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  • Writer's pictureSouth West Silents

Bonn Silent Film Festival 2012

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Regular South West Silents contributor and German Film Historian Dr Horst Claus always gets the time to get away to many more film festivals than most of us (lucky devil) and he returns to us now with an update on his recent adventure, the Bonn Silent Film Festival 2012.

International Silent Film Festival, Bonn: August 16 – 28, 2012

Next to the Giornate Del Cinema Muto in the wonderful North Italian City of Pordenone (more about that later on this month) the “Internationale Stummfilmtage” in the former West German capital of Bonn has become the most important showcase of Silent Films in Europe.

Founded 28 years ago as a summer film festival, it has concentrated on open air screenings of silent movies since 1995. The event takes place over 11 nights in August in a courtyard of the city’s university. Programmes – consisting usually of a short and a full length feature – start at 9.00 pm, with a second, different to follow at 10.30pm on Saturday evenings.

Sunday afternoons are devoted to lectures with screenings on aspects of silent cinema in a nearby museum. Since 2011, the festival (in collaboration with Bonn University) also offers a free international symposium during the day – last year’s concentrated on Japanese silent cinema, this year’s focused on Franz Kafka’s enthusiasm for the moving picture and the films he saw.

All screenings are accompanied by leading international musicians in the field (amongst them “Bristol Silents”-veterans Neil Brand, Günter Buchwald and Stephen Horne). Most importantly, this is not a festival for “specialists”, but for everybody who wants to experience films from the pre-sound era in their original glorious splendour.

Admission is free, but – in order to guarantee its continuation in the future – spectators are asked to make voluntary donations in boxes provided at the doors to the court yard. The venue has a capacity of 1570 seats all of which are usually taken by between 30 and 15 minutes prior to the start of a programme. (People aiming for the best seats arrive up to two hours early – passing the time reading a book or a paper, or being occupied with their laptop.) It is not unusual for large crowds to be turned away because safety regulations insist on strict adherence to the maximum number of spectators.

Though films are also accompanied by other instruments, tradition has it that the festival’s technical director asks for volunteers from the audience to carry the grand piano (from the room where it is tuned daily) to its position to the right of the screen. If rain threatens it is placed on a rostrum covered by a tent – for screenings will always continue through even the heaviest of downpours. This year, with day temperatures of up to 38º/C (~100º/F) the festival provided a pleasant relief from an oppressive heat wave.

Usually the quality of the presentation is outstanding thanks to the international connections of the festival’s founder and curator Stefan Drössler, a native of Bonn who is also the director of the Film Museum in Munich and renowned for his own film restorations (many of which are available on DVD).

Thus, audiences were treated to the latest restorations and most complete prints available of Erich von Stroheim’s spectacular THE WEDDING MARCH (1926, with two strip Technicolor sections) and John Ford’s classic Western 3 BAD MEN (1926) both of which had come specially from the States.

Apart from the two films mentioned, this year’s programme included amongst others:

RACHMANINOFF’S PRELUDE, Castleton Knight, GB 1927

PAY DAY, Charles Chaplin, USA, 1922

MUTTER KRAUSENS FAHRT INS GLÜCK (Mother Krausen’s Journey into Happiness), Piel Jutzi, Germany 1929.

ROTAIE (Rails), Mario Camerini, Italy 1929

TOKYO NO EIYU (The Hero of Tokyo), Hiroshi Shimizu, Japan 1935

NICK WINTER ET LE VOL DE LA JOCONDE (Nick Winter and the Theft of Mona Lisa), Paul Garbagni , France 1911

POLIS PAULUS’ PÅSKASMÄLL (Pat and Patachon as Policemen), Gustaf Molander, Sweden 1925

DEN HVIDE SLAVEHANDELS SIDSTE OFFER (The White Slave), August Blom, Denmark 1911

DADDY-LONG-LEGS, Marshall Neilan, USA 1919

WHY GIRLS SAY NO, Leo McCarey, USA1927

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, Allan Dwan, USA 1927

LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE, Georges Méliès, France 1902

DAS WEISSE STADION (The White Stadium – Record of the 1928 Winter Olympics), Arnold Fanck, Othmar Gurtner, Switzerland 1928

THE JEST Fred Paul, GB 1921

DER TOTENTANZ (Dance of Death), Urban Gad, Germany 1912

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