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Eastman Museum highlights 'Stories of Indian Cinema'

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In the fall of 2014, the George Eastman Museum acquired a massive archive of 775 35mm Indian film prints (representing 597 titles) made between 1999 and 2013. Discovered in an abandoned multiplex in Southern California, the films had been shipped from India for release in specialized theaters in the United States. It's the largest collection of contemporary Indian cinema in the world.

"It's a collection of immense cultural value, because it really tells us volumes about this particular industry, about life in India, about the tastes of the country's audiences," says Jurij Meden, the museum's curator of film exhibitions. With Indian film studios not actively preserving their prints after theatrical and home video release, the conservation of those titles became incredibly important. "And then once it was here, we thought 'why not do something with them?"

And so the idea for the "Stories of Indian Cinema" film series was born. The series will screen seven titles from the collection, giving Rochester audiences the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the films at the Dryden Theatre. To help narrow down the titles into such a streamlined series, The George Eastman Museum team consulted with a dozen Indian film experts: scholars, historians, critics, curators, archivists, and filmmakers. They were asked to send a list of titles included in the archive which they believe were the most important or most representative films of that collection.

Three years in the making, the resulting program provides a snapshot of some of the essentials of contemporary Indian cinema. The film series begins on Thursday, November 9 with "Devdas," one of the most iconic recent Bollywood films, then "Om Shanti Om," on December 7. A Bollywood film about Bollywood, "it's sort of the 'La La Land' of Bollywood cinema," says Meden. The series continues with five more titles -- spanning a variety of genres and styles -- which will screen through May of 2018.

Running concurrently with the film series, the "Abandoned and Rescued" exhibit gives a behind-the-scenes look into exactly what occurs when the museum acquires a new collection, tracing the path of the Indian film archive from the time is was found, through its journey to Rochester where it became part of the Eastman Museum collection.

Meden says he's excited about the exhibit's unique presentation. "The Moving Image Department at the George Eastman Museum has existed since 1949, and this is the very first time that we are actually opening up ourselves and showing the day-to-day operations of how we inspect and preserve these films." In addition, 150 Indian movie posters will be displayed, out of the nearly 6,000 that were found alongside the film prints.

Also on display at the museum is a complementary photography exhibition, "Nandita Raman: Cinema Play House," a series of black-and-white photographs of single-screen cinemas in India that were abandoned as, much like in the U.S., the country's movie-going habits shift toward gleaming multiplexes.

The Indian film series, "Stories of Indian Cinema: Abandoned & Rescued," and "Nandita Raman: Cinema Play House," will be on display at the George Eastman Museum through May of 2018.

Coming Attractions:

The Empire Film Music Ensemble will be playing "Songs of the Valiant: A Veterans Day Concert," presenting selections from some of the greatest military films of all time, including "Dunkirk," "Platoon," and "Saving Private Ryan." The concert will be held Friday, November 10, 7 p.m. at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church (121 North Fitzhugh Street). Proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, providing support to veterans and service members injured on or after 9/11. Admission is free, though donations are encouraged.

The touching doc "Dina" examines issues of autism and intimacy as it follows the life of a woman in the weeks before her wedding to man who's also on the autism spectrum. The screening is sponsored by Move to Include, a program designed to spotlight people with intellectual and physical disabilities. "Dina" screens on Tuesday, November 14 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, November 18 at 3 p.m. at the Little Theatre (240 East Avenue). Admission is free.

African-American artist, filmmaker, and DJ Ephraim Asili gets a showcase in "Forged Ways: Films by Ephraim Asili," which will present the artist's work exploring social iconography, identity, geography, and architecture through the lens of media culture. The show will be held at the Visual Studies Workshop (31 Prince Street) on November 18, 8 to 10 p.m. vsw.org.

The Italian Film Series will screen "The Medicine Seller," a timely drama about a pharmaceutical salesman involved in the corruption of the Italian medical assistance and welfare state system, on Tuesday November 28, at the Little Theatre. 7 p.m. Tickets $10-$12. ameritalroc.com.

Have information about an upcoming film event or screening? Send details to adam.lubitow@gmail.com.

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