A short History of the Festival.
Told by the Festival’s Founder
Pre-History and first Silent Film Weekend
It all started in 2002 with a silent film weekend. Before that, there had only been occasional silent film screenings in the ballroom of the student house. In the ballroom there is a 35mm projector, the speed of which can be changed – an important technical requirement. In 2002, just two films were shown, more precisely chamber feature films: “The Backstairs” by Leopold Jessner / Paul Leni and “Shards” by Lupu Pick. One thing was clear: the audience could not expect light fare. The standard was high.
The concept was clear from the start: we wanted to use the large ballroom, which seats over 300 people, and try to accompany silent films with large ensembles. One of the pioneers was Cornelia Brugger, who with her Capella Obscura (the ensemble only got this name long after 2002) regularly takes part in the Silent Film Festival until today (2015). Other ensembles were soon added, e.g. the “Karlsruher Improvisationsensemble” around Holger Ebeling and Ilmar Klahn. The festival’s ensembles play different styles, so the music is always an important part of the performance.
The second silent film weekend in 2003 was dedicated to Ernst Lubitsch, of whom we showed four early German silent films; two comedies: “The Oyster Princess” and