For a few brief moments last Saturday night in the Ruby, I was transported back to the 1920s, reveling in flashing movies. Monochromatic colors and the absence of spoken dialogue no longer mattered, because a silent movie night is exhilarating in itself.
“A Night of Silent Film” was a Valentine’s Day-themed film screening hosted by the Duke Independent Film Festival (DIFF). The event featured eight shorts, released on Lilly Library DVDs. The oldest of the films was released in 1914, starring Charlie Chaplin, and the most recent was a 1928 Walt Disney production.
Founded in 2014, DIFF hosts an annual campus-wide film festival for the Duke community. In recent years, they have expanded their reach to become a year-round community for filmmakers and moviegoers. They now host other college year events, including their fall 2021 screening of “Dear Evan Hansen.” In collaboration with Universal Pictures, DIFF screened “Dear Evan Hansen” at the AMC Classic Durham theater eight days ahead of its US release date. On the DIFF website and Youtube page, one can find editorials and film reviews.
The idea of hosting a silent movie night was inspired by DIFF’s Marketing Director, Cate Knothe, shared Sofia Silvosa, SEO Director for the DIFF team. “In Cate’s hometown there is an annual silent film festival with orchestral music. She wanted to bring that tradition to the Duke campus,” Silvosa said. “We plan to make Silent Film Night an annual event.
The DIFF team took into account the tastes of the general public when selecting its program for the silent film evening.
“Since silent films are a rather unfamiliar form of cinema to most audiences, we wanted to choose somewhat digestible films over more experimental ones,” Silvosa said. “
The program included films featuring household names such as “Cruel, Cruel Love” with Charlie Chaplin, “One Week” with Buster Keaton and “His Royal Slyness” with Harold Lloyd. Meanwhile, the event also featured some lesser-known personalities such as Felix the Cat, Charley Chase in “Dog Shy” and Alice Howell in “Neptune’s Naughty Daughter.”
Fanatics of silent cinema and newbies to silent cinema, the participants found the joy of discovering new treasures in the world of cinema. From Keaton’s stunning stunts and his obvious but not unrealistic comedic moves to the clever mischief of Felix the Cat, “A Night of Silent Film” had something for every one of its viewers. The slapstick of 100 years ago is vastly underrated.
After hosting silent film night, DIFF is now gearing up for its big annual event – Duke Independent Film Festival. As in previous years, the festival will take place in March or April. What makes this event particularly noteworthy is that it’s the first time the film festival has been held in person since 2019.
“We are really delighted that it is in person in the [Rubenstein Film Theater]”, said Silvosa. “Students who attend the festival will have a unique opportunity to see the work of other students and get to know the film community here. Many of the films will be documentaries, presenting stories in the community of Durham.
This year, DIFF is accepting applications not only from undergraduate students but also from graduate students for the first time, and they plan to split the awards into two sections for applications from undergraduate and graduate students , respectively.
Silvosa shared the DIFF team’s goal for this year: “Our team tries to balance hosting public events and small events to build community within the Duke film community. We want to host more independent film screenings, continue the silent film festival, find more ways to accommodate more genres, and increase the diversity of our film selection.
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