As Americans celebrated the end of summer with picnics and barbecues over the Labor Day weekend, a different scene unfolded in a theater in Kyiv, Ukraine. Nearly 200 viewers gathered to watch a restored version of the 1942 classic Italian film “We the Living.” Directed by Goffredo Alessandrini and featuring Italian film legends Alida Valli, Rossano Brazzi, and Fosco Giachetti, the drama depicts how people’s lives are suppressed under totalitarianism. Originally released during World War II, it became Italy’s highest-grossing film that year.
Inside Kyiv’s historic Zhovten Theater, which was ironically built by the Soviets in the 1930s, American restoration producer Duncan Scott introduced the film to a crowd comprised mostly of young people. Scott, along with his associate producer and wife Barbara Scott, spent over two years meticulously restoring the 80-year-old classic Italian film frame by frame.
The result of their efforts is the “We the Living—the 80th Anniversary Restoration,” completed in time to commemorate the film’s 1942 premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Based on Russian American author Ayn Rand’s debut novel, the drama chronicles life in post-revolutionary Russia and serves as Rand’s first denouncement of communism. It is widely regarded as being semi-autobiographical.
Scott believes the film is particularly relevant to the Ukraine conflict as it portrays what life would be like under Russian domination. With soldiers fighting at the front lines who have never experienced living under communism, the movie serves as a powerful reminder of what they are fighting for.
The screening was co-hosted by two Ukrainian organizations, the Bendukidze Free Market Center and the Ayn Rand Center Ukraine, with funds going towards their compatriots fighting against Russian forces. Scott described the event as the largest screening thus far, with an extensive question-and-answer session. The film has been previously exhibited in Bologna, Italy, New York City, and Belgrade, Serbia.
Scott’s journey to restore the film began 54 years ago and involved numerous ironies. Due to the movie’s anti-authoritarian message, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini banned it and ordered the confiscation of all film materials. However, the negatives were secretly hidden in the basement of a home until after the war when they were rediscovered. After the negatives were found, Rand’s associates Erika and Henry Holzer, who were working on legal matters for the writer, undertook the mission of retrieving them. Once they obtained the real “We the Living,” they sought Rand’s permission to acquire the film rights.
The movie was made without Rand’s authorization, despite its deeply personal significance to her. Scott, who initially offered his editing services to the Holzers, became involved in the restoration process. Propaganda inserted by the fascist regime was removed, and the film was shortened from four to three hours, focusing on the three main characters. Scott used digital software and technology to repair flaws and restore the film to its current state.
Scott is now working on distributing the film in multiple languages, including a version with Ukrainian subtitles. He hopes to garner support for foreign-language releases and believes the film’s relevance extends beyond Ukraine, resonating with liberty-oriented groups worldwide. Protecting and overseeing the film for many years has been an honor for Scott, who considers it a new release reaching audiences internationally. He acknowledges the continuing relevance of the movie, as it depicts the impact of Russian oppression in the 1920s, a century later.