London Film Festival 2016: the silent preview

Have you cleared your calendar for October yet? Between Pordenone, for those lucky enough to go, the Robin Hood screening at the Barbican, and the Kennington Bioscope comedy festival, not to mention the mounting excitement about Napoléon in November, it’s a busy month to begin with. And then the London Film Festival pops up in the middle of October with its own programme of silent screenings.


So we already know that the Archive Gala will be the Irish-set thriller The Informer. And we already know that it is on the same day as Robin Hood. So that’s your first now-traditional schedule clash.* It’s also something of a shame that the Archive Gala will be at BFi Southbank, not the festival’s specially built 780-seat pop-up cinema in Victoria Embankment Gardens, where all the other galas will be held, although I assume that is to do with finding space for the band. Designers of these new-fangled cinemas always forget the orchestra pit.

However, here’s what the rest of the 60th London Film Festival has got planned for you, silents-wise. Erm, not quite as much as I would have hoped …

  • If we’re going for quality over quantity, we can’t complain that Pola Negri will be gracing the London Film Festival this year. There’s a spiffing new restoration of the very quirky comedy A Woman of the World scheduled for Sunday 16 October.
  • This screening on Sunday 9 October will be a sight for sore eyes: a programme of archive colour shorts, with the silents accompanied by Cyrus Gabrysch. The silent offering here includes Grandes eaux de Versailles, Les (France 1904); Grand Display of Brock’s Fireworks at the Crystal Palace (1904); La Farfalle (France 1907); Fording The River (UK, 1910); Dutch Types (Netherlands 1915); and The Love Charm (Howard Mitchell, USA 1928).
The Love Charm (1928)
The Love Charm (1928)
  • An unexpected treat from the Sonic strand – Minute Bodies is an immersive,musical film all about a little-sung British scientific film-maker, from Tindersticks’ Stuart A Staples and filmmaker David Reeve. Minute Bodies: the Intimate World of F Percy Smith screens on Tuesday 11 October.

  • One of the most intriguing, and wide-ranging, silent-related films in the festival is Bill Morrison’s Dawson City Frozen Time. This is one of the Decasia film-maker’s poetic collages of fragile, damaged nitrate stock, all taken from a massive haul of silent films discovered buried beneath the permafrost of the Klondike in 1978. Expect a haunting score by Alex Somers, familiar movie-star faces, and apparently some gen on the origins of the Trump family fortune. Dawson City Frozen Time plays on 6 and 7 October.

  • An early talkie, a musical in fact! The orgy of two-strip Technicolor that is King of Jazz screens on Saturday 8 October.
  • Of the new films, you won’t want to miss The Red Turtle, a dialogue-free animation from Studio Ghibli, which had great writeups at Cannes. UPDATE: I have reviewed it here.
  • And this one might be of interest … The Birth of a Nation, a new film with the same title as one you are all familiar with, gets a gala screening at the London Film Festival too. This is the story of a slave rebellion, told from a very difference perspective to Griffith’s 1915 movie. Are we excited about this? Yes, although it’s complicated. But here’s the trailer.

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