Anita Monga’s enthusiasm for silent film is infectious. When I spoke to her on July 3, 2012 about the 17th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, we started with why it was one of the few places to see what Victor Fleming and Ernst Lubitsch were up to before films began to speak. We went on to discuss what films from this era could do that talkies wouldn’t be able to get away with for decades, how Hugh Hefner played an integral role in making this year’s centerpiece, PANDORA’S BOX possible in its brand new restoration, and why Buster Keaton is funny no matter what century it is.
Now in its 17th year celebrating the best from the time before cinema dialogue was spoken., the festival, as always, mixes well-known films and artists from that time with new discoveries that have unjustly fallen by the wayside. This year’s offerings includes the first film to win an Oscar, William Wellman’s WINGS, with some of the most dazzling flying sequences ever committed to film, not to mention the “It“ girl herself, Clara Bow, Douglas Fairbanks Sr, at his rollicking, sword-wielding best in THE MARK OF ZORRO, treasures from China, Russia, and Sweden, as well as Paul McGann narrating both SOUTH, an epic about the early exploration of the Antarctic, and Melies’ exquisite short, A TRIP TO THE MOON. Closing night is the inimitable Buster Keaton demonstrating that comedy, like art, transcends time.