26th-28th September 2008, BFI Southbank, London

The British Silent Film Festival was founded in 1998 by a group of Brits who were concerned about the world-shortage of interest in British silent film. The purpose of the festival/conference is to work with the BFI National Archive (and other collections) to screen as much British silent film as possible, to expand our knowledge of this little known area of our film history, to learn from and commission presentations from academics, students and enthusiasts in the field as well as to entertain with special events and screenings with world class musical accompaniment.

In its eleven year history the Festival has adopted a thematic approach drawing out new and different ways of looking at British fiction and non fiction film before 1930, creating space for any new research in the field. We insist that all presentations are illustrated with film in some way and encourage innovative ways of programming, combining performance, music and film or crossing interdisciplinary boundaries. We encourage the young to present their first research and musical events are a specialty courtesy of our loyal team of internationally renowned musicians who have been with us from the start and have always made a very significant contribution to the pleasures of the Festival.

This selection of highlights which we would like to share more widely reflects the range of silent films that have impressed us over the years and shows something of the programming styles and collaborative nature of the project. The British Silent Film Festival is directed and programmed by Laraine Porter and Bryony Dixon supported by the enthusiasm and hard work of many volunteers and contributors. The Festival has a growing influence in the field of film studies and in other festival programmes around the world which tells its own story about the rising profile of this once neglected aspect of our film culture.

Friday 26th September 2008

6.20 pm

The Olympic Games on Film 1900-1924

The British Silent Film Festival encourages innovative multi media programming of archive film. Luke McKernan has been exemplary at presenting his encyclopaedic knowledge of historical subjects through film. Here he presents a history of the early Olympic Games on film, from Paris in 1900 to Paris in 1924 (the ‘Chariots of Fire’ Games), with special attention given to the London Games of 1908, one hundred years ago. The programme features such legendary athletes as Dorando Pietri, Hannes Kolehmainen, Paavo Nurmi and Harold Abrahams. Accompanied by Neil Brand. 90 mins

8.40 pm
The Ware Case (1928)
First National /Pathé
Dir. Manning Haynes
Cast. Stewart Rome, Betty Carter, Ian Fleming.
This dynamic and surprisingly cinematic adaptation of the famous stage court-room drama concerns a murder mystery with a fabulous twist. It was adapted from a popular play by Lydia Hayward one of many female screenwriters who are beginning to be rediscovered as a result of the British Silent Film Festival’s interest in the work of women filmmakers in collaboration with a major international project. This unexpected gem might never have come to light without the Festival. Accompanied by Neil Brand 90 mins

Saturday 27th September 2008

4 pm
When All Films Were Short
Over the years at the British Silent Film Festival we’ve seen some strange and wonderful films made at a time when all films were shorts. Once the longer feature film became established short subjects were still produced in huge numbers as comedies, adventure and fantasy series, news and non fiction films of all kinds. Quirky, funny, macabre, sensational, persuasive – full of life movement and colour. Take a punt on this lucky dip programme of our favourites from the Festival. 85 mins

6.20 pm
The Battle of the Somme (1916)
This special preview recreates the original musical suggestions for this ground-breaking propaganda film made in the middle of the Great War. In 1916 the feature film was in its infancy, the documentary didn’t exist and yet this full length film was made and seen by a staggering 6 million people. Few British films today could boast such an audience. This new restoration from the Imperial War Museum will be screening with an original Roll of Honour film and is accompanied by Stephen Horne and introduced by Toby Haggith of the Imperial War Museum. 90 mins

8.40 pm
The Lure of Crooning Water (1920) and the British Pastoral Film
Stoll Productions
Dir. Arthur Rooke
Cast. Guy Newall, Ivy Duke, Mary Dibley
During the eleven years of the British Silent Film Festival it became evident that there was a strengthening tradition of filmic storytelling in the silent period concerned with the British landscape. The countryside has always been one of the greatest assets of the British film and it all started in the silent era. We have selected Guy Newall’s The Lure of Crooning Water (1920) as one of the finest examples of the British pastoral film with introduction by Laraine Porter and Bryony Dixon. 95 mins

Sunday 28th September 2008

4 pm
True Crime on Film

A 90-minute programme giving an illustrated history of true crime in film featuring film adapted from waxwork ‘chamber of horrors’ shows, The Dreyfus Affair, execution films, terrorists and assassins, murderers and embezzlers with a particular focus on two particular villains (or people’s hero depending on your point of view) Charlie Peace and Thomas Goudie.. True crime, as any publisher will tell you, is a licence to print money. And early filmmakers knew this well. The strategies that they used to sensationalise these stories were exactly the same as are used today. Presented by Michael Eaton, Vanessa Toulmin and Bryony Dixon. 95 mins

6.20 pm
Triumph of the Rat (1927)
Gainsborough Pictures
Dir. Graham Cutts
Cast. Ivor Novello, Isabel Jeans, Nina Vanna
No programme of British silent Cinema would be complete without Britain’s most popular male star – Ivor Novello. In the second film of the Rat trilogy Novello’s ‘Apache’ jewel thief has climbed to the top rungs of the society ladder. Boasting that he can make any female fall in love with him the Rat is trapped into a wager that he soon comes to regret. Graham Cutts’ production is lavish and passionate.

8.40 pm
The First Born (1928)
Gainsborough Pictures
Dir. Scr. Miles Mander and Alma Reville
Miles Mander’s The First Born was adapted from his own novel and play and deals the double standards of the upper classes, jealousy, miscegenation and the tension between conformity and a more modern morality. It is sensitively played by a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll and Mander himself. Apart from strong plotting the film betrays little of its stage antecedents. It is fluid, cinematic (including a stunning hand held camera sequence) and is beautifully framed throughout. Accompanied by Stephen Horne. 85 mins.

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