Janus Films is proud to announce today the release of glorious new 4k restorations of master filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s seminal THE APU TRILOGY (with new subtitles). Frequently listed as one of the top accomplishments in the history of cinema, the trilogy helped bring India into the golden age of international art-house cinema – but this restoration was long thought to be impossible, after a fire severely damaged the original negatives in 1993. Whatever was left of the original negatives was salvaged by the Academy Film Archive and it wasn’t until the technology improved that this restoration was possible.
The three films – PATHER PANCHALI (SONG OF THE LITTLE ROAD), APARAJITO (THE UNVANQUISHED) and APUR SANSAR (THE WORLD OF APU) – will begin a national re-release in New York City at Film Forum on Friday, May 8th and in Los Angeles at Landmark’s Nuart Theater on Friday, May 29th. The films will play at the country’s top arthouse cinemas throughout the summer.
Based on two books by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee, THE APU TRILOGY follows one indelible character, a free-spirited child in rural Bengal who matures into an adolescent urban student and finally a sensitive man of the world. The films, shot over the course of five years (and featuring different actors playing the maturing Apu), are among the most visually radiant, richly humane movies ever made – essential works for any film lover. Martin Scorsese called watching the films “One of the great cinematic experiences of my life.” Akira Kurosawa said, “Never having seen a Satyajit Ray film is like never having seen the sun or moon.”
In 1993, a year after Ray won the Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a project was initiated to restore Ray’s films, including THE APU TRILOGY. En route to Los Angeles, many of the negatives were temporarily stored at London’s Hendersons Film Laboratories. There, a massive nitrate fire at the lab spread to the film vaults, and the original negatives were feared lost forever.
The Criterion Collection in association with the Academy Film Archive at The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences teamed up with L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, one of the world’s premiere restoration facilities. Close to a thousand hours of meticulous hand labor were spent to rehydrate the brittle film, rebuild sprocket perforations on the sides of the film and remove melted tape, glue and wax. Using fine-grain masters and duplicate negatives preserved by Janus Films, the Academy, and the British Film Institute, suitable replacements were found for the non-usable or missing sections of the original negatives. In the end, forty percent of PATHER PANCHALI, and more than sixty percent of APARAJITO were restored directly from the original negative. APUR SANSAR’s restoration is comprised of a fine grain and a safety dupe negative, as the original negative was too damaged by the fire to be usable. Over the course of six months of steady work, the Criterion Collection restoration lab handled the digital restoration. Emphasis was placed on retaining the look and character of the original material, when necessary preferring to leave damage rather than overprocess digital images that might lose the grain and feel of the film.
Peter Becker, President of the Criterion Collection and partner in Janus Films said, “This monumental restoration and national re-release is the culmination of seven years of work by dozens of people on three continents from the Academy Film Archive, the Cineteca di Bologna and our own team at Criterion. There’s a lot of discussion about how much irreplaceable film history we have lost from around the world, but this is one of the rare cases where the dedicated work of archivists have saved three masterpieces, allowing a whole new generation of filmgoers to see them as their filmmaker intended. All of us at Janus and Criterion are thrilled to be part of this.”