The first ever Denver Silent Film Festival kicks off tonight at the King Center on the Auraria Campus. Silent films have long been out of style, unless you count muting a video on YouTube, which is why we decided to catch up with festival coordinator and presenter (and teacher and critic) Howie Movshovitz for a lesson on the festival and silent films in general.
Westword: Can you just start by talking about the catalyst for the festival?
Howie Movshovitz: The catalyst was the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. I went out a few years ago and was knocked out -- it was beautiful, incredibly well programmed and they filled the Castro Theatre for the weekend. A friend of mine said, "why don't we do a Silent Film Festival here." And that was that.
What was the selection process like?
Well, it's a greatest hits program because there has never been a silent film festival in this area before and we don't have an audience experienced with silent film. So, we wanted to go with some names that are recognizable. So that's most of them. Then we wanted to do one film that would show off David Shepard's work as a restorer of film and we chose Cyrano de Bergerac and we chose that one because its not well known, and because it's a hand-colored film. It's just astonishing to see and a great show of his abilities.
We're showing Underworld, because I love and it's one of the first gangster films and I'm hoping have a day-and-a-half of other silent films people who are not familiar with silent film are willing to try it.
So, for modern viewers, how would you suggest people prepare themselves for a weekend of silent film?
I'm tempted to say, "forget everything you ever heard." You know, a general audience is not familiar with silent film and people tend to think it's film that's missing sound -- it's not, it's an art entirely unto itself. I think you just go and you let it have you. These are incredibly good films, every single one. You just let them have their way with you.
I know with Nosferatu, if you can just let the film be, you really experience a deep-seeded creepiness. It's a very disturbing film.
Was the orchestra an important facet from the start?
Yes. We wanted to make a really classy event. We're showing all 35mm prints, all shown at the proper speed, which is unusual, and we wanted great accompaniment. Hank Troy is as good as anybody in the world, Rodney Sour and the Mont Alto Orchestra (?) plays all over the country, Donald Sosin is world-renowned -- we wanted really great music to go with it. The accompanist for Nosferatu, Sosin, has been working with our music students to create the accompaniment for this film and he's got thirty of them involved in it. Fifteen musicians and fifteen singers and I expect it to be spectacular.
Would you have a recommendation for people who can only make it to one of the films?
That's tough and it depends on who are, but The Kid with Charlie Chaplin is exquisite. Chaplin has that ability to be funny and heart wrenching at the same time. I suppose if I could only show one film to show to someone who had never seen silent film before, I'd choose Chaplin. You know, Chaplin, in the teens and twenties, he was supposedly the most famous person in the history of the world. Film had that kind of penetration and silent films had no language barrier.
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You can get a full schedule of the weekend activities and purchase tickets on the Denver Silent Film Festival website.