Sound is crucial.
How can one imagine that the early 20th century witnessed films that lacked the necessary soundtrack to make the moviegoers’ experience realistic? Nonetheless, silent films, which lasted for 2 to 3 decades (1912 to 1932), are an essential part of the history of cinema.
To Señor Antonio Garcia Roger, First Secretary for Culture of the Embassy of Spain, there is a misconception that silent films are passé and of low quality when in fact they have a visual feat. The silent film, he says, is legacy that is worth preserving.
Now on its fifth year, the International Silent Film Festival Manila showcases six timeless silent movies, all created within the period of 1911 to 1934. Four entries are silent pictures from past participants Spain, Italy, Japan, and Germany; Greece and the Philippines venture into the festival for the first time.
The synthesis of classic silent films and contemporary Filipino music marks an eventful performance as a particular musician, rock band or chorale plays music concurrent with the screening of one of the silent pictures.
As aptly put by Bandang Malaya violinist TJ Dimacali, "The live performance and [film] showing is unique in and of itself. It is, quite literally, a once in a lifetime event."
BRIDES OF SULU. The 3-day Manila festival aptly begins with the Philippines’ Brides of Sulu, a 1934 film that ironically has been released in the United States’ home video market for years. The film is not a pure Filipino film, according to film archivist and specialist Teddy Co. While the acting credits belong to the Filipinos, he says, the technical credits are American.
What Teddy Co’s team discovered is that there are no credits for sound recording and producing, though it has a supervisor. They suspect that Brides of Sulu was bought for U.S. release, edited by Americans and eventually marketed in the U.S. as an early B-movie.
"The soundtrack is just a narration of some American with a very colonialist perspective, which led us to believe that the film was originally a Filipino silent film," states Mr. Co.
Brides of Sulu is about the forbidden love between a Tausug princess and a non-Muslim, non-Tausug pearl diver. Both earn the ire of the Sultan, but the story ends happily as the man converts to Islam.
To accompany the screening of the Philippine silent film on August 26 at 7 PM is musical activist/scientist Armor Rapista and the Panday Pandikal Cultural Troupe.
Armor Rapista who hails from Iloilo is also a sound collector who gathers recordings of vehicles, kitchen utensils, and just about anything. He shares that he once went up to the mountains of Panay to collect recordings of chants. Armor is responsible for coordinating with the Panday Pandikal Cultural Troupe, a collective of young musicians from Jolo, Sulu.
NOSFERATU. Also to share in first day’s events is Germany’s Nosferatu, a 1922 silent film by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and forerunner of vampire movies. The 94-minute horror movie Nosferatu chronicles the frightening occurrences in the home of Htter, a real estate agent, who sells his home to Orlok, a vampire who fancies his wife.
The 9 PM screening will witness the chorale of the Far Eastern University and German composer and pianist Stephan von Bothmer. It should be interesting to witness a vampire silent film with a chorale providing the musical score.
On the 27th of August, Saturday, Japan’s Akeyuku Sora (1929) will take center stage at 5 PM. Akeyuku Sora (or The Dawning Sky) is a drama about an orphan and her mother who are separated and eventually find one another. 71 minutes long, the silent film’s director, Torajiro Saito, is known as the "god of comedy" who usually creates slapstick comedies.
To provide the musical score is Bandang Malaya, a band and "a musical intercultural project formed from inside the historic walls of Intramuros." The performance promises to be "an interesting texture" of music, says TJ Dimacali. The music they will "perform, quite aptly, is world music" as it combines various instruments from Australia, India, the West, and the Philippines.
DANTE’S INFERNO. At 7 PM, Dante’s Inferno will be screened, marking Italy’s fourth participation in the festival. The classic literary work of Dante Alighieri was chosen because 2011 is the 150th celebration of the unification of Italy.
Professor Emanuela Adesini, Cultural Attache of the Embassy of Italy, elaborates that Italy was politically unified in 1851. "Italy’s political unification is useless, is not really achieved if there is no linguistic unification"—which they owe Dante Alighieri, Father of the Italian language.
Dante’s Inferno will be accompanied by no other than Philippine rock band Razorback who auspiciously just finished recording an album when they were offered to participate in the project.
Says Patrick, the band’s manager and also the technical director of the festival, "Part of that album is a research about hell, about the afterlife, purgatory. When I told the band about the projects they got excited actually, because part of the new album, somewhere there is a story about we went to purgatory, we went to hell, we went to heaven. And somehow it’s like Dante’s Inferno."
THE GREEK MIRACLE. On the festival’s last day, August 28, Sunday, The Greek Miracle will make its international debut at 5 PM. The 5-minute short silent film, part documentary tells the story of an Athenian family who takes part in the war. According to Polyxeni Stefanidou, Ambassador of Greece to the Philippines, The Greek Miracle, is a product of a famous German news photographer which explains the realistic scenes from the preparation of the army and their battlefield activities.
"This film belongs to the official National Diplomatic Greek Archive and it’s the only film which is silent," informs the ambassador. "It’s the first time that this film is shown internationally because it has been reconstructed and returned very recently."
To provide accompaniment is Dingdong Fiel of HDC Trio who shares that it was a challenge to work on the film’s musical scoring. "Doing a love story is hard because the structure should be very clear and the music," he says. "The composition and technique is exhausted. You can only do so much. You can only write so much." Dingdong will fuse jazz and new age in his performance.
PILAR GEURRA. To end the festival is Spain’s Pilar Geurra, a 1926 silent film by Jose Buchs that is about a town teacher’s romantic relations with a younger Luciano, the son of the mayor. Jose Maria Fons Guardiola, Deputy for Cultural Affairs of Instituto Cervantes, says, "It was not that easy to get the work. We have lost... 75 to 80 percent of the production."
The efforts of restoring the film is rewarding however, he adds "What we are creating after all is a new thing, a new work. Spanish foreign film [plus] a local band, composer doing a new scoring and all in all [it] becomes a new work. A new event quite unique."
What the festival presents is something unique indeed for musically scoring a silent film is not commonly done in the Philippines. It should be fascinating and exciting to witness how the Filipino musicians will step up to the challenge of fitting their music into the silent pictures. Moreover, the multicultural dimension of the festival will be one of a kind experience as well.
This year’s festival is co-presented by the Goethe-Institut Philippinen, the Japanese Foundation, Manila, Instituto Cervantes, the Embassy of Italy, the Embassy of Greece, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines, and the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film.
The festival will be held at the Shang Cineplex, Cinema 2, at Shangri-La Plaza Mall.
Here is schedule of films to be shown:
Friday (August 26)
7:00pm - Brides of Sulu (Philippines, 1933-1937)
9:00pm - Nosferatu (Germany, 1922)
Saturday (August 27)
5:00pm - Akeyuku Sora (Japan, 1929)
7:00pm - L’Inferno (Italy, 1911)
Sunday (August 28)
5:00pm - The Greek Miracle (Greece, 1921)
7:00pm - Pilar Guerra (Spain, 1926)