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Press Release: September 4, 2009

The Gaucho featuring Lupe Velez

Anita Monga named Artistic Director
of Silent Film Festival

SAN FRANCISCO, September 4, 2009

The country’s largest and most prestigious festival celebrating silent cinema, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival was an unalloyed success this July in its 14th Annual edition. Despite economic storm clouds on the horizon, the festival drew capacity crowds to the Castro Theatre over the three-day event July 10–12, who were dazzled by the breadth and depth of the film selections and the musical accompaniment.

“We are thrilled with the response to this year’s festival,” said Executive Director Stacey Wisnia. “It’s a measure of how much people loved the films and the music that a majority of the audience stayed for every performance!

We are also pleased to announce that this year’s Acting Artistic Director, Anita Monga, has accepted the post of Artistic Director,” Wisnia added.

Monga, the internationally renowned former programmer of the Castro Theatre and current Director of Programming of SIFF Cinema in Seattle and Co-founder of the Noir City Festival, received the SF Film Society’s Mel Novikoff Award in 2005 and the Marlon Riggs Award in 2004.

Former Artistic Director and Festival Co-founder Stephen Salmons expressed delight at Monga’s appointment. “There’s no one I trust more with this cultural treasure. Melissa Chittick and I are pleased that Anita will carry on our vision.”

Devoted to superb presentation of films from the silent era, the festival combs the world’s archives for the best possible prints and pairs each title with exceptional musicians who illuminate the films with nuanced scores. This year’s offerings included such rarities as Gustav Machaty’s Erotikon from the National Film Archive of the Czech Republic, Sun Yu’s Wild Rose from the China Film Archive, and Jean Epstein’s The Fall of the House of Usher from the Cinémathèque Française—all in gorgeous 35mm prints.

The Opening Night film—the dazzling new print of the romantic swashbuckler The Gaucho starring Douglas Fairbanks as the notorious bandit—was accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra whose original score—written expressly for the Silent Film Festival—brought the house down! Film historians and authors Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta introduced Opening Night with exquisitely restored two-strip Technicolor outtakes from The Gaucho that document Mary Pickford’s incarnation of the Virgin Mary. The Gaucho introduced the revelation of the festival—Lupe Vélez—to San Francisco audiences, who were treated to her star turn in the Closing Night film as well—D.W. Griffith’s incandescent Lady of the Pavements.

The festival hosted the West Coast Premiere of a major rediscovery—King Vidor’s “lost” Bardelys the Magnificent, introduced by film preservationist David Shepard who oversaw Bardelys’ restoration. Academy-nominated filmmaker Terry Zwigoff introduced a rare screening of Gregory La Cava’s So’s Your Old Man starring W.C. Fields. The restored 35mm print came from the Library of Congress, where the film was recently inducted into the National Film Registry.

Piano virtuoso Stephen Horne came from England to accompany Josef von Sternberg’s proto-noir Underworld, introduced by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller. Horne also enhanced the surrealist masterpiece House of Usher with his brilliantly expressionist score.

Audiences were treated to Donald Sosin’s lively piano score for the animated program featuring Disney’s first character—Oswald, The Lucky Rabbit—aided by Joanna Seaton and Nick Sosin’s playful vocal effects, as well as informative and entertaining introductions by Leonard Maltin and Leslie Iwerks (granddaughter of Disney animator Ub Iwerks). Sosin also accompanied the Closing Night program— Griffith’s Lady of the Pavements—and vocalist Joanna Seaton recreated the musical numbers that qualified the film as a part-talkie in 1929.

But no silent film festival would be complete without the organ, and Master of the Mighty Wurlitzer Dennis James supplied rousing accompaniments to Victor Sjöström’s magnificent The Wind and the Soviet Sci-Fi classic Aelita, Queen of Mars. James premiered his score for The Wind, which included two 1920s-era wind machines that palpably recreated the feel of the desolate Texas landscape that drives heroine Lillian Gish mad. For Aelita, James played the organ and the Theremin, aided by Mark Goldstein on Buchla Lightning Wands. Both films were met with prolonged standing ovations.

The 2009 Silent Film Festival Award went to the China Film Archive for their part in saving China’s cinematic treasures. The prize was presented onstage to Chinese legend Qin Yi, widow of Wild Rose star Jin Yan, who accepted on behalf of the archive, and mesmerized the audience in an interview with author Richard Meyer.

Among other luminaries attending the festival were members of the families of Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert who were visibly moved by the audience response to their grandfathers on the big screen.

One audience member wrote about the experience of the festival:

“I basically attended the event from beginning to end, and I have to say I found it to be so well-programmed and so well-planned that the cumulative experience of the films you presented was almost overwhelming. It was an extraordinary artistic experience, made all the more so by the fact that you were really running three festivals. It was a silent film festival, yes, but it was also a music festival and, to my delight as a former film critic, a festival of scholarship and writing as well.” —Joe Mader

About the organization:

The Silent Film Festival is a nonprofit organization promoting the artistic, cultural, and historic value of silent film.Silent filmmakers produced masterpieces and crowd-thrilling entertainments. Remarkable for their artistry and their inestimable value as historical documents, silent films show us how our ancestors thought, spoke, dressed and lived. It is through these films that the world first came to love movies, and learned how to appreciate them as art. They have influenced every generation of filmmakers, and continue to inspire audiences nearly a century after they were made.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Winter event will take place at the Castro Theatre December 12.

For information, please visit our website in early November.

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Lady of the Pavements (1929)

Lady of the Pavements (1929)