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BIFF: Week Three

The Buffalo International Film Festival enters its final days

A Pearl in the Forest
Pray The Devil Back to Hell

The Buffalo International Film Festival begins its final week on Thursday, October 22, with A Pearl in the Forest, the North American Premiere of a film from Mongolia that takes place in 1937, when Stalin’s purges killed thousands of ethnic Buryats. The beautifully photographed scenery compensates for the story’s dramatic weaknesses, all of which are wrapped up in an emotionally satisfying conclusion. It will be introduced by the filmmakers, writer, and performers.

The weekend brings a pair of events that will be of special interest to classic movie fans. On Friday, veteran film historians David Heeley, and Joan Kramer, whose documentaries on stars like Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, and others continue to be shown on Turner Classic Movies, present the premiere of Kate and Fred: Hepburn, Astaire—Public and Private, featuring unseen outtakes and rare footage of Katherine Hepburn, Fred Astaire and other Hollywood notables.

Called one of the greatest films ever made by those who had the chance to see it, Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 Greed was largely destroyed by MGM, which felt it was too long to release profitably. Von Stroheim’s original plan was to show his 10-hour adaptation of Frank Norris’s novel McTeague over two nights; he reluctantly cut it down to four hours, after which the studio took over, cutting it further to 140 minutes. The excised footage was later thrown out by a studio janitor.

In 1999, Turner Classic Movies hired preservationist Rick Schmidlin to restore the film using von Stroheim’s original notes and surviving photographs. The result is a four-hour version that is probably as close as we will ever get to seeing it in its intended form. Unavailable on DVD, it receives a rare public screening on Saturday at 6pm. It will be introduced by Schmidlin, who will also hold a Q&A during intermission.

On Monday, Schmidlin will also present two other films he restored: the lost Lon Chaney horror film London After Midnight (1925, directed by Tod Browning) and Orson Welles 1958 noir masterpiece Touch of Evil.

Sunday features an afternoon screening of the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, about the women’s movement to bring an end to the civil wars in Liberia in 2003. In recent years I have seen a number of documentaries about wars in contemporary Africa that have contained shocking stories about unimaginable violence committed upon civilian populations. The parade of atrocities that opened this made me fear that it would be one more film for which numbness seems the only possible reaction. Instead, the documentary brings a message of hope in showing how peace was achieved by ordinary people using non-violent means. It will be presented at 2pm by producer Abigail Disney.

Except where noted, all events are at 7pm in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, 617 Main Street. Tickets can be purchased at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra box office or from the BPO Web site (all ticketing fees benefit the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra); from the BIFF Web site (, or at the screening venue before each film.

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