British Silents

We’ve already made note of the British Silent Film Festival, being held at the Leicester Phoenix 15-18 April 2010, with the theme The World Before You: Exploration, Science and Nature in British Silent Film. However, there is reason to do so again on account of a detailed programme now having been made available, and the welcome appearance of a festival website. For some while now the festival has lacked a proper online presence – a WordPress blog helpd keep the flame alive, but now we have a proper, which includes not only details of the upcoming, 13th festival, but all previous festivals going back to 1998. Congratulations to the team on getting this up and running.

These are the programme details (with a modest contribution from yours truly, if that’s any sort of an incentive):

The World Before You: Exploration, Science and Nature in British Silent Film

Thu 15 April 11am
Q Ships
Long before Dunkirk, the little ships of Britain played a deadly game of cat and mouse with the German U-Boats. Underneath their modest exteriors these merchant ships were bristling with concealed weaponry, designed to lure the submarines to their doom.
UK/1928 Geoffrey Barkas/Michael Barringer

Thu 15 April 2pm
Beeman, Birdman, Hunter, Spy: the heroic age of the wildlife filmmaker
A particular breed of explorer from the earliest days of films was the wildlife cameraman. These intrepid pioneers risked life and limb, inventing their own equipment, travelling to the remotest parts of the planet to bring us unprecedented access to the natural world and inevitably having a few adventures along the way. This selection will show the work of J. C. Bee-Mason, Oliver Pike, Jim Corbett, and the legendary Colonel F.M. Bailey.
Presented by Bryony Dixon

Thu 15 April 4pm
The Masks of Mer
World Premiere of his new film presented by Michael Eaton
Writer, director Michael Eaton presents the world premiere of his new film about a unique film shot in the Torres Straits by Alfred Haddon in 1898, lasting for less than a minute, and the world’s first example of anthropological cinema. The Masks of Mer tells the extraordinary story of this experiment and traces the masks worn in the sacred initiation ceremony Haddon filmed. And, for the first time since Haddon himself publicly presented the work, his films are ‘synchronised’ with the team’s phonographic recordings.
Dir Michael Eaton, UK 2010, 60mins

Thu 15 April 6pm
The Bridal Party in Hardanger/Brudeferden i Hardanger
Presented by Jan-Anders Diesen and Halldor Krogh
A spectacular film based on one of the most famous paintings in Norway; Bridal Voyage on the Hardanger Fjord from 1848. Set amid stunning mountain and fjord scenery, this is the epic story of intertwining lives, love and loss during the lifetime of a young woman. A visual masterpiece that is both moving emotional drama and an authentic portrait of the vanishing cultures of the people who lived and farmed in the mountains of Western Norway.
This film will be screened with the new music score composed by Halldor Krogh
Dir: Rasmus Breinstein, Norway 1926, 74mins

Thu 15 April 9pm
The Sheik
Based on the steamy 1921 bodice ripper by Edith Maude Hull, this tale of passion between an aristocratic English woman and an Arab Sheik is the film that brought Valentino to prominence. He exudes a brooding, muscular sexuality which has lost none of its potency today and watching this film 90 years later, it is easy to see why his premature death drove women to despair and suicide.
Dir: George Melford, USA 1921. 80 mins
Crossing the Great Sagrada
Dir Adrian Brunel, UK

Fri 16 April 9am
Rider Haggard on Film
A sumptuous adaptation of Rider Haggard’s best-selling 1887 fantasy about a Cambridge professor’s quest for a lost kingdom in the heart of Africa where he encounters a magnificent sorceress who rules over her people as ‘She who must be obeyed’. This version was actively supervised by Haggard himself and stars Betty Blythe in the role later reprised by Ursula Andress.
Dir: Leander de Cordova, UK 1925, 2hrs
Fri 16 April 11.15am

With Lawrence in Arabia
Presented by Neil Brand and Luke McKernan
Neil Brand and Luke McKernan’s work in progress (in collaboration with the IWM) to recreate, using original text, slides and film extracts, Lowell Thomas’s famous lecture-cum-spectacle which is credited with creating and publicising the legend of Lawrence of Arabia. Thomas himself, a fascinating and flawed character but a master showman, delivers the narration.

