5th Int'l Silent Film Festival

A weekend of cinematic gems
By Earl D.C. Bracamonte

Now on its fifth year, the International Silent Film Festival unfolds this weekend at Shangri-La Plaza’s cinema complex. The 3-day series aptly opens with our very own Brides of Sulu, the Philippines’ first-ever entry to the festival.
Drawn by forbidden passions, a beautiful Mohammedan Moro princess Benita (Adelina Moreno) and her lover Asan (Eduardo de Castro), a pagan pearl diver, defy religious and moral laws and flee her arranged marriage to another. The ruler of a primitive island has promised his daughter’s hand to a nearby noble chief. As the town prepares for Benita’s planned betrothal, Asan sneaks into the royal compound and steals away his beloved. Vowing to make the infidel pay with his life, the inflamed tribesmen launch a furious pursuit to recapture their princess.
Beautifully filmed on location, using local Moro tribesmen, this forgotten 1934 John Nelson film provides a rare glimpse into a lost culture. The Panday Pandikal Cultural Troupe performs musical numbers by solo artist Amor Rapista alongside the screening of the film. Teddy Co of the Society of Filipino Archivists (SOFIA) will provide an introductory note on the provenance of the 1934 flick.
The 1922 German film Nosferatu, produced and directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, is a symphony of horror. The movie’s premier was on March 4, 1922 in Berlin. For the first time, the director showed vampires in a motion picture thus, making it the precursor of vampire films. Based on the novel Dracula, this flick chronicles the strange occurrences in real estate agent Hutter’s home after he decides to sell his residence to Orlok, a vampire who happens to be interested in his wife. However, only a few people recognize the innovative character of this film. It was edited, mutilated and screened in different variations. In 1987, technology made it possible to restore the film, even the sound and the pictures were repaired, making it look like the original print. Accompanying the screening is music by Stephan von Bothmer as performed by the Far Eastern University Chorale.
Precursors to the films we watch today, silent films take their name from the early film camera’s failure to detect sound. For the first twenty to thirty years, silence allowed audiences the world over to bear witness to all the same things that we do every time we sit inside a theater, albeit with a foreboding sense of vulnerability, as the silence often presented itself as yet another aspect to the beauty of film altogether.
Akeyuku Sora (The Dawning Sky), Torajiro Saito’s 1929 opus is a melodrama about an orphan and her mother who were separated and lost contact; but were later on reunited. Adding life to the film is the musical accompaniment by contemporary group Bandang Malaya.
L’Inferno, the century-old Italian epic comes of age with Giuseppe de Liguoro’s imaginative silent film of the inferno, loosely adapted from Dante Alighieri’s literary masterpiece and inspired by the illustrations of Gustave Dore. Full of special effects, flashback scenes, monsters, appearances/disappearances, giants, dragons, demons and other hellish apparitions, it must have had a terrific impact on viewers when it was first screened in Naples in the Teatro Mercandante on March 10, 1911.
The film took over three years to make and was the first full-length Italian feature film ever made. Its success was not confined to Italy alone. It was an international hit taking more than $2-million in the United States. Imaginative and compelling, the film will be accompanied by musical performances by Filipino hard rock band Razorback.
To say that films of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were silent only refers to the product prior to screening. In theaters were films where films undoubtedly came alive, they were accompanied by a pianist or, in some cases, a full orchestra.
The Greek Miracle, the 1921 staged documentary film, is a rare example of a fiction film shot before World War II in Greece with both actors and extras in real settings. It tells the story of an Athenian family who wants to participate in the war. The husband volunteers and the wife soon follow as a nurse. Although the film was shot with professional actors (with two of the stars actually Russian actors), the locations and soldiers were real. Excerpts from newsreels that the Gaziadis brothers produced during the Asia Minor campaign have also been used.
Pilar Guerra, Spain’s 1926 entry is about a teacher in the town of Araceli. The titular character has romantic relations with the son of the mayor who does not approve of this young love. In hopes of separating them, he sends his son on a trip and Pilar on a different destination.
Both the Greek and Spanish films will be accompanied by musical performances by Heliodoro ‘Dingdong’ Fiel and the jazz fusion group HDC Trio.
As the only Silent Film Festival in Southeast Asia, this international film festival in Manila presents these films in the same manner befitting their status as an indispensable artifact of the human experience. All the films will be screened in their original formats and accompanied by live performances from contemporary Filipino artists. In the artistic tradition of self-sustenance through self-reference, these performances re-familiarize audiences with their cinematic past and continue to showcase the glamour, wonder and spirit of entertainment that has allowed this medium to endure and evolve into something much greater than itself.
The film festival is co-presented by Goethe-Institut Philippines, The Japan Foundation Manila, Instituto Cervantes, the Embassy of Italy and the Philippine-Italian Association, the Embassy of Greece, The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and SOFIA.
For inquiries, simply call 633-7851 extension 223 or log-on to www.shangrila-plaza.com.

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