I bought my San Francisco Silent Film Festival pass today. Last year I missed the festival. I chose to do something else, like get married and take a honeymoon, that month instead. I’m returning to a newly expanded festival.
Traditionally the festival’s opening night was on a Friday, while Saturday and Sunday offered full days’ worth of screenings. This year the festival opens on Thursday night, and and Friday eases us into the weekend with screenings starting in the afternoon. Saturday and Sunday still sport all-day screenings.
That means this is the year I pack a cushion! My pass entitles me entry to all sixteen films. Previously attending opening night required purchasing a ticket for just that night.
While some of the films are available on DVD, there’s nothing like seeing them on a large screen accompanied by live musicians with an appreciative crowd. In some ways, this film festival is a music festival as well. Orchestras, ensembles, and solo artists have prepared their own scores to accompany the films. The popular Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra returns as do Stephen Horne, Dennis James, and Alloy Orchestra. I do not remember hearing the Matti Bye Ensemble, Donald Sosin, or Chloe Veltman before.
Crowd watching is fun. Some attendees turn the theatre aisles into a catwalk, and they dress in real or repro vintage. Those willing to put in the most effort will be done up from head-to-toe in period appropriate garb and styling. Usually there are a lot of flappers in attendance, but every so often someone appears to be from the teens. The silent film fashionistas sit on the main floor in order to garner the most looks and compliments.
Most of this year’s films look to be from the twenties, a reminder that many earlier films have been lost. For those interested in preservation, two FREE matinées from the series Amazing Tales of the Archives act like mini-courses. On Friday, June 16 at 11:30 AM, preservationists discuss lost and found films. On Sunday, July 18 at 10 AM, another set offer First the Bad News. . .then the Good!
The featured films are international in origin. The US is represented by The Iron Horse, The Cook, Pass the Gravy, Big Business, The Flying Ace, The Strong Man, The Shakedown, and The Woman Disputed. A Spray of Plum Blossoms, a Shakespeare adaptation, showcases Chinese silent cinema. Italy has Rotaie, a romantic tragedy. Germany scores two representations with the newly restored and extended Metropolis and the Louise Brooks cult favorite Diary of a Lost Girl. Denmark and Sweden have a co-entry with Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. The USSR experimental Man with a Movie Camera will be sure to confound. And France closes the festival with L’heureuse mort.
For those needing to know more about film, a book table will proffer all sorts of goodies, and there will be many author event signings. This latter schedule seems to be updating constantly, so I recommend checking the official festival blog for exact details. That blog is also great for all sorts of musings and facts concerning the festival and silent film in general. In fact, the festival brochure decorating this page was appreciatively re-appropriated from that other blog.