A Preview of the (Virtual) 2020 Pordenone Silent Film Festival
October 2, 2020
I suppose the one upside of 2020 is being able to virtually attend events I never would have been able to experience before. Major case in point: The Pordenone Silent Film Festival in northern Italy, which starts tomorrow and runs through October 10.
For €9.90, approximately 1% the price of a plane ticket to Italy, I secured a ticket to watch 13 silent features and shorts programs. Like Cinecon this year, I’ve heard of exactly 0 of these titles (even the Laurel and Hardy ones).
The first edition of Pordenone, before the festival was known by that name, occurred in 1982. Since then it’s become the leading international silent film festival in the world. Despite my love of travel - and the fact that I have family who lives in Italy - Pordenone has never really been on my radar. Put simply, I generally don’t have enough vacation left by the time October rolls around. I do have a few friends who have attended in the past and from what I’ve seen of their social posts, it’s a wonderful fest.
Given the European location and the international flavor of the festivities, there’s a heavy focus on titles produced outside of America, which I find exciting because I’m not very well versed in silent film and even less so in worldwide silent pictures. With the time difference, most movies start either at 8am or 11:30am PTD, so for many of the selections, I’ll have to catch up with them later (they’ll be available for 24 hours after screening), but I’m excited to discover so many new films nonetheless! Ideally, I’d like to watch everything – which, considering there’s really no more than two hours of programming a day, is like a 60% probability – but below are some of the titles that stuck out to me the most.
5pm CEST/8am PTD: Voglia di viaggiare /The Urge to Travel
Since international travel is severely limited for Americans right now, I sincerely appreciate the idea for this shorts block that, as their schedule online lovingly imparts, “captures that longing with short travelogues selected to feed the intense desire to return to beloved locales and explore new places.” By the looks of some of these titles, it appears we’ll be virtually traveling back in time to New York, Belgium, Italy and more! Wanderlust will be in full ‘on’ mode for opening night, I assure you.
8:30pm CEST/11:30am PTD: Penrod and Sam (US, 1923)
I haven’t seen Boyhood (2014), but this American feature draws comparisons to that modern rumination on childhood, and I’m intrigued to see what that looked like in the 1920s.
5pm CEST/8am PTD: The Brilliant Biograph (Netherlands, 2020)
I’m not exactly sure what this program entails, but how can you not be captivated by a description like this? “An eye-opening compilation designed to change our understanding of early cinema forever. Meticulous restoration work on Victorian-era 68mm films reveals a breathtaking clarity whose beauty we experience emotionally.” Sold.
Guo Feng co-star Ruan Lingyu.
8:30pm CEST/11:30am PTD: Guo Feng/National Customs (China, 1935)
The description says that Chinese silent film “remains criminally unavailable,” and as I’ve never seen a Chinese silent movie, I will take their word for it and mark this as a must-see. Also, it stars the “Greta Garbo of China,” Ruan Lingyu (who sadly passed away the year this film debuted).
8:30pm CEST/11:30am PTD: Where Lights Are Low (US, 1921)
Sessue Hayakawa was a huge star in the late 1910s and early 1920s; he commanded an astounding $7,500 a week in 1920, the equivalent of almost $100,000 a century later. I’ve been mesmerized by him since his turn in The Cheat (1915), so this feature, which was produced by his own production company, has me very interested.
8:30pm CEST/11:30am PTD: La tempesta in un cranio/Kill or Cure (Italy, 1921)
“Quasi-surreal” Italian comedy? Yes, please. Also, I had to check IMDb to find the English translation, and that just made me want to see this even more.
I'm not quite sure what is going on in this still for Oι Απάχηδες των Αθηνών.
8:30pm CEST/11:30am PTD: Oι Απάχηδες των Αθηνών/The Apaches of Athens (Greece, 1930)
Coincidentally, I will be on my way to visit my Greek friend from Cyprus when this film is rolling online, so hopefully I’ll be able to get her to watch this “key precursor of Greek neorealism,” which was long thought lost, with me that evening.
8:30pm CEST/11:30am PTD: Abwege/The Devious Path (Germany, 1928)
I’ve only seen one film apiece from this movie's female star and director (Brigitte Helm in 1927's Metropolis and director G.W. Pabst’s 1929 feature Diary of a Lost Girl), and both movies are worthy of high praise. Those two talents have me curious for this tale – as do some of the stills, in which Helm appears quite ferocious. (So I guess that’s what a woman embracing hedonism in 1928 Germany looks like!)
8:30pm CEST/11:30am PTD: A Romance of the Redwoods (US, 1917)
The few Cecil B. DeMille features I’ve watched from the 1910s have stunned me in how technologically and structurally advanced they’ve appeared for the time. I’m assuming this film, starring Mary Pickford, will be no different.
8:30pm CEST/11:30am PTD: Laurel or Hardy (US)
To be honest, I’m not a big Laurel and Hardy fan. However, the five shorts in this program showcase their talent before they teamed up (hence the title Laurel or Hardy), so maybe I’m just a fan of them individually? Or one and not the other? Or neither? We shall find out in this closing night spectacle…
Will you be virtually attending this year's Pordenone Silent Film Festival? If so, let me know what movies you're looking forward to seeing!