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Local Life

Silent films speak volumes

Annual festival features live accompaniment


The vast majority of the films that will be shown in the seventh annual Denver Silent Film Festival are 90 years old, at the youngest.

But Howie Movshovitz, director of the festival, adamantly argues against the notion that these films are a trip down memory lane.

“These films are not a nostalgia trip, and I show them without apology,” he said. “These are legitimately great movies that are visually incredibly adventurous. All the films that have been made since haven’t been more adventurous than these.”

The Silent Film Festival will be held from Friday, April 27, through Sunday, April 29 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Sloans Lake, 4255 W. Colfax Ave. in Denver.

This year’s festival will feature nine movies, ranging from stunning personal dramas like “The Passion of Joan of Arc” to comedies like Harold Lloyd’s “Speedy,” and even one of Alfred Hitchcock’s first films, “The Lodger.”

“These films are important, no matter what decade they’re from,” said Steve Bessette, creative director for the Alamo. “You see horror films from this time, or some of their spy thrillers, and really a lot hasn’t changed. Seeing these early films gives you perspective on the way film has changed and stayed the same.”

Movshovitz has been a lifelong lover of film, but finding workable film prints of many silent films is becoming increasingly difficult. For this year’s festival, almost all the films are digitally restored on discs, providing audiences with the highest quality viewing experience.

Another way the festival is bringing these historic presentations to modern life is in the musical scoring. All screenings will be accompanied by live musical performances, just like so many were when they were first shown.

“Big places like New York or Los Angeles might have full orchestras playing scores, but at smaller theaters around the country, it might just be a pianist playing some music to go with the film,” Movshovitz explained. “Now we can use music to bring these films to younger audiences.”

Some screenings will have orchestras, others just a solo musician, and excitingly, two Alamo projectionists — Billy Overton and David Weaver — are contributing an original score to 1916’s “The Battle of the Somme.”

“I’ve done scores for short films before, but this is the longest one I’ve tackled, and my first collaboration with Billy,” Weaver said. “It’s been a really fun process working on the music together and getting ready for the live accompaniment.”

One of the first war documentaries, this film show’s preparation for one of World War I’s most devastating battles. The four-month battle started with 21,000 dead on its first day, and only got worse as it wore on.

To get started on the scoring process, Weaver and Overton watched the film and started writing musical themes and progressions they could pull out of their “musical toolkit” whenever necessary. They’ll both be using a variety of instruments in the performance, including keyboards and percussion instruments, and even a flute.

“The idea of doing this music live is really exciting, and I think combining performance with these great films is a great way for people of all ages to get into silent films,” Weaver said. “These elements bring the new and old together in a really fascinating way, for performers and audiences alike.”


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