt set in the Caribbean, could be any of the colonized islands. Marlon Brando plays a British agent who advises Jose Dolores as leader of a slave revolt, to advance English colonial interests. In 1848, revolutionary Jose Dolores, disgusted by the white government’s collaboration with British interests–leads a second uprising, jeopardizing the Antilles Royal Sugar Company. After six years of the uprising, in 1854, the company brings Walker (the Brando character) back to Queimada with the consent of the British Admiralty, tasking him with suppressing the revolt and pacifying the island. Walker attempts to save Dolores’s life but the rebel leader rejects his assistance, asserting that freedom is earned, not received.
Soundtracks to both films by Ennio Morricone
From an interview with Gillo Pontecorvo by Maria Esposito for the World Socialist Web Site
“…About three years ago the BBC defined my work as “the dictatorship of truth”. In my cinema, when faced with the choice of distancing oneself from reality or using an effect that might be used to win the popularity with the public, I always renounce these possibilities and stay close to reality.
ME: Is this why you decided to make The Battle of Algiers in documentary style?
Let me explain how much this love for reality, the reality that surrounds us, weighed on me. I only spent four days doing the screen tests for the actors in The Battle of Algiers, but a month looking for the right kind of photography that would best convey this sense of truth.
The difficulty was to find the right sort of look that would imitate grainy photography with strong contrasts, like those of the newsreels, and yet, because it had to be shown in the cinemas where people paid to see it, it had to retain a certain formal dignity, a formal beauty. It therefore took us a month to discover the technique required. The method that finally guided us was to take the original negative and make a copy of it and then re-photograph the copy.”
From a 1999 Gerald Peary interview with Pontecorvo
Cineaste: Could you talk about your brilliant casting in Burn!, using a non-actor as the West Indian guerilla leader, Jose Dolores, opposite Marlon Brando.
Pontecorvo: It was a fight! United Artists wanted me to use Sidney Poitier. I didn’t want to, though I like him as an actor, because his face wasn’t wild. Then I went looking to off-Broadway for black actors. I didn’t find the right one.
In Colombia, during a location scout, we were searching for a forest to burn. We drove very far into the wild in a jeep. Suddenly we saw this peasant man on a horse. This is the face I’d been looking for for four months. But instead of coming to me, he ran away! It was very hot, people around me were furious when I said, “Sorry, we have to find this man.” We asked the local chief to order the playing of a drum. All the people came out, including this man, Evaristo Marquez. He’d never seen a movie but he understood money. He said, “OK.”
I called Marlon on his island. He said, “If you believe he’s right, don’t worry about me.”