The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s mission is to demonstrate the artistry, diversity, and enduring cultural value of silent movies and to ensure that they are accessible to current and future audiences. We pursue this mission by partnering with international archives to fund and restore silent films as well as by supporting film preservation efforts through the exhibition of major restorations and archival prints. Throughout the year, we carefully curate high-quality presentations of silent films from the world's leading archives and educational programs that give our audience a more complete picture and a deeper understanding of the art form, its history, and current efforts to study, preserve, and exhibit these rare and vulnerable films.
In addition to our annual four-day festival in late May/ early June, we present a Fall/Winter event, and stage other events throughout the year. In 2012, we produced the first and only US screening in thirty years of Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON, presented in a five-and-a-half hour restoration accompanied by a symphony orchestra conducted by London-based composer Carl Davis.
Our programming is a lively and thought-provoking mix of American classics, lesser-known gems, rare and/or recently restored films, and important international work all presented with live musical accompaniment by some of the world's finest practitioners of the art of putting music to film. The festival has commissioned scores that have set a new standard for excellence in film accompaniment. Each presentation we produce is a special event, which exemplifies the extraordinary quality that Academy Award-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow calls "live cinema” and many consider our annual festival the cinematic highlight of the year (MovieMaker Magazine named the San Francisco Silent Film Festival as one of the “20 Coolest Film Festivals”!).
Every year the Festival brings authors, archivists, and filmmakers to the stage to help audiences appreciate the history, preservation, and continuing influence and importance of these early works of cinema art. A diverse group of film directors including Pete Docter, Philip Kaufman, Guy Maddin, Craig Baldwin, Alexander Payne, and Terry Zwigoff have introduced their silent picks onstage at the Castro.
Recognizing film preservation as essential to our ability to share silent film with contemporary audiences, we celebrate the efforts of preservationists and international archives throughout the festival. Professionals in the film preservation world in return consider our festival among the premier venues to see the fruits of their (and their colleagues) labors on a big screen with an enthusiastic and appreciative general audience as well as an unparalleled event where they can connect with industry colleagues.
We see what we do as a vital part of film preservation – after all, what is the purpose of preserving films if no one will have the opportunity to see them?
We have supported film preservation efforts through the exhibition of major restorations, as well as by direct funding of restorations. Through our Preservation Fund and in partnership with organizations such as MoMA, Cinémathèque française, Eye Film Institute Netherlands, Library of Congress, and the Film Preservation Society, we have restored and preserved Sherlock Holmes (1916) the holy grail of Sherlockania, The Last Edition (1925) which was filmed on location at the SF Chronicle and on the streets of San Francisco, two Allan Dwan films starring the inimitable Douglas Fairbanks: The Good Bad Man (1916) and The Half-Breed (1916), and When the Earth Trembled (1913) a “spectacle and disaster” film featuring the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. We are in the process of restoring four additional titles in collaboration with Cinémathèque française, BFI, James Mockoski, Library of Congress, and Gosfilmofond, which will all have their US premieres at our 2016 festival.