Fri 16 April 12.15pm
Exploration, Adventure and Science Films from the Imperial War Museum Collection
presented by Toby Haggith

Fri 16 April 2.15pm
Sam’s Boy
Sam’s Boy is adapted by Lydia Hayward from one of the stories of W. W. Jacobs whose pet subject was the marine life or as Punch sardonically put it “men who go down to the sea in ships of moderate tonnage”. Filmed in the Thames estuary and on the Kentish coast this is a charming tale of an urchin in need of a father.
Dir: Manning Haynes, UK 1922 63mins
Premieres of recovered short films from the Scottish Film Archive presented by Janet McBain, including:
To Rona on a Whaler UK 1914, 12mins
In the Calm Waters of the Yare UK 1910, 6mins

Fri 16 April 4.15pm
The Race to the Pole: Britain and Norway
A programme of short films documenting early Polar exploration
The extraordinary story of the race to the South Pole by Amundsen and Scott is put into context by polar film expert Jan-Anders Diesen from Norway. The programme concludes with an extract of the BFI National Archive’s forthcoming restoration of The Great White Silence, Herbert Ponting’s record of Scott’s final expedition to Antarctica introduced by Bryony Dixon.

Fri 16 April 6.15pm
The Lost World
The first film adaptation of Conan Doyle’s classic novel of the land that time forgot and the prototype of every dinosaur movie since including Jurassic Park. Wallace Beery and Bessie Love star as Professor Challenger and Paula White who set out from London to rescue Paula’s father, the explorer Maple White lost on the Amazonian plateau where dinosaurs still roam. Conan Doyle took his family to see the film in 1925 and loved this version. Perfect family entertainment, then!
Dir: Harry O Hoyt, USA 1925, 100mins

Fri 16 April 9pm
South: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic
With a special musical score by Neil Brand
The definitive account of Shackleton’s legendary 1914-1916 Endurance Expedition, magnificently filmed by photographer Frank Hurley. A monumental document of human survival against all odds amidst the backdrop of some of the most stunning and inhospitable scenery on earth.
Prod. Imperial Trans-Antarctic Film Syndicate/ photography Frank Hurley, UK, 1919, 80mins

Sat 17 April 9am
Like the TV programme, we will trace the British coastline through its stories but we’ll be doing it using archive film from the silent days. With tales of great tempests, rough seas, daring rescues and tragic wrecks, of thronging docks, fishing ports and shipyards as well as scenes of a calmer nature, along the cliffs and beaches of our island home.
Introduced by Bryony Dixon

Sat 17 April 11am
Women in Silent Britain
Exploration into the hidden histories of women in silent British cinema is gathering momentum and this session will look at some of the fascinating and intrepid women working in film during this period, as writers, producers, technicians and critics as well as actresses.
Presented as part of the AHRC Women’s Film History Network – UK/Ireland that was recently set up to encourage new research into women’s contribution to cinema.

Sat 17 April 2pm
Family Matinee (PG)
Up the Pole
Get your coat on and join us on for a cornucopia of polar-themed cartoons and comedies featuring screen legends Ben Turpin, Buster Keaton, Jerry the Troublesome Tyke, Pimple and Bonzo the Peppy Pup, all struggling with inclement weather and harsh times. With live piano accompaniment (and much more) from Neil Brand.
This programme is dedicated to Dave Berry who brought Jerry the Troublesome Tyke back to our screens and devoted his life and work to the silent cinema that he loved.
Running time 80mins

Sat 17 April 2.15pm
A Maid of the Silver Sea
Husband and wife team Ivy Duke and director/ actor Guy Newall play opposite each other in this tale of familial conflict and mysterious death on a small island in the English Channel. The peaceable local fishing community is torn apart by the discovery of silver which threatens their way of life and matters get worse with the arrival of the English manager who falls in love with a local woman and is framed for murder.
Dir: Guy Newall, UK 1922, 63mins
Sat 17 April 4pm

The Annual Rachael Low Lecture
Presented by Tim Boon
This year’s Rachael Low lecture will be given by Tim Boon, Chief Curator of the Science Museum.
Tim Boon is the author of the recently published and highly acclaimed Films of Fact: A History of Science in Documentary Films and Television. He is also working with the BFI on a forthcoming DVD of the pioneering science and nature series Secrets of Nature. Rachael Low is a key figure in the history of the study of early and silent British cinema. Her pioneering studies published as The History of the British Film 1895-1929 (BFI) are an unrivalled source for students on the subject and the remain the unchallenged standard work in this field. Each year, the Festival pays tribute to her work by inviting a distinguished cultural commentator to give an illustrated lecture on a particular aspect of silent cinema.

