The Film Society of Lincoln Center will celebrate India’s greatest filmmaker and one of cinema’s greatest auteurs, Satyajit Ray, with First Light: Satyajit Ray from the Apu Trilogy to the Calcutta Trilogy, unspooling at the Walter Reade Theater from Wednesday, April 15 through Thursday April 30, (16 Days). Featuring over 20 films, with six in new 35mm prints from the Academy Film Archive, the series concentrates on what is roughly the first half of Ray’s career, when he broke out internationally as an important new voice in world cinema.
“A Ray film invites you in, but also demands that you accept it on its own terms,” says Richard Peña, The Film Society’s Director of Programming. “And those who open themselves to Ray’s method are in for some of the richest experiences the cinema has to offer.” The recent spike of interest in India—from its propitious emergence as a major economic power to the worldwide success of Slumdog Millionaire—makes this an especially apt moment to witness and celebrate the accomplishments of Satyajit Ray, who won the Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement at the 1991 Academy Awards, “for his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and for his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.” For more information and tickets visit www.filmlinc.com
Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), was born into a family of distinguished printers, writers and artists in Calcutta. At the age of 18, upon his mother’s prodding, he started studies at Rabindranath Tagore’s Vishva-Bharati University in order to become a commercial artist. Ray left the university before graduating and joined an advertising agency, where he would work for 13 years. An avid film fan since school years, he co-founded Calcutta’s first film society in 1947. Around the same time, Ray started writing film criticism, which appeared in both English and Bengali publications. In 1949, Ray met Jean Renoir, while the French director was scouting locations in India for The River. Renoir encouraged Ray’s passion for cinema; however, an appointment to the London office of the ad agency prevented him from working on Renoir’s film. While in London, Ray saw De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, which solidified his ideas about making a realistic Indian film, shot in existing locations with a non-professional cast. This resulted in Pather Panchali, a project that was on Ray’s mind before he met Renoir. Filmed over the course of three years, it premiered at MoMA in 1955 and was released in India a few months later to become a great box-office success. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India at the time, was so touched by the film that he arranged for its inclusion into Cannes, where it won a special prize. Worldwide recognition soon followed, allowing Ray complete authority over his subsequent films. A prolific director, he made a feature every year from 1956 to 1981. In addition, Ray developed a notable literary career, writing short stories, articles and novels as well as reviving a children’s magazine, Sandesh, started by his grandfather. On March 30, 1992, Satyajit Ray was awarded the Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. Due to ill health, he could not attend the ceremony and his acceptance speech was pre-recorded in Calcutta. He died on April 23 that year.
This series is a tribute to the work of the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project at the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles, which together with the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of California-Santa Cruz has done so much to preserve and promote the work of this major film artist for future generations. The archive is currently hard at work restoring the rest of Ray’s films. We hope to be able to present a series built around the second half of Satyajit Ray’s career in the not-so-distant future.
In conjunction with this series, a major conference on Satyajit Ray will be held at Columbia University on Saturday, April 25. For more information