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The 15th Annual San Francisco Silent Festival, July 15-18, 2010

By Janine Gericke.

The 15th Annual San Francisco Silent Festival did not disappoint, offering everything from the genius of George Méliès to the majesty of a newly restored Metropolis. This year’s theme seemed to echo that of previous years: What’s lost has now been found.

Friday’s Amazing Tales from the Archives: Lost Films from the Silent Era included a presentation by Joe Linder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a show-stopping talk by Paula Felix-Didier and Fernando Peña of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires. Felix-Didier and Peña are responsible for reuniting Metropolis with its long lost footage and were at the festival to discuss their discovery.

Sunday’s Amazing Tales from the Archives: First the Bad News…Then the Good featured presentations by Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress and Annette Melville from the National Film Preservation Foundation. As the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is dedicated to the preservation, restoration and dissemination of historic cinema, it seemed like I could hear every heart in the room breaking when Mashon made his presentation on the few silent films that remain from Paramount Pictures. Only 37 of the 1,233 silent films that Paramount produced between 1914 and 1930 remain today. Luckily, there are people all over the world who hunt for and salvage these films. Although there was much mourning for the films that have been lost, the festival works hard to celebrate the few that have been found. And what a year for found footage!

Melville discussed the National Film Preservation Foundation’s exciting partnership with the New Zealand Film Archive to help save lost American silent films located outside of the United States. She discussed how John Ford’s 1927 film Upstream and the 1923 Clara Bow film Maytime were saved as part of this effort. Melville also showed the crowd the short films The Better Man (1912) and the animated Mutt and Jeff Go on Strike (1920), which were also found and preserved through this partnership.

Festival-favorite Leonard Maltin introduced the 1929 Universal feature, The Shakedown. Director William Wyler’s daughters were also in attendance and said a few words about their father before the film. Up director Pete Doctor hosted the Director’s Pick program: The Big Business of Short, Funny Films, featuring Fatty Arbuckle’s The Cook and the Laurel and Hardy short Big Business. I was also excited to see screenings of G.W. Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl, starring Louise Brooks, and Norma Talmadge in The Woman Disputed, which was introduced by film historian Kevin Brownlow.

Music was front and center at this year’s festival. I was absolutely floored by the Alloy Orchestra, who accompanied Metropolis and performed their original music for Man with a Movie Camera. Other films were also well matched by pianists Stephen Horne and Donald Sosin, organist Dennis James, the Matti Bye Ensemble and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. It is one thing to be able to see these beautifully restored films on the big screen, but they wouldn’t truly come alive without the support of these dedicated live performers. The festival even devoted a special program to the music of silent film, Variations on a Theme: Musicians on the Craft of Composing and Performing for Silent Film.

Many grateful thanks to the staff and organizers of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Castro Theater. I’m always amazed by the sight of the Castro and at the love and support the organizers put into this festival.

For more information on the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, please visit their site.

Janine Gericke is a Graduate student at San Jose State University and works for the Gleeson Library at the University of San Francisco.

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