Sat 17 April 6pm
The St Kilda Tapes
Live music, archive film and multi-media presented by David Allison
Using the evacuation of St Kilda in 1930 as a starting point, and with St Kilda evacuee Norman Gillies acting as narrator, this acclaimed show takes you on an emotional journey from the lonely Atlantic island to Glasgow, New York and Canada, before a triumphant and poignant return to St Kilda. With archive film and live music performed on guitar, 100 year old zither, ukulele and sampler, The St Kilda Tapes explores the themes of migration and home featuring archive films, St Kilda; Britain’s Loneliest Isle and A New Way to A New World.

Sat 17 April 9pm
Tol’able David (PG)
Accompanied with a new Blue Grass music score by Damian Coldwell, together with Nick Pynn on fiddle and Appalachian dulcimer and Lee Westwood on guitar
A thrilling David and Goliath story set in the beautiful Virginian Mountains. When the murderous Hatburn gang murders young David Kinemon’s older brother, the gentle David swears to protect his widowed mother and brothers and sisters. With a towering central performance by Richard Barthelmess as the young hero, and the unforgettable Ernest Torrence as the leader of the criminal gang. “Tol’able David is one of the enduring classics of the American screen.” Kevin Brownlow
Dir. Henry King, US 1921 100 min.
Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art, New York with funds provided by The Film Foundation.

Sun 18 April 9am
New Discoveries in British Silent Film
This programme will include new discoveries in British silent film, including regular contributor David Williams & Tony Fletcher with his programme called ‘Before and after Nanook’, examining how early filmmakers looked at cultures and societies before 1922.

Sun 18 April 11am
For Those in Peril on the Sea: Drifters and The Trawler Film
For centuries the deep sea fishermen were a mainstay of our island nation and this is revealed by the fascination with the trade by filmmakers since the earliest days. At the very end of the silent era John Grierson took the tradition of the trawler film and combined it with all the techniques of filmmaking that had developed over the decades to make his remarkable, lyrical film, Drifters, which heralded in a new era for the actuality film, the age of the documentary. This programme will show the whole of Grierson’s film and extracts from its antecedents.
Presented by Steve Foxon and Bryony Dixon.
Dir John Grierson, UK 1929, 80mins total

Sun 18 April 2pm
The Dodge Brothers performing to The Beggars of Life
The Festival is pleased to welcome the fabulous Dodge Brothers featuring Mike Hammond (guitar/ banjo), Mark Kermode (double bass/accordion), Aly Hirji (guitar/mandolin) and Alex Hammond (percussion) with guest Dodge Brother Neil Brand, performing their particular brand of Americana to William Wellman’s legendary tale of Depression-era, rail-riding hobos played by the iconic Louise Brooks and Jim Arlen.
Dir. William Wellman, USA 1928, 100mins

Sun 18 April 4pm
Climb Every Mountain
Jan Faull of the BFI presents a programme of mountaineering films including extracts from the ill-fated 1924 British Everest expedition immortalised on film in The Epic of Everest.

Sun 18 April 6pm
The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks
With a musical medley, specially reconstructed by Stephen Horne and Toby Haggith
The sister film to The Battle of the Somme, The Battle of the Ancre was filmed between September and November 1916 and contains the first shots of tanks in use at the Front and fraternization between German prisoners and their British captors. The work to reconstruct the original medley for this important First World War film has taken many months with the music suggested in the cue sheet being discovered as far away as Australia. After previewing this project at the 2009 Festival, we are pleased to present the completed score performed by Stephen Horne, Sophie Langdon and Martin Pyne and presented by Toby Haggith.
Dir: Geoffrey H Malins/J.B McDowell, UK 1917, 73mins

There are festival passes available, either a 4-day pass at £95 (£70 concessions) or a 1-day pass at £45 (£30 concession). Festival passes include lunch each day and tea and coffee during breaks. Tickets are also available for individual films and presentations, for which prices vary. For further information, visit the festival site or call Phoenix Square Box Office on 0116 242 2800.

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