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2019: Views of the Ottoman Empire: Discovering the Visual Record in Motion

Thursday, March 14, 2019, 7-9pm

Jay Weissberg, Director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival and film critic for Variety

A wave of handsome volumes about photography in the Ottoman Empire has appeared in the past decade, straddling an uneasy border between nostalgic evocations of a voiceless time just beyond our grasp, and visual markers guiding us to a more complex reading of a challenging historical epoch. The reproductions of these images are a fairly easy task that enable widespread distribution, but what of the hours of footage from the same period, largely sitting uncatalogued in film archives across the globe? Mostly shot by Western cameramen sent by studios such as Lumière, Pathé, Urban, and Edison, these actualities, ranging from views of the ruins at Ani to street performers in Constantinople, panoramas of minarets in Sarajevo to newsreels of Sultan Mehmed V, are now largely inaccessible and poorly researched. The surviving record for Armenia is particularly problematic, existing in unidentified fragments recording refugees from the genocide or international inspectors sent to investigate the massacres. “Views of the Ottoman Empire” is a project begun in 2014 by several archivists and independent scholars to identify what moving images remain, research their history, distribution and reception, and screen curated programs in both the countries where they were initially shot and among diasporic communities for whom film provides an emotional connection that is difficult to quantify. This lecture will discuss the identification and reevaluation of these little-seen films, alongside thoughts regarding their meaning for audiences today.

New York-born Jay Weissberg lives in Rome and has been a film critic there for Variety since 2003, traveling to film festivals throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America. His work on contemporary cinema has appeared in international publications including Sight & Sound and The London Review of Books. He has contributed essays in numerous festival and retrospective catalogues, with a particular focus on recent Arab and Romanian film. He was appointed director of the Giornate del Cinema Muto/Pordenone Silent Film Festival in 2015, has written widely about silent film, and is co-curator of the Ottoman Film Project, an initiative to identify, catalog, and screen films shot in the Ottoman Empire. A frequent participant on festival juries, he often takes part in panel discussions on the current state of cinema and film criticism, has been a guest of the Harvard Film Archives/Gulbenkian Foundation’s Cinema Dialogues, and is a regular moderator of Masterclasses with filmmakers such as Ethan Hawke, Sally Potter, Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, Mia Farrow, and Gabriel García Bernal. In programs for young film critics in Rotterdam, Berlin, Cairo, Locarno, Abu Dhabi and Melbourne he has acted as a mentor. His discussion on new Romanian cinema appears as an extra on Criterion’s new Bluray/DVD release of Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days