SFSFF 2016 Press Release

JUNE 2–5, 2016
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—SFSFF presents the 21st annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival June 2–5 at SF’s landmark movie palace, the Castro Theatre. The program features a diverse and lively schedule of silent-era films, all with live musical accompaniment by accomplished musicians from around the world. This year’s program is brimming with new film restorations, including five titles SFSFF has had a direct hand in restoring. Special guest presenters include Illeana Douglas and Leonard Maltin. The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival Award will be presented to film writer and historian David Robinson, who recently retired from his longtime job as director of the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy.
For complete details, visit silentfilm.org
Thursday, June 2
Opening Night Presentation
7:00 pm
Directed by William A. Wellman | USA, 1928 | 81 m.
With Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen
Louise Brooks, in her best American film, is luminous as a freight-train hopping runaway who dresses in a flat cap and trousers to escape capture by the police. She joins up with young vagabond Richard Arlen and along the way they encounter a hobo encampment and its charismatic leader, played by Wallace Beery in a performance that Brooks later called “a little masterpiece.” William A. Wellman, whose Wings (1927) had just won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Picture, directs with nuance and grace.
Live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Friday, June 3
10:00 am
SFSFF continues its behind-the-curtain look at the international preservation scene with another edition of this popular free program.
This year’s Amazing Tales presenters include French filmmaker and restoration expert Georges Mourier, who is currently overseeing a six-and-a-half-hour restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon for the Cinémathèque Française in partnership with Francis Ford Coppola and the Film Preserve, Ltd. Peter Schade (VP, content management) and Emily Wensel (Director, content mastering) of Universal Pictures will discuss the studio’s new silent film restoration initiative, which includes the Saturday night premiere of the newly restored The Last Warning. Also, Bryony Dixon, senior curator of silent film for the British Film Institute, returns to San Francisco with more tales of treasures from BFI’s National Archive.
Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Friday, June 3
Restoration by Paramount Pictures with materials from MoMA
1:00 pm
Directed by Malcolm St. Clair USA, 1925 | 70 m.
With Pola Negri, Charles Emmett Mack, Holmes Herbert
Pola Negri relishes her role as Countess Elnora Natatorini who shows up at the doorstep of her Midwestern American relatives to escape decadent European alliances. Tickled pink to host nobility, the family and its small-town neighbors are nonetheless scandalized by their sophisticated visitor who drinks and smokes and flirts outrageously—and then there’s the matter of her tattoo! Based on Carl Van Vechten’s novel The Tattooed Countess, Woman of the World provides Negri with the opportunity to send up her own star image with a saucy wit.
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
Friday, June 3
3:00 pm
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu | Japan, 1930 | 65 m.
With Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo, Mitsuko Ichimura, Togo Yamamoto
A desperate father commits a robbery to save his sick daughter in one of the few gangster pictures the Japanese director made during his country’s extended silent era. That Night’s Wife starts out as a noirish crime film and evolves into a taut family drama, unfolding over the course of one night. The director’s trademark empathy for everyday characters and adroit handling of domestic situations are on display in this moving, moody film that also stands as an homage to the American crime picture.
Live musical accompaniment by Maud Nelissen
Friday, June 3
Restoration by San Francisco Silent Film Festival in collaboration with BFI National Archive
4:30 pm
Directed by Willis Robards | USA, 1917  | 64 m.
With Dorothy Davenport, Willis Robards, Hal Reid, Marcella Russell
Made two years before the Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote, this melodrama depicts a future in which a woman holds high political office. Dorothy Davenport Reid plays an ardent suffragist who ascends from judge to governor and manages, despite the odds, to maintain her integrity. Filmed entirely in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area, the film is early evidence of Northern California’s progressive roots.
Live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Friday, June 3
Restoration by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, Wiesbaden
7:15 pm
Directed by Ewald André Dupont | Germany, 1925  | 95 m.
With Emil Jannings, Lya de Putti, Warwick Ward
A retired trapeze artist leaves his family and runs away with a nimble seductress to Berlin. They team up with another trapeze artist and become the lead attraction at the city’s famed Wintergarten. Sexual jealousy then complicates the plot, but the real attraction here is cinematographer Karl Freund’s unleashed camera, which provides dazzling complement to the heart-stopping acrobatic feats and shadowy goings-on far from the center ring. The pristine new restoration restores the film’s expressive tinting and toning.
Live musical accompaniment by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra
Friday, June 3
Restoration by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in collaboration with the Library of Congress and Gosfilmofond of Russia
9:30 pm
Directed by Irvin Willat | USA, 1919 | 70 m.
With Hobart Bosworth, Jane Novak, Wallace Beery, James Gordon
Writer Gouveneur Morris’s bizarre tale unfolds in a series of disquieting flashbacks and flash-forwards that serve to continually ratchet up suspense and foreboding. Producer Thomas Ince and director Irvin Willat showed daring and imagination in their adaptation of the sensational material. U-boat captain Lieutenant Brandt (played with leering savagery by Wallace Beery) commands a barbarous crew of submariners whose atrocities rouse a vengeful hero. A review in Motion Picture News hints at the film’s narrative force: “In its slashing boldness, its eloquent daring, its gigantic theme—above all, in its terrific punch—‘Behind the Door’ stands absolutely and unqualifiedly alone!”
Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Saturday, June 4
Restorations by Lobster Films, Paris
10:00 am
Jubilation resounded throughout the film world when film collector Jon Mirsalis announced the recovery of the long-lost reel of Laurel and Hardy’s The Battle of the Century (1927) containing the deliriously epic pie fight. Serge Bromberg and Lobster Films stepped in to restore this raucous short, which required an entire day’s output of the Los Angeles Pie Co. SFSFF presents the reconstructed film’s San Francisco premiere along with three other Lobster restorations: two inspired shorts by Buster Keaton, Cops (1922) and The Balloonatic (1923); and the giddily bizarre Pathé short, The Dancing Pig (1907). Total running time: 72 m.
Author Leonard Maltin will introduce this program.
Live musical accompaniment Jon Mirsalis
Saturday, June 4
12:00 noon
Directed by Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom | Sweden, 1929 | 106 m.
With Bengt Djurberg, Anders Henrikson, Gun Holmquist
Breathtaking Arctic vistas serve as a backdrop to stirring human drama in this late silent-era masterpiece from Sweden. Cinematographer Axel Lindblom’s experience shooting newsreels in the Arctic Ocean in the early 1920s led him to write a screenplay about rival hunting ships and rival suitors facing off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. Shelved for years, the script finally went into production under the direction of both Lindblom, in his last film, and a theater director named Alf Sjöberg, who went on to forge a new era of Swedish cinema.
Live musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble
Saturday, June 4
Restoration by the British Film Institute
2:30 pm
Directed by Anthony Asquith | UK, 1928 | 103 m.
With Annette Benson, Brian Aherne, Donald Calthrop, Chili Bouchier
A film star has fallen in love with a comedy actor. Trouble is she’s already married to her costar. This impressive debut by the director of A Cottage on Dartmoor and Underground is a behind-the-scenes look at moviemaking that mixes comedy and suspense with Hitchcockian plot twists, all in an expressionist visual style. Under Anthony Asquith’s sure hand, Shooting Stars is a sophisticated morality tale that teases the audience with revelations about the illusions of filmmaking.
Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Preceding the screening of Shooting Stars, the 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival Award will be presented to David Robinson for his commitment to the preservation of silent cinema.
Saturday, June 4
5:15 pm
Directed by Oscar Micheaux | USA, 1920 | 83 m.
With Evelyn Preer, Flo Clements, James D. Ruffin, Jack Chenault
Within Our Gates is the oldest surviving film made by an African-American director and an intrepid rebuttal not only to D.W. Griffith’s racist epic The Birth of a Nation (1915) but also a history lesson to white America shocked by the 1919 riots. It portrays the early years of Jim Crow, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, and the Great Migration in the story of a young African-American woman who goes north to try to raise money for a poor, rural school in the Deep South. Within Our Gates confronts the racial violence of the time with the same vigor as it counters hateful stereotypes. This will be the San Francisco premiere of a new score for strings and voice by acclaimed composer Adolphus Hailstork.
Live musical accompaniment by Oakland Symphony musicians and members of the Oakland Symphony Chorus, conducted by Michael Morgan
Saturday, June 4
Restoration by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in partnership with the Cinémathèque Française
7:30 pm
Directed by René Clair | France, 1928 | 108 m.
With Albert Préjean, Olga Tschechowa, Geymond Vital
A man is on his way to his wedding when his horse eats the hat of a married woman who is having a secret tryst with a soldier, and the hapless groom must replace the chapeau or face the wrath of the lady’s lover. René Clair’s sublime, kinetic farce is set in 1895, at the dawn of the film era, and fondly recalls the techniques of the earliest silents.  Pauline Kael called it “one of the funniest films ever made, and one of the most elegant as well.”
Live musical accompaniment by the Guenter Buchwald Ensemble
Saturday, June 4
Restoration by Universal Pictures
10:00 pm
Directed by Paul Leni | USA, 1929 | 77 m.
With Laura La Plante, Montagu Love, Roy D’Arcy, Margaret Livingston
A murder mystery unfolds among a company of actors during rehearsals in an old Broadway theater. Émigré German director Paul Leni’s last film before his untimely death and one of Universals last silent releases, The Last Warning shows a virtuoso working at his peak. The bold cinematography enhances the creepiness of the setting and delights in the paranoid machinations of the players.
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
Sunday, June 5
10:00 am
This enchanting collection of films from the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam demonstrates the ingenious techniques artists used to create color cinema before the advent of Technicolor. Exquisite examples of hand painting, dyeing, and stencil coloring illuminate these early trick films and travelogues—windows into the imagination and virtuosity of early filmmakers. Total running time: 70 m.
Films include: The Tulips (d. Segundo de Chomón, France, 1907); The Wonderful Book (d. Gaston Velle, France 1905); The Charmer (d. Segundo de Chomón, France, 1906); Bout-de-Zan and the Crocodile (d. Louis Feuillade, France, 1913); Dutch Types (France, 1915); The Mills (d. Alfred Machin, Netherlands, 1912); Algerian Dances: Dance of the Ouled Naïl (France, 1902); The Fairy of the Stars (France, 1902); The King of Dollars (d. Segundo de Chomón, France, 1905); The Penalty of Retaliation (France, 1906); The Golden Obsession (d. Segundo de Chomón, France, 1906); The Trip to Jupiter (d. Segundo de Chomón, France, 1909); The Parisians (USA, 1897); The Acrobatic Sisters Dainef (France, 1902); Good Evening Flowers (d. Giovanni Vitrotti, Italy, 1909)
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
Sunday, June 5
12:00 noon
Program includes:
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch | Germany, 1918 | 45 m. | With Ossi Oswalda, Curt Goetz
Directed by Richard Wallace | USA, 1926 | 22 m. | With Clyde Cook, Katherine Grant
Restoration by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in partnership with Carlton University and New York University
Inspired by Laura Horak’s fascinating new book of the same title, our program includes two delectable comedies that feature cross-dressing protagonists. In Ernst Lubitsch’s I Don’t Want to Be a Man, the high-spirited Ossi longs for the freedom to smoke and drink and carouse just like a man, so has herself fitted for a tuxedo. The zany Hal Roach production of What’s the World Coming To? takes place in a future “one hundred years from now—when men have become more like women and women more like men.” The film opens with the “blushing groom” approaching the altar where his tuxedoed bride awaits to be consecrated in the hilariously ever after.
Live musical accompaniment by Maud Nelissen
Sunday, June 5
1:45 pm
Directed by Robert Flaherty | USA, 1922 | 72 m.
Subtitled A Story Of Life and Love in the Actual Arctic, this is the groundbreaking film that launched a genre. It was Flaherty’s genius to combine ethnography, the travelogue, and fictional filmmaking techniques to reveal the human drama of one Inuit family’s survival in the extreme conditions of Canada’s Hudson Bay. Despite its arguable claim to authenticity, it is told with respect and sensitivity and remains an astonishing work.
Live musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble
Sunday, June 5
Restoration by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, Wiesbaden
3:45 pm
Directed by Fritz Lang | Germany, 1921 | 98 m.
With Lil Dagover, Walter Janssen, Bernhard Goetzke, Hans Sternberg
Can love conquer even death? When Death robs a young woman of her bridegroom, she attempts suicide to rejoin him in the dark realm of the afterlife. Stopped at Death’s door she makes a deal instead to save someone else in exchange for the return of her beloved. Her quest for a life at risk ranges across ninth-century Persia, Renaissance-era Venice, and Imperial China in this lavish early spectacle by Fritz Lang who injects the tale with the tenderness of a bittersweet love story.
Actress and author Illeana Douglas will introduce this program.
Live musical accompaniment by the Stephen Horne Ensemble
Sunday, June 5
Restoration by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in partnership with the Cinémathèque Française
6:30 pm
Directed by René Clair | France, 1928 | 76 m.
With Pierre Batcheff, Jim Gérald , Véra Flory, Maurice de Féraudy
René Clair’s last feature-length silent, Les Deux timides begins with a courtroom scene that is a bravura example of silent film technique. A bumbling young lawyer (a wonderful Keatonesque performance by Pierre Batcheff) is defending a client who is accused of beating his wife. As he describes his version of what happened, it plays out on the screen in all its ridiculous, convoluted glory, with escalating hilarity. The lawyer and his brutish client later become rivals for the hand of a shy young lady.
Live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Sunday, June 5
Closing Night Presentation
8:30 pm
Directed by Victor Fleming | USA, 1919 | 85 m.
With Douglas Fairbanks, Albert MacQuarrie, Kathleen Clifford, Frank Campeau
In one of his last “Coat and Tie” comedies before becoming the screen’s most dashing swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks plays the frantically superstitious Daniel Boone Brown, the unwitting specimen of a nefarious doctor’s hypnosis experiment. Fairbanks is as kinetic as ever, being driven literally up the walls. Enchanting and often surreal, this comedy also marks Gone with the Wind director Victor Fleming’s first feature at the helm.
Live musical accompaniment by Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius
Ticket and Pass Information
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will take place at the Castro Theatre, June 2–5, 2016. For more information and to purchase tickets and passes, go to silentfilm.org
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
145 Ninth Street, Suite 230
San Francisco, CA 94103