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Silence engulfs Manila 

August 25, 2017

Contributor

Cover art Samantha Gonzales

On a daily basis, the city is alive with sights, sounds, and a precarious concoction of smells: on bustling avenues and down to its multiple corners. Noise even finds its way into screens—social media news feeds emanate with the qualms and minutiae of the outside world, that even in their solitude, people who are chained to their devices are deprived of complete and utter silence.

It was in the 1890’s up to the 1920’s when the world was last engulfed in silence, or at least, that was the case in hushed cinemas. Back then, people trooped to enjoy enchanting black‑and‑white films with unspeaking characters, a.k.a. silent films.

Silent films are not exactly silent; they are simply films without synchronized sound. Live music usually accompanies these films during showing. They rely on the actors’ and actresses’ physical gestures and facial expressions and on intertitles to tell the story. Because of these, audiences had to pay attention to visuals. Jay Weissberg, director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, says that the appreciation of “the pure visual beauty of film before the coming of sound” speaks on “an elemental level to our emotions, as well as our intellect.”

With the chaos of the modern world and the absence of the luxury of absolute quiet, silent films are making a return.

The International Silent Film Festival Manila (ISFFM), the first of its kind in Asia, is celebrating its 11th year from August 31 to September 3 at the upscale‑luxury Shang Cineplex, Shangri‑La Plaza, Mandaluyong City. Below are the details:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

According to a release, the festival kicks off at 8 p.m. with Instituto Cervantes presenting the classic action/comedy El Golfo (1918), directed by José de Togores. Starring Irene Heredia, Mariano Ozores and Ernesto Vilches, it tells the story of Enrique Villar, a tramp, who goes through much trouble to win the heart of his lady love. Rock band Talahib will accompany this film with a live performance.


Friday, September 1, 2017

At 7:30 p.m., the British Council will present its restored version of Anthony Asquith’s Underground, a 1928 silent romance that reveals 1920s London life in the underground tube system. A live musical performance by dub band Goodleaf will accompany the film.

At 9:30 p.m., the Embassy of France will present the drama L‘Inhumaine or The New Enchantment (1923), directed by Marcel L‘Herbier. The film will be scored by the French‑Vietnamese harpist Heloïse LaHarpe, assisted by Ryan Villamor on piano and synthesizer, and Aldous Castro on percussion and handpans.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

At 3 p.m., the Philippine Italian Association together with the Embassy of Italy will screen the world premiere of an experimental silent film by Filipino-Italian director Ruben Maria Soriquez: Una Famiglia Perfetta or A Perfect Family (2017). The movie will be live scored by the instrumental rock trio Tom’s Story.

At 5:30 p.m., the Japan Foundation, Manila will feature Hijosen no Onna or Dragnet Girl (1933) by Yasujiro Ozu. This screening will feature a rare performance by Ichiro Kataoka, a noted benshi or silent film narrator/actor/storyteller from Japan, who will provide a live interpretation of the silent film. The screening and narration will be accompanied by The Celso Espejo Rondalla, a group which plays Filipino music on traditional native string instruments.

Ending the night with an 8 p.m. screening will be the Philippines with Gym Lumbera’s two‑person drama Taglish (2012), which started as a damaged film entitled Tagalog, then English, and finally the present title Taglish. The film will be accompanied by the stoner‑metal quartet Kapitan Kulam.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

At 3 p.m., the Embassy of Austria will feature Café Elektric (1927) directed by Gustav Ucicky. Café Elektric was the last film made and released by Sascha‑Film, the first major film studio in Vienna. The live score will be played by one of the most established Filipino bands, Rivermaya.

Finally, at 5:30 p.m., Goethe‑Institut Philippinen will screen one of silent cinema’s masterworks, Pandora’s Box (1929), by George Wilhelm Pabst. Based on the controversial plays of Frank Wedekind, the film features the dazzling Louise Brooks in her classic bobbed hairstyle as Lulu. Pandora’s Box will be accompanied by the band Sandwich, led by local rock icon Raymund Marasigan.

This year’s ISFFM will also feature an exhibit by partner organization Para sa Sining at the Atrium of the Shangri‑La Mall. Short contemporary films of the silent film genre by young, emerging artists will be exhibited at the Shangri‑La’s East Wing. On the last day of the festival, September 3, the group will be presenting Musika x Pelikula, where short, silent films will be scored by live musical performances by young and upcoming Filipino artists.

It is in “silence” that we hear most clearly what is being said. In the ISFFM, audiences are given the opportunity to use their eyes to understand the story.

However, this is not to say that the musical score accompanying the films are to paid lesser attention to. In the open forum during the press conference for the ISFFM held last August 8, the Filipino musicians related how the challenge in accompanying the silent films with their music is being able to support them without distracting the audience from the film. Silent films are complete on their own and the music accompaniment is only there to support and complement them. To add one note, they said, is to change everything. The musical scores are carefully crafted by the musicians to enhance the viewing experience of these films.

These silent films will be a unique experience for those too inured by the spoken word and the misapprehension that often comes with it. 


The 11th International Silent Film Festival Manila will run from August 31 to September 3, 2017 at the Shangri‑La Plaza in Mandaluyong. For more information, check the official Facebook page: facebook.com/InternationalSilentFilmFestivalManila.