Cinema Unbound: The Creative Worlds of Powell and Pressburger: dates announced for our major new project

This autumn, a new UK-wide BFI project will celebrate legendary writer-producer-director team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The Red Shoes (1948)Restoration by UCLA Film & Television Archive in association with the BFI/The Film Foundation/ITV Global Entertainment/Park Circus

Cinema Unbound: The Creative Worlds of Powell and Pressburger is a major UK-wide celebration of one the greatest and most enduring filmmaking partnerships: Michael Powell (1905-1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902-1988). 

Bold, subversive and iconoclastic, challenging and changing the visual language of film, their passionate collaborative artistic vision, spanning 24 films together between 1939 and 1972, is a vital part of the fabric of British cinema history. Startlingly innovative, Powell and Pressburger’s work continues to inspire creatives and increasingly connect with international audiences. 

Taking place this autumn, Cinema Unbound will be led by head curator Robin Baker and expert teams from across the BFI and includes a major BFI National Archive restoration and conservation focus; BFI Distribution re-releases; a UK-wide cinema programme presented in collaboration with the BFI Film Audience Network; a major retrospective of their work – together and separately – and exhibition marking the 75th anniversary of The Red Shoes at BFI Southbank; a BFI Player VOD collection; new books in partnership with Bloomsbury, The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger and a BFI Film Classic examining The Red Shoes; and more. 

Running from 16 October to 31 December at BFI Southbank and across the UK, Cinema Unbound will be the largest and most wide-ranging exploration ever undertaken about the work of the legendary writer-producer-director team, and their creative collaborations, and is the BFI’s most ambitious archive cinema programme since The Genius of Hitchcock in 2012. 

The BFI is uniquely placed to tell the most complete story of this influential filmmaking duo. Central to this narrative is the extraordinary wealth of film and paper material preserved by the BFI National Archive, from the personal collections of Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger and their collaborators. Restoring, preserving and conserving Powell and Pressburger’s films and paper collections has been a massive undertaking, and the project will see the wider work of conservation and curatorial experts at the BFI National Archive take centre stage, with a series of brand-new restorations, 4K remasters and a newly edited book anthology all premiering during the UK-wide project.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were true cinematic visionaries and innovators, working with an exceptionally talented creative team of long term collaborators who helped craft and deliver their narrative worlds. These included Alfred Junge (production designer), Hein Heckroth (production designer and costume designer), Jack Cardiff (cinematographer), Ivor Beddoes (sketch artist), Arthur Lawson (art director) and Brian Easdale (composer) as well as on-screen collaborators including Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook, Moira Shearer, Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron and Sabu.

I Know Where I’m Going! (1945)

Together they created some of the richest and most memorable films in the story of cinema, including The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales Of Hoffmann (1951).

Their films continue to inspire a very passionate fan base from a cross section of artists and cultural practitioners, from Martin Scorsese (whose Film Foundation has helped restore five films directed by Powell and Pressburger) to Kate Bush (whose iconic album inspired by The Red Shoes marks its 30th anniversary this year), Matthew Bourne to Margaret Atwood, Manolo Blahnik to Guillermo del Toro, Joanna Hogg to Bong Joon Ho, Tim Walker to Michelle Williams Gamaker, Tilda Swinton to Derek Jarman, their cultural legacy and influence continues to be felt today.

The project aims to celebrate both the best and most widely known of Powell and Pressburger’s films, but also provide new pathways to discover real rarities – some of which will be seen for the first time in many decades – including solo projects, early works as well as a substantial collection of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s home movies. Audiences will also be given a fascinating look at what might have been, with details of some of their unrealised projects also being revealed for the first time.

Through two new books published in partnership with Bloomsbury in October – The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger, a major reappraisal of the filmmakers’ art and practice co-edited by BFI National Archive curators Nathalie Morris and Claire Smith, with contributions from Thelma Schoonmaker, Tilda Swinton, Sandy Powell and Marina Warner as well as leading film historians; and a new BFI Film Classic on The Red Shoes by critic Pamela Hutchinson – plus a major new exhibition, designed by Simon Costin, dedicated to The Red Shoes at BFI Southbank, the project will open up public access to the wealth of material preserved by the BFI National Archive.

This material will include over 200 new images of costume and production designs, treatments, personal correspondence, behind the scenes photography and posters, from the professional archives of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger as well as the paper archives of designers Alfred Junge, Hein Heckroth and sketch artist Ivor Beddoes, all cared for by the BFI. Much previously unseen, this material will offer audiences a unique insight into Powell and Pressburger’s dialogue and process with their collaborators.

“Powell and Pressburger created films that changed the possibilities of what cinema could be,” says Baker. “Way ahead of their time, it’s no surprise that their startling, subversive, headily romantic worlds resonate so deeply with contemporary audiences and creatives. Back on the big screen – exactly where they belong – these are films that take your breath away.”

The full UK-wide programme for Cinema Unbound: The Creative Worlds of Powell and Pressburger will be announced in late June.

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