In the physical world I have only been once to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, in 2017. That visit is all the more memorable as it was on the occasion of Eye receiving the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Award, when we also screened 1915’s Filibus from the Desmet Collection. However, I feel like I have been present at the festival for many years, in one way or the other.
I met SFSFF’s directors in 2005, thanks to the festival’s interest in screening Beyond the Rocks, the long-lost Gloria Swanson-Rudolph Valentino film, which was rediscovered and restored by Eye back then. Ever since, I have had the pleasure of regularly seeing the SFSFF contingent at Pordenone. In the meantime, SFSFF board president and film restorer Robert Byrne came to Amsterdam and stayed, allowing us to exchange ideas in person every now and then. The results of such conversations are the joint restoration projects that SFSFF and Eye has ventured into since 2011.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the festival is always on our minds at the Eye archive. Whenever we see something related to San Francisco, be it the Golden Gate, or Mission Street, or the Presidio, it is as if alarm bells ring in our nitrate room to contact SFSFF as soon as possible in the hopes of being able to provide a small surprise to the San Francisco audiences. Case in point is this year’s marvel, San Francisco, the Golden Gate City (1925), filmed in gorgeous pastels, which came to my attention in February 2020. It is always with great pleasure that I follow the premieres of these films, although from a distance. I’m very thankful to SFSFF and its friends for making it possible for such collaborations, including one of my all-time favorites, Fridrikh Ermler’s Fragment of an Empire, which screened in 2018 fresh from its world premiere in Amsterdam.
Congratulations to SFSFF on its 25th anniversary, and here’s hoping for many more collaborations with Eye in the coming decades—and more excuses to try to return for a visit!
ELIF RONGEN-KAYNAKÇI is curator of silent film at Amsterdam’s Eye Filmmuseum. Other Eye-SFSFF collaborations included The Last Edition, which screened in 2013, and the San Francisco earthquake feature When the Earth Trembled (1913), presented at SFSFF 2015. San Francisco, the Golden Gate City screens on opening night.