Film festival silent, golden

Regina Budden

The 13th annual Silent Film Festival roared-silently-to a start Friday evening in White Concert Hall. With features ranging from short comedies to long, suffering romances, the festival was entertaining and informative about the silent film era.

Members of the audience were treated to the silent pictures, often shown on the regular reel film, accompanied by live organ music provided by Marvin Faulwell, a retired dentist from Kansas City, and Greg Foreman, a music teacher in the Lee’s Summit school district in Missouri, and occasionally incorporated percussion, done by Kathy Combs, a musician of Tecumseh. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra from Boulder, Colo., also accompanied several films, including the festival’s climactic feature shown Saturday evening.

“The neatest thing is how far people have come,” said Zandra Myrick, a Topekan who was “talked into working” the front table of the festival. “I wasn’t a big fan, but I am now!”

The number of people who traveled long distances was staggering. People came from all around Kansas, and also from New England, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Arizona, Texas and California.

The silent film era lasted from about 1895-1930, and only about 30 percent of the films still remain, said Bill Shaffer, the SFF’s president. There are now several groups dedicated to preserving the films and legacies of the artists from that period, though. It is thanks to these groups that the films may be viewed, though many have undergone extensive restoration.

The festival began with a double helping of Kansas-born actors: Topeka-born Fay Tincher in a short film, “Rowdy Ann,” and Buster Keaton (born in Piqua, Kan.) in “Go West.” The evening wrapped up with “The Great K & A Train Robbery,” a Tom Mix film. Saturday morning brought a whole new round of features, and from 9 a. m. to noon celebrated the work of Mary Pickford with a film and a documentary, “Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies,” recently compiled by film editor and University of Kansas graduate Nicholas Eliopoulos.

Eliopoulos’ dedication to preserving Pickford’s legacy began when he met Buddy Rogers, Pickford’s last husband and also a KU alumnus. Rogers inspired him to begin what he calls “a long labor of love.” It was seldom a consistent process, however.

“We worked as we got funding,” Eliopoulos said. The documentary covers Pickford’s life. She was born in 1892, the year that Eastman Kodak Company invented negative film, and since film and Pickford became so connected, Eliopoulos said it made sense that his documentary should demonstrate the correlation. Pickford was a pioneer of film; she was the first actress to earn a million dollars in a year, she won the second Academy Award, and founded a retirement for those who work in motion pictures. Eliopoulos said the documentary was being entered in the running for next year’s Oscar race.

The festival continued through the day and ended that evening with the American premiere of “Bardelys the Magnificent.”