“It’s a movie I have seen a hundred times,” Ingmar Bergman said of UMBERTO D, “and that I may love most of all.” The CCA’s Esteemed Council of Classic Cinema — writer-director Joan Tewkesbury, editor-producer Paul Barnes and curator-scholar Mara Fortes — take us to postwar Italy to explore one of cinema’s most influential films: Vittorio De Sica’s timeless neorealist drama about an elderly man and his dog navigating a troubled city. A perfect film that’s perfect for our unsettled moment, UMBERTO D was shot largely with handheld cameras from the perspective of the Everyman. It’s a startling and authentic response to the flowery cinematography and paper-light stories that typified European cinema of the 1950s. A masterwork in its own right, UMBERTO D also suggested a new way of seeing the world through cinema, and it retains its power nearly 70 years after it was filmed.
About UMBERTO D: Shot on the streets of Rome during a moment of massive social upheaval, Vittorio De Sica and his skilled collaborators—the brilliant screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (nominated for an Oscar for this script), the cinematographer G.R. Aldo and editor Eraldo Da Roma—follows an elderly pensioner (played by the non-professional Carlo Battisti, unforgettable in his first and only role). Umberto struggles to make ends meet and maintain his dignity in a city where human kindness seems to have been swallowed up by the forces of modernization. Alone except for his dog Flike, the aging Umberto finds that even meeting his basic needs—food, shelter, companionship—is a challenge in post-war Rome. Though perhaps better remembered for BICYCLE THIEVES, De Sica (a four-time Oscar winner) loved UMBERTO D the best of his works. (Italy, 1952, 88m)
Joan Tewkesbury began her career at age ten as a dancer, played an Ostrich and Mary Martin’s flying understudy in Jerome Robins’ Peter Pan, choreographed and danced in nightclubs in San Francisco and Reno, Nevada, and directed and choreographed for theatre in the U.S., Scotland and London. She has amassed credits as a writer, director, producer, and choreographer in feature film, theatre and television, including screenplays for Robert Altman’s THIEVES LIKE US and NASHVILLE. Her directorial first feature OLD BOYFRIENDS was presented at the Cannes Film Festival, and celebrated its fortieth anniversary with a retrospective in major cities. Her many TV credits include writing and directing the award-winning Acorn People, The Tenth Month, Sudie and Simpson and Cold Sassy Tree. She has directed off-Broadway, co-choreographed and directed for the Oregon Ballet Theatre and her play The Retrospective was presented at the Manhattan Theatre Source. Her first novel, Ebba and the Green Dresses of Olivia Gomez in a Time of Conflict and War, was published in 2011. She is an advisor for the Sundance Institute.
Paul Barnes works as editor include WASN’T THAT A TIME (1982, Best Documentary Editing Award from the American Cinema Editors), SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY (winner, Best Documentary, Boston Film Critics) and THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988 Best Documentary Award, New York Film Critics). Paul was editor of Ken Burns’s Oscar-nominated STATUE OF LIBERTY, beginning a 25-year collaboration that resulted in THE CIVIL WAR (1990, highest rated series in public TV history and winner of 40 awards); BASEBALL; EMPIRE OF THE AIR: THE MEN WHO MADE RADIO; THOMAS JEFFERSON; the ten-part JAZZ series; THE ROOSEVELTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY and THE VIETNAM WAR.
Born in Mexico City, Mara Fortes is a researcher and a curator. She holds a B.A. in Film and Media Studies from Swarthmore College and is currently a doctoral candidate in Cinema and Media Studies at The University of Chicago (Dissertation: Cinema Atmospherics and the Spatial Uncanny). She works as a curator for the Telluride Film Festival, programs for the Ambulante Documentary Film Festival (Mexico), and is former head curator at the audiovisual department “Cine más allá” of the Center for Digital Culture (Mexico). She has curated programs for Museo Reina Sofia (Spain) La Otra Bienal (Colombia), and London MexFest (UK).