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culture

Silence Talks

The third annual Toronto Silent Film Festival brings vintage cinema to the big screen for a new generation of audiences.

Still from Our Dancing Daughters, courtesy of Silent Volume.

Toronto Silent Film Festival
Various cinemas
March 29–April 3
Festival pass $65-$100, Individual tickets $10-$20

In light of the third annual Toronto Silent Film Festival, which opens tonight, we ask: what do silent films have to say to contemporary audiences?

According to silent film blogger Chris Edwards, the answer is “plenty.”

“There are amazing things to see from any kind of film period, silent included,” says Edwards. “It boils down to the same kind of argument that I would make for foreign films—something that’s subtitled, or that has a different philosophy. It may seem alien at first, but we then [end up] looking at it and learning about it, and I feel it’s good for us.”

Longtime vintage cinema fan Shirley Hughes started the fest along with Chris Seguin and Marc Wonnacott in 2010, in hopes of introducing a new generation of viewers to the experience of watching high-quality silent films as they were originally meant to be seen, on the big screen, with live musical accompaniment, as they were intended to be heard.

“We hold it at theatres across the city so that people can feel like they’re having their own neighbourhood silent film festival,” she explains, adding that some screenings are held in original silent film movie houses like the Fox and the Revue to bolster the viewer experience.

Edwards, who is doing online and print content editing for the festival, likens an interest in silent film to an interest in any film genre (“art is art,” he says), but notes that this year’s festival lineup contains some timely gems. He’s particularly enthused to see festival opener Our Dancing Daughters (which plays tonight at Innis Town Hall) on the schedule–especially following a recent, much-discussed (and Jezebel-lampooned) Globe and Mail column in defense of the lecherous male gaze.

“We’re talking a lot about [male] gaze after that column, and this film’s all about what does it mean to be female in the Jazz Age, and how do traditional values mesh with being a young person today in the world after a brutal fucking war,” says Edwards. “It’s a really great film.”

Edwards is also pleased to see The Italian Straw Hat on the lineup—which he, like many other film lovers, hasn’t had a chance to see before. “It has a really wonderful reputation, and…I think that’s the film Shirley’s the most proud of being able to show to people.” Edwards also points out that this year’s lineup includes some modern works, including a number of shorts courtesy of the Toronto Urban Film Festival.

For her part, Hughes aims to bring not only the films themselves, but their historical and artistic contexts, to light. Most of the screenings feature guest speakers before each film to discuss different aspects the silent era. “We try to keep it a really accessible thing for people, especially people who are new to silent film and want to learn a little more about it,” says Hughes. “We just want everybody to have a good time.”

Correction – Thursday, March 29, 3:50PM: Individual ticket prices range from $10-$20, not a flat-rate of $12, as was previously stated. The above reflects the correct prices.

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