Silent Film Festival

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The Cinetopia International Film Festival this weekend is one of many examples of area movie enthusiasts combining their interests and ambitions to create major film events.

What started in 2012 as an Ann Arbor event that was centered at the Michigan Theater has now spread across the area, with the Detroit Film Theatre and other venues making significant contributions.

Other large film events in this area including the long-running Ann Arbor Film Festival, and the Freep Film Festival, which debuted this year. Multi-movie events at the Michigan and the DFT also have focused on ethnicities and nationalities, including the Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival and the Italian Film Festival USA.

The conditions are also perfect for another film festival that would take advantage of the many resources and talents in this area for silent film presentations.

A silent movie festival would not only feature the many styles of silent film that existed before sound arrived in the late 1920s. It would also include a variety of musicians, instrumental accompaniments, and theater settings.

A strong foundation has been laid for a silent film festival. Both the Michigan Theater and Redford Theatre have Barton theater organs that have been used for silent films. The Detroit Film Theatre has regular visits from nationally known film accompanists, including pianist David Drazin from Chicago and the Alloy Orchestra from Boston.

And the Senate Theater on Michigan Avenue in Detroit has started showing silent movies, using the Wurlitzer theater organ that was formerly in the Fisher Theater.

In just the past year, these theaters have presented silent movies that were not only entertaining, but also historically significant.

In the summer of 2013, the Michigan screened the 1929 Greta Garbo drama The Kiss, which was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s final silent film. A few months later, the Redford presented the 1924 Lon Chaney thriller He Who Gets Slapped, which was M-G-M’s first full production (and of course its first silent film).

This past winter and spring, both the DFT and the Michigan screened several recently restored Alfred Hitchcock silent movies that showed how the Master of Suspense got his start.

And this weekend, the Redford presented Buster Keaton’s final silent film, Spite Marriage (1929). This afternoon, the final day of Cinetopia at the DFT features the 1918 German/Polish drama The Yellow Ticket, with Pola Negri.

This fall, the strong possibility of an informal silent film festival exists.

Both the Michigan and Redford often show silent horror or suspense films for Halloween. At the DFT, David Drazin will return to accompany five of the nine restored Alfred Hitchcock silent movies, after playing for four of those films this past DFT season. And the Senate will be showing The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney on October 25.

The organizational connections are in place for a silent film festival. The DFT and the Michigan have worked together the past two years on Cinetopia. And many of the same organists have played at the Michigan, Redford, and Senate.

So let’s all hope that some day a silent movie festival will add to this area’s growing appeal for alternative film enthusiasts.

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Copyright © 2014 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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