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Varnsdorf Reloaded

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Ulrich Rostek Date: 28.05.2016
Pavel Nejtek and his projection team

In may 2015 the 70mm-Weekend at the "Centrum Panorama" debuted successfully as part of the "Neisse Film Festival". This year cinema owner Pavel Nejtek and his crew once again welcomed 70mm enthusiasts from many countries at Varnsdorf in the Czech Republic, not too far away from the German border. Once again an array of 7Omm film reels was waiting to be run through two Meopta UM3570 projection machines.

The Varnsdorf 70mm Weekend started on Thursday with the east german espionage drama "KLK an PTX" followed by Ken Annakin's material battle epic "Battle of the Bulge".

Friday was dominated by two epics shot in super wide Ultra Panavision 70 or MGM Camera 65 respectively. Although the prints either of "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Ben Hur" were severely colour faded this was for many delegates the first and probably last chance in life to enjoy Robert L. Surtees' marvelous cinematography the way it was meant to be presented - in 2.76 : 1 aspect ratio. For this purpose two Ultra Panavision projection lenses were shipped to Varnsdorf. Unfortunately one of the lenses was damaged. Lens flaws resulted in double edged contours as well as lack of contrast and sharpness as we were told. Pavel Nejtek's team made the best of the situation. With each reel change the projection was stopped for a few seconds and the one intact lens was rapidly changed between the two projectors.
More in 70mm reading:

Why drive 400 miles to see Hamlet in 70mm?

70MM in Varnsdorf - a new hope?

“Interstellar” at the BFI IMAX in London

70mm Film Weekend in Centrum Panorama Varnsdorf, Czech Republic

70mm Retro - Festivals and Screenings

Bohemian specialities served on film platter

A special surprise was waiting at the end of the day for those who were still receptive for another movie. Outside the official festival programme the brave and steady ones were invited to a private screening of Otto Premingers film version of George Gershwin's famous folk opera "Porgy and Bess". I was absolutely delighted because I thought this film was already lost forever. The print was in an amazingly good condition with almost unfaded colours. So it was a pleasure to enjoy Leon Shamroy's photography which was so well composed to fit the Todd-AO frame. The rich and warm 6-track magnetic sound turned out to be the best mean to reproduce Gershwin's powerful music. My personal favourite.

At least nobody is perfect and Murphy's Law always applies. One reel of "The Dirty Dozen" started upside down, another one flipsided. The Overture of "Ben Hur" rolling backwards was another interesting experience (some called it "The Psychedelic Remix"). But I don't want to blame the projection team, who did an over all great job, for the one or the other mistake. People made of flesh and blood make mistakes every now and then. I would rather take this as a demonstration how 70mm projection works.
Ultra Panavision 70 projection lens with flaws and blurs

Many of the prints presented this year came from the collection of "Kinomuseum Berlin e.V.". The founder of this association, Jean-Pierre Gutzeit, was present at the festival, always ready to discuss and report about technical details, giving a lot of behind-the-scenes information.

One rarity from the archieves of "Kinomuseum Berlin" was "The Big Fisherman", a biblical epic in the tradition of "Quo Vadis" or "The Robe". With "The Big Fisherman" Panavision used 65mm film with new build spherical lenses for the first time to meet the technical specifications of Todd-AO.

Sunday morning saw a rare screening of "Far from the Madding Crowd" with Julie Christie in self-destructive complex relations with three men. Disregarding the inevitable colour fading grain and sharpness were so good that it was hard to believe this was "only" a blowup print.

Carol Reed's "Oliver!" closed the festival with unforgettable tunes, breathtaking choreography and Oswald Morris' brilliant cinematography.

At this point I want to thank Pavel Nejtek and his team for their hospitality, their open-mindedness, and their patience when another crowd of enthusiastic delegates burst into the tight space of the projection booth. I hope we'll meet again at the "Centrum Panorama" for another amazing 70mm Weekend.

Note: No prints were harmed during this festival!
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Updated 30-06-22