Sangre negra. Breve historia de una película perdida is the third original edition of the 30° Mar del Plata International Film Festival. Written by anthropologist and investigator Edgardo Krebs, the book is a journey to the making and recovery of one of the most emblematic films of Belgian director Pierre Chenal in our country. Mike Mashon, from the Virginia Library of Congress, Luis Ormaechea, in charge of the book’s editing, and Fernando Martín Peña, director of the festival, were present in the table.
Premiered in 1951, Native Son is the adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son. Wright also starred in the film, spoken entirely in English. "If I didn’t know the story of the film, I wouldn’t believe it was made in Argentina”, stated Mike Mashon, a key figure in the film’s recovery. "The story is set in Chicago and the settings are so real it’s hard to imagine it was shot somewhere else”.
The story of the recovery is quite funny. Mashon explained that the Puerto Rico Audiovisual Archive requested a huge number of films to a New York lab. When the lab closed, Puerto Rico asked the Virginia Library to return all the films and, when they did, among them were Stanley Kubrick’s directorial debut, Fear and Desire, and Native Son.
"It was a true surprise to find a complete copy. The version premiered in United Stated was censored and the ending was changed”, asserted Mashon. The novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a black man accused of a crime. "The film speaks about fear. The curious thing is that in the original version, the protagonist is guilty but a victim of a past full of violence and injustice”, stated Peña.
Apart from telling anecdotes about the shooting and the difficulty of finding colored actors in our country, Mashon told a bit about the process of restoration of the film: "We processed it with chemicals we use for 35 mm films. The Virginia Library of Congress is one of the biggest in the world and we have a film, image and sound department”.
The domestic version –premiered only in United States- is reduced and does not have the essence of the novel, unlike the international version, screened at the Festival.
"We are also going to add an extra minute of the film from Peña’s own collection. We only have to adapt the format, since that fragment belongs to a 16 mm copy”, adds Mashon. "It’s a very important film for us. It’s one of the few novels written by Afro-Americans which is taught in United States high schools. When I was a kid, bathrooms were divided between white and black people”.
All the members of the table agreed that Pierre Chenal’s version is the final one, which should be screened in the entire world. "The original is fresh and honest, very faithful to the novel. You can tell that the author was involved in the entire making of the film. There is a very strong violent scene that was removed from the US version. It’s important to screen it in its full length and in high quality”, stressed Mashon.
As a funny detail, the cover of the book belongs to an exhibition done in the City of San Francisco but was not retouched.
"The film is coherent with the rest of Chenal’s films, who was a victim of persecution and racism, so he perfectly knew the theme of the novel”, adds Peña. "Chenal made French poetic realism and several noir films, but Native Son can’t be labelled as any of the two. However, the tension in the indoor scenes has their auteur mark. It also has oneiric and powerful scenes. Chenal had a real care for the plastic aspect and he narrated with the camera. That’s present throughout the film”.
The film was released in video in United States, but it was crippled. Also, there was no distribution system for independent films and in the Southern part of the country the novel is not known, since it was censored.
To round it off, Peña thanked the collaboration of the President of the Festival, José Martínez Suárez, for motivating the preservation of films and the exhibition during the festivals. "We went from showing 10 films during the 29 Festival to almost 100 in this edition. Also, two film projectors were found in Teatro Colón from Mar del Plata, one of them, of 70 mm”.
Native Son will be screened for the last time tomorrow at 5:30 pm in Teatro Colón.