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Q & A with San Francisco Silent Film Festival artistic director Anita Monga

  During the summer season many film festivals fill the film circuit displaying everything from big studio blockbusters to offbeat foreign fare. Few festivals echo back to a time when silence was golden. This festival presents an opportunity for film fans to discover or rediscover silent classics and lesser known gems in a historic venue.

To highlight the upcoming 22nd annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival (June 1 - 4, 2017) I asked the festival's artistic director Anita Monga to make some noise about this year's festival.


1. What makes this film festival different from other ones?

SFSFF presents LIVE CINEMA EVENTS - silent-era films from around the world, all with live musical accompaniment. In a remarkably short time after the birth of movies, filmmakers developed all the techniques that would make cinema its own art form - except for the technique that would marry sound to the film print. The standardized frame rate of 24 frames-per-second came in with sound and prior to that projected films could run as slowly 16 frames-per-second. To present a silent film well requires a projector that can run at variable speed and a theater that has the capacity to present in the full-frame aperture. We pay attention to detail, presenting in the best possible film prints (many in restorations) that are shown in the right aspect ratio with the proper frames-per-second rate. But an equally important aspect of our presentation is the live music. We select extraordinary musicians from around the world, who represent a variety of styles from the avant-garde to the historically authentic. The overarching criterion is that the music breathes life into the image.

2. What films in this festival are you especially proud of showing and why?

I'm particularly excited about a Polish film we're showing, A Strong Man, and the Ukrainian title Two Days. Extraordinary films, both, and virtually unknown here. And of course, we are proud to be presenting several SFSFF restorations - Silence (restored with Cinémathèque Française), The Three Musketeers (restored with MoMA), and a fragment of a lost Louise Brooks film, Now We're in the Air (restored with the National Film Archive of the Czech Republic).

3. When choosing a film to view what should an unfamiliar film buff look for?

We try to set the stage in our film notes so that people will know ahead of time what kind of film they'll be seeing (crime, comedy, documentary, etc.). And we put out a book (free to everyone at the festival) that has a lot of information about the films, the stars, the directors, etc.

4. How concerned are you that silent film fans will go the way of the dinosaurs?

Not concerned! Our festival grows every year and more and more film festivals present silent films with musical accompaniment. And excellent streaming services like Fandor and Mubi are presenting titles in proper style (with the right frame rate and good music). The problem for the appreciation of silent films has always been accessibility. When audiences see these titles in beautiful prints with beautiful music, they respond. Many people suspect that silent era films are going to be old-timey with no relevance to our time. Not so! Exposure breeds appreciation!

5. I see that DJ Spooky will perform during the festival. What other things might attract millennials to the festival?

Lots of millennials attend the festival! People who are interested in film know that this is a chance to see interesting, otherwise inaccessible, films. Some are following recommendations from current filmmakers whose work they admire (Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Jon Favreau, Pete Docter, Guy Maddin, Damien Chazelle, and Michel Hazanavicius, among others, have been vocal in their appreciation of silent-era movies). Some are interested in the music (many of our musicians are known in non-silent-movie spheres: Roger Brown of Alloy Orchestra performs with the post-punk band Mission of Burma, Matti Bye is known for his avant-garde work, and Laura Naukkarinen (performing as Lau Nau) is a singer-songwriter well-known for her experimental, psychedelic music). People come for the music and are entranced by the films!

For more festival information visit silentfilm.org
Author: Keith Rockmael.

 

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