Silence needs no translation

Now in its eighth year, the British Silent Film Festival ventures across the Channel
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The Independent Culture

Laraine Porter's fascination with cinema's silent era began with a visit in the 1990s to a silent-film festival in Italy. The defining moment for her was a screening of Dziga Vertov's brilliant overview of life in Soviet Russia, Man with the Movie Camera (1929, USSR), with live musical accompaniment. "The festival attracts people from all over the world, but I found myself wondering where all the British films were," says Porter. "British cinema history had been eclipsed by the American version."

Determined to put British silent films back on the map, Porter went to the BFI's National Film and Television Archive, where scores of silent films were languishing unseen. "We opened tins of films that hadn't been seen for years. I couldn't believe that such gems were forgotten," says Porter. And so the festival was born, and, as Porter, also director of the Broadway cinema in Nottingham, puts it: "The BFI had the films, we had the cinema. It was a match made in heaven."

This year's festival looks at Britain's cinematic relationship with continental Europe. "The films give a rare insight into the European film industry and alliances before the domination of Hollywood," says Porter. Features will include the melodrama The Woman He Scorned (1928), in which the European actress-turned-Hollywood star Pola Negri plays a prostitute in a love triangle with a boyfriend and a lighthouse keeper. "It's a masterpiece, which, despite being set in France, was filmed at Mevagissey!" says Porter.

Other features include an early talkie about the Titanic, Atlantic (1929), from the German director E A Dupont. "There are some silent bits, because sound technology was still in its infancy," says Porter. There will also be a screening of The Black Tulip (1921), based on the Dumas classic, and two silent versions of Hamlet: a German one of 1920, in which the Prince of Denmark is played by the great Danish actress Asta Nielsen; and the Italian Amleto (1917). Other curiosities include a European film from the director of Casablanca, Michael Curtiz. The Golden Butterfly (1926), based on a P G Wodehouse story, is about the rise and fall of a dancer, played by the French star Lili Damita; and Call of the Blood (1920), is about a British man who, while on holiday with his wife in Sicily, deceives her, with tragic consequences. Ivor Novello made his film debut as the adulterer.

There will also be screenings of Mitchell & Kenyon Edwardian documentaries, and rare European travelogues. All the films will have live musical accompaniment.

British Silent Cinema Festival, Broadway Cinema, Nottingham (0115 952 6611; www.britishsilentcinema.co.uk), 7-10 April

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