Close Up

29 May 2022: Islands of Fire: The Cinema of Vittorio De Seta


“An anthropologist who speaks with the voice of a poet.” Martin Scorsese  

"I don’t think I’ve discovered anything as surprising or enriching as [these] films, which are ‘documentaries’ in the tradition of Humphrey Jennings, as opposed to cinéma vérité. They are patiently observed and structured renderings of pre-industrial life in the manner of Robert Flaherty; they are also largely staged – there is not a single haphazard camera set-up in any of [the] films.  

What is remarkable is the sense of patience and care, the weight carried by each image within a compact structure. The films are all roughly ten minutes in length, and the level of poetic compression is as high as in the best D.W. Griffith shorts. Within the rhythms of exalted dailiness proper to each film there are images that are heart-stopping: sheep passing across a snow-flecked mountainside in Pastori di Orgosolo, or the shepherd leaving the cold outside for the fire-lit warmth inside his hut; lava flows contrasted with the luxuriously dark images of waves crashing against rocks in Isole di fuoco; the golden rain of wheat tossed with wooden pitchforks in Parabola d’oro." Kent Jones, Sight & Sound  

This programme features seven short films by Vittorio De Seta, introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht:  

Orgosolo's Shepherds, 1958, 10 min
A Day in Barbagia, 1958, 9 min
Golden Parable, 1955, 9 min
Easter in Sicily, 1955, 8 min
Surfarara, 1955, 9 min
Sea Countrymen, 1955, 9 min
Islands of Fire, 1955, 9 min  

UK premiere of new restorations. Restored in 2019 by the Cineteca di Bologna and The Film Foundation at L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation.  

Special thanks to Cineteca di Bologna and Andrea Meneghelli

Never on Sunday is a series of screenings of rare classics, archive masterpieces, obscure delights and forgotten gems carefully curated and introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht and taking place the last Sunday of each month at Close-Up.