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Restored Film Adaptation of We the Living to Premiere in NYC

The 80th anniversary restoration of Ayn Rand’s We the Living will introduce a new generation of viewers to the Italian film adaptation.

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Fans of Ayn Rand’s We the Living will soon be able to experience the novel’s Italian film adaptation as they’ve never seen it before. A newly remastered eightieth-anniversary edition will premiere on Monday, June 12, at New York City’s Film Forum. The restored version’s enhanced video and audio quality represent the culmination of years of work by Duncan Scott, the producer who has stewarded the project since the late 1960s.

We the Living Reaches a Global Audience

Scott’s production company is also having the film’s subtitles translated into Ukrainian in preparation for a screening in the war-torn country’s capital of Kyiv. The event’s organizer, who is involved in Ukraine’s freedom movement, believes that it is important for young audiences to experience what life was like under the Soviet regime. The film has also been screened with English subtitles in another former Soviet state, Georgia. According to the organizer of that event, “The audience loved the movie. Some of them cried a lot, and at the end, we had many people clapping. It was a very successful screening.” According to Scott, the film’s subtitles will eventually be translated into other languages as well.

We’d like to have the film seen in countries that are in danger of living under collectivistic and authoritarian regimes, especially those in the former Soviet Union. Many of the younger people in Ukraine were born after the Soviet regime, and they don’t really understand how bad it can be, and the film really illustrates that. We’re hoping to get support for producing these translated versions so that we can make them available without cost to these audiences.

History of the Film

The film’s fascinating history begins in 1942, when an unauthorized film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s first novel, We the Living, took Italy by storm. The pair of films, Noi Vivi and Addio Kira showcased an uncompromising look at life in the Soviet Union, with many obvious parallels being drawn by viewers to the dictatorial regime of Benito Mussolini. Together, the two movies were the most successful Italian films of that year, even though fascist censors cut short their run and ordered all copies of the film destroyed.

Decades later, Hank and Erika Holzer, associates of Ayn Rand’s, recovered the original film negatives, and a private screening was arranged. Working with Duncan Scott, who served as editor, Rand drafted several pages of instructions whereby the two films would be combined into a single 2-hour, 50-minute film by removing “some minor subplots and irrelevant dialogue.”

Though Rand did not live to see the finished product, an edited version based on her notes was brought into reality in 1986 with a screening of the adapted film at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. Audiences were delighted to see a film that was previously thought lost to history, and We the Living enjoyed a brief run in American theaters, eventually being released on a variety of home video and DVD formats.

After the turn of the millennium, in an arduous process spanning almost three years, Scott had the original negatives scanned in high definition and used state-of-the-art digital software to remove dirt and scratches. In addition to improving the sound quality (removing popping and humming), Scott also filled in missing frames, made improvements to exposure and contrast, and stabilized the image (caused by the natural shrinking of film over the decades).

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Upon completion of this project in 2022, the film was brought back to its country of origin for the first time in eighty years and was honored at Il Cinema Ritrovato [Cinema Rediscovered] in Bologna, Italy, an annual summer event dedicated to the history of cinema and the world’s largest festival of film restoration. That same year, Ayn Rand fans were given the opportunity to view a preview of the film at the Objectivist Summer Conference in Washington, DC. And on June 15, the film’s European premiere will be hosted at the Nitrate Film Festival in Belgrade, Serbia. According to Scott, these events are just the beginning as the project moves into its critical distribution phase. “We the Living will enjoy a wide release that includes art-house movie theaters, DVD, and video-on-demand. In addition, it will be distributed to colleges and schools through educational distribution services. Audiences around the world will be able to discover this inspiring movie and the fundamental values it so powerfully dramatizes.”

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Brandon Lisi

Brandon Lisi, MA in history, is an assistant archivist and researcher at the Ayn Rand Institute.

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