Film London and its London’s Screen Archives is leading the training of the next generation of media archivists. In October, as part of the Media Archive Traineeships course, LSA organised for this year’s group of 16 trainees to participate in the student Collegium at the world renowned archival Italian silent film festival: ‘Le Giornate del Cinema Muto’.
Trainee Victoria Baker said, “The festival has been inspirational and seeing so many people leading in their fields from all around the world gives me hope for the future of my career as an archivist”.
Now in its 35th year, the festival showcases new archival restorations and prints from leading archives around the world, such as the BFI’s National Archive and the EYE Filmmuseum. This edition included a special screening of Photoplay Productions’ restoration of the epic fantasy feature The Thief of Bagdad (1924) starring idol of the silver screen Douglas Fairbanks.
Thief was shown as part of the retrospective of the films of William Cameron Menzies who, according to Martin Scorsese, was “the man who more or less invented the idea of production design in movies”. Featuring sumptuous sets and dazzling costume designs, the screening was enhanced by live orchestral accompaniment under the direction of maestro Mark Fitz-Gerald who had skilfully reconstructed the original, revolutionary Mortimer Wilson score.
“I had never seen a silent feature-length film in a cinema with musical accompaniment before […] I don’t think I would have had this opportunity without LSA” – Layla, MAT Trainee.
As well as enjoying early Westerns and Cowgirl films, Japanese animations and mysterious cases from the American Pathé crime series Who’s Guilty?, the trainees attended the daily student Collegium discussions lead by experts in the fields of film restoration and silent cinema, learning about the complex processes involved in researching and bringing these first works of the cinematic art to contemporary audiences.
Owen, a trainee, said, “As a festival, it is such a hub of activity. You can come out of a screening and bump into a leading scholar in the topic of that film – the space and opportunity for discussion is amazing!”
Thanks to support from Festival Director Jay Weissberg – in the first year of his tenure alongside Chaplin biographer and Director Emeritus David Robinson – the trainees were invited to the regional Cineteca del Friuli, in effect the birthplace of the Giornate festival. Following a major earthquake in 1982, locals organised film screenings to bring the community back together and campaigned to reconstruct their cinema. The Giornate was born out of this passion for cinema and the inspiration of individuals such as founder Livio Jacob, whose personal collection was the seed of the archive’s holdings.
Visit to the Cineteca del Friuli
Trainees also had the opportunity to attend masterclasses for aspiring piano accompanists which gave a rare glimpse into the not-so-silent aspects of contemporary screenings of early cinema, as trainee Lucy pointed out: “Neil Brand’s masterclass made me realise how amazingly skilled the musicians are and how they read the films”.
The strand of ‘rediscoveries’ brought to the fore the Famous Players-Lasky British film Three Live Ghosts (1922). Recently discovered in the Gosfilmofond Russian archive, eminent Hitchcock scholar Prof. Charles Barr explained that this was one of the earliest films worked on by Alfred Hitchcock. Other rediscoveries included two films produced by pioneer British filmmaker R.W. Paul; LSA collaborator Prof. Ian Christie was on hand to talk about The Fatal Hand (1907), a chase film of particular interest for Londoners which features a four-fingered “homicidal lunatic” on the run with exterior shots of Coney Hatch Lane.
Festival highlights included the rare opportunity to see a 35mm print of the spy thriller The Mysterious Lady (1928) starring the incandescent Greta Garbo, here accompanied by the Pordenone’s Orchestra San Marco and directed by maestro Carl Davis. The screening of prints alongside digital projections reflects the developing practices of film archives; as archive trainee Claire pointed out, “Seeing 35mm prints and DCP projections one after the other has improved my skills and really honed my understanding and training”.
“One of the most important goals of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival is to expose new generations to silent cinema and archive film and the Media Archive Trainees added a great deal to this year’s edition. Their enthusiasm, curiosity and hunger for seeing more and knowing more was a terrific boon. The trainees took advantage of the presence of established archivists and scholars to discuss their work, furthering their understanding of where they want to go with their studies and careers; the camaraderie was palpable!” – Jay Weissberg Festival Director
The MAT programme is delivered by Film London’s London’s Screen Archives in partnership with Creative Skillset and FOCAL International.