5 things I look forward to at the 35th Pordenone Silent Film Festival

pordenonesilent2016The Pordenone Silent Film Festival, or the Giornate, is a one-of-a-kind film festival usually held in early October in Pordenone, Italy ever year devoted to showing the great classics, the newly rediscovered and every kind of silent film in between. The festival draws all sorts, from researchers, archivists and film experts to curious locals, film buffs and students.  Basically, this is a must go for anyone and everyone who wants to explore the breadth of early film history in spectacular purist fashion.

This year’s programme  features a particularly wide range of films and programmes. Here are five things abouth the 35th Pordenone that I can’t wait to experience, especially since this is my first time at the festival!

Live Musical Accompaniment
The films may be silent, but that doesn’t mean everything else will be! Giornate has a strong, running record of fantastic music, and this year will be no different.  All screenings will boast live musical accompaniment, and will have at least one performer. These are often pianists, but this year there will be a harpist(!) joining the ranks of musicians. There are also always a few special screenings featuring an orchestra, adding even more pomp to the event. This includes this year’s opening night screening of Fred Niblo’s Mysterious Lady (1928) (starring Swedish actress Greta Garbo), and two of Buster Keaton’s short slapstick films, Neighbors (1920) and The Balloonatic (1923) of which new scores are presented by young musicians.

The Mysterious Lady (Fred Niblo, 1928)

Arguably the piece de resistance of this year’s festival would be the dual showings of The Thief of Baghdad (Raoul Walsh, 1924), featuring the original score that was newly rediscovered, and will be conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald. Needless to say, it’ll be quite the experience for music enthusiasts as well.

Pordenone Silent Film Festival also includes a series of Masterclasses, which have gained a global reputation for its unique approach. It’s an avenue for young film musicians to show off, while doubling up as a learning opportunity to hone their skills. Best of all- it is open to participants of the festival!!  The Masterclasses seek to broaden the horizons of its participants, by exposing them to new means of film interpretation and perception. Wow. I don’t what to expect from this, but it is widely touted in the Pordenone and film circles as one of the highlights.

The varied and unusual line up
I’d go on a limb and say that there are very few places in the world where you could see an extensive program on (mostly) non-fiction Polish silent films, partly because of their unavailability (90% of pre-WWII Polish films were destroyed). While other festivals might feature avant garde shorts or indie films featuring A-listers, Pordenone’s eclectic and daring mix of films within the program is rigorous in its exploration of historic silent films. I’m particularly looking forward to the Early Westerns program, a program showing oddball and avant-garde City Symphonies from around the world as well as a program on the US Presidential Elections of the 1890s. So watch this space, I’ll be back with an update on those and others!

Aimless Walk (Alexander Hackenschmied, 1930)

Rare films
I am adventurous (or snobbish) in the sense that I love testing new waters when it comes to film – meaning seeing films that are rarely mentioned, forgotten or difficult to access. This in part is due to my attempts to try and find new, tiny gems to recommend, and in part due to the excitement and exclusivity involved when discovering such films.

I am also a bit of a stickler for lists (read: maniac), and few things give me more joy than ticking off more boxes off the many lists that I’ve already compiled. Pordenone checks all these boxes. (see what I did there) I would say that at least half of the films shown in the Giornate are very hard for an average individual to gain access to. For instance, this year’s festival will feature a  screening of Africa Before Dark (Walt Disney, 1928), a Disney film thought to be lost until fragments were rediscovered in 2009, and later a complete version was found in the Vienna film archives.

Africa Before Dark (Walt Disney, 1928)

If I’m not mistaken, the screening in Pordenone will be the second time it’s being screened (the first was in L.A in 2015) and the first in Europe. Pordenone Silent has many such films on offer with equally fascinating backstories to pick at while waiting for the show to start. Like the long-believed lost Italian film L’onore riconquistato (1913) found at the Danish Film Institute cataloged as  “unidentified” – which features rare footage from the Italo-Turkish War.

The Collegium
I am lucky enough (despite very nearly missing the deadline) to be a part of the Collegium for this year’s festival. This not only means free accommodation, but the fantastic opportunity for me and 11 other youths who are also pursuing an education in cinema to meet, discuss and learn from one another, and a range of experts in different film history and archive-related fields. This experience will include dialogues that will be held every day of the festival. These dialogues will involve an extensive discussion of the films shown (and the research surrounding them). At the end of the festival, each member is required to write a paper that deals with their experience in Pordenone in some respect – aka, yet another great opportunity to squeeze more knowledge out of experts and mentors!

And who knows – maybe I will gain new silent movie buds to geek out with over films!
T-Minus 2 Days to the festival, and I cannot wait.


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