LE GIORNATE DEL CINEMA MUTO
also known as
THE PORDENONE SILENT FILM FESTIVAL
Created in 1982 as a collaborative effort between La Cineteca del Friuli - a film archive located in the town of Gemona and member of FIAF (Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film) - and the Cinemazero filmclub in Pordenone, the Giornate del Cinema Muto, aka Pordenone Silent Film Festival, has established itself as the leading international event dedicated to the preservation, diffusion, and study of the first thirty years of cinema.
Every year in mid-October, upwards of 800-900 visitors from across the world, ranging from academics, archivists and critics to private enthusiasts and collectors, gather for a weekly marathon of screenings, all accompanied by live piano, ensemble and orchestral music.
From 1985 to 1998, the festival's venue was the Cinema Verdi in Pordenone, a picture palace from the great post-war era of Italian cinema-going. Following the local authorities' decision to demolish the Verdi, in 1999 the Giornate moved to the Teatro Zancanaro in Sacile (15 km from Pordenone), a well-equipped modern auditorium behind the older facade of a theatre which has been presenting films since 1911.
Since its inception, the Pordenone Silent Film Festival has covered all aspects of early film history, ranging from the classical Hollywood cinema to avant-garde and animation. "These gatherings," write Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell in Film History: An Introduction, "have revolutionized the study of silent cinema... The Silent Film Festival has helped emphasize how crucial the preservation and availability of early films are to our knowledge of cinema history."
The first retrospective, focussing on French comedian Max Linder, was organized as a true labor of love, with a shoestring budget and an audience of eight patrons. Today, the screenings are attended by several hundreds of people from all continents.
Over the years of its exhistence, the festival has stimulated and assisted the process of recovering and restoring the film heritage, which is the vital role of the world's film archives. Thanks to the extraordinary periodic meeting of expertise at the Giornate, lost films have been rediscovered, orphan reels have been identified, and chance personal encounters have led to restoration projects.
The Gosfilmofond archives in Moscow revealed in 1989 - for the first time outside the former Soviet Union - the treasures of Russian cinema before the 1917 revolution.
A spectacular collection of early European films found in the Komiya Collection was presented in 1992, thanks to the generous contribution of the National Film Center in Tokyo.
Exhaustive retrospectives were devoted to silent cinema in Australia and New Zealand (1993); India (1994); China (1995 and 1997); Israeal (1995); former Yugoslavia (1988); Scandinavia (1986 and 1999), Germany (1990).
Retrospectives on Italian comedians, the American production of the Teens, the French company Eclair, the world film production in the year 1913, Mack Sennett, Thomas Ince, Roscoe Arbuckle, Frank Borzage, Walt Disney, Augusto Genina, etc. were also held.
In 1997 the Giornate began a multi-year challenging project which is scheduled to continue for almost a decade and which involves the screening of all the hundreds of films made by David W. Griffith from 1907 to 1931.
The quality of film presentation - on a very large screen, with state-of-the-art equipment and variable speed control - is enhanced by the music performed for each program. A staff of half a dozen talented pianists from different countries plays improvised, original or contemporary music throughout the entire event. While inviting on a regular basis the leading orchestral conductors of silent film music (Carl Davis for the films restored by Kevin Brownlow's Photoplay Productions, Gillian B. Anderson for the original scores of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance and Way Down East), the Pordenone Festival acts as a talent scout for individual performers and groups, ranging from the British one-man band Adrian Johnston to the percussionists of the Alloy Orchestra. Experimental and contemporary music is also represented (original scores have been written and performed by famous composers such as Wim Mertens and John Cale, from the rock group The Velvet Underground).
In 1990 a benshi performance (by Ms Midori Sawato) was among the highlights of the programme.
Annual exhibitions on selected topics related to each year's program are also organized. Last October the exhibit "Erich von Stroheim: A Life Revealed" featured over a hundred never before seen private photos, personal costume design dreawings and documents from the family files of Erich von Stroheim.
An annual prize, the Jean Mitry Award, is given every year to scholars and archivists in recognition of their work in preserving, interpreting and promoting the silent film heritage. The first recipients were Kevin Brownlow and David Gill (1986), while the most recent winners are:
Gian Piero Brunetta and Rachael Low (2000)
Pearl Bowser & Martin Sopocy (2001)
Hiroshi Komatsu & Donata Pesenti Campagnoni (2002)
Elaine Burrows & Renée Lichtig (2003)
Marguerite Engberg & Tom Gunning (2004)
Henry Bousquet and Yuri Tsivian (2005)
The current prestige of the Silent Film Festival derives also from its books, programs and brochures, many of which are regarded today as basic reference works in the field. The books published by the Giornate include essential reference works such as Silent Witnesses: Russian Films, 1908-1919 (1989), the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award winner Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney (1992), the fascinating anthology Light and Movement: Incunabula of the Motion Picture (1995), the entertaining I Want to See This Annie Mattygraph: A Cartoon History of the Coming of the Movies (1995) and the monumental filmography Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900 (1997).
Articles, essays, filmographies related to each year's festival programme appear in Griffithiana, an international journal of film history published by the Cineteca del Friuli (and distributed in North America by the Bilingual Review/Press of the Arizona State University).
The Pordenone Silent Film Festival is a non-profit association, whose president is Livio Jacob. The director (appointed in 1997) is David Robinson. The members of the executive board are Paolo Cherchi Usai, Lorenzo Codelli, Piero Colussi, Luciano De Giusti, Carlo Montanaro, Piera Patat.
The headquarters of the Festival are located at:
La Cineteca del Friuli, Palazzo Gurisatti, Via Bini, 50 33013 Gemona (UD), Italy
Tel: +39-0432-980458; fax: +39-0432-970542