Introducing the San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014

ParsonsWidow.1Well, folks, it’s that time of year.  In San Francisco, the film festival season is pushing on with gusto following the close of the San Francisco International Film Festival and just before the Documentary Film Festival, Green Film Festival, and Frameline. But the festival that has always shone for me as the most unique is approaching in one week – the Silent Film Festival.

If you have not been to one of the Silent Film Festivals in the past, you are in for a treat. The model of the festival, like that of a few others around the world, is to include live accompaniment with the best prints or digital restorations. Here in San Francisco, we have the privilege and pleasure of having all this in the historic Castro Theatre.

If you are wondering why this experience is unique and what you should see and don’t have the time or fortitude to stay through the whole event, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with the Silent Film Festival’s artistic director, Anita Monga, to talk to her about the festival and what she is most looking forward to.

Following is a bit from that conversation:

Tom Ellis: What are you particularly looking forward to this year?

Anita Monga: Don’t miss Serge Bromberg’s program. Serge is a preservationist and raconteur, a cinema lover. He’s bringing some rarities from his archive. Serge is a great showman, and there will be some things that nobody’s seen.

I also particularly love Donald Sosin’s Ensemble accompanying Under The Lantern, by Gerhard Lamprecht, a director that I actually knew nothing about until recently. This presentation, the music – it’s so exquisite. It’s something not to be missed, you won’t be sorry.

People should see The Girl in Tails, a Swedish film. It’s a little bit on the other side of the “Golden Era” of Swedish films. This film is so funny, it’s a community of wild women in which a girl has transgressed and wore a tuxedo to a dance, and how she returns to the community. It was directed by a woman, Karen Sannström (?!?!?!), who is in the film. Very funny.

The Kuleshov film, The Extrordinary etc etc is hilarious. If you’re at all a student of cinema, and know about Podovkin, he’s in the film. It’s pretty great.

The Epic of Everest, the British documentary about a trip attempting to get to the top of Everest. It’s the first footage ever shot in Tibet, so it’s Tibetan culture in the twenties.

T: How do you feel that the experience of watching a film differs when the music is live as opposed to recorded?

A: Just being in the auditorium with music. Anyone who ever goes to a concert feels that. There’s an element of an event that is happening. You are there, being enveloped by the music. With the film, the musicians are very sensitive to the film, and are watching the film and reacting to the audience as it’s going. It’s a very interesting experience, and really enchanting in a way. Also, I find that much of the music accompanying silent films on Youtube and stuff are archaic in a way, so that they sound old-fashioned. Our whole point about these films is that these films are “old”, but they are not “old-fashioned”. Some of them are spectacularly modern, and their points of view are universal. They are not wedded in the past which doesn’t have relevance to us. And some of the filmmaking is as beautiful as anything that has been done since. So to be in the Castro with these images on screen and the music… And the Castro has great acoustics, but we take a lot of effort with sound so that the musicians can have the comfort of the depth of dynamic sounds.

Some of the items that we are particularly excited about include Dreyer’s “The Parson’s Widow”, Kuleshov’s “Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks”, Ozu’s gangster film “Dragnet Girl”, as well as the fantastic, dynamic music of Matti Bye and Stephen Horne.

The Silent Film Festival runs from Thursday, May 29th until Sunday, June 1st at the Castro Theatre.

For the full schedule, click here: http://silentfilm.org/festival/festival-2014-schedule

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Categories: Interviews, Silent Film Festival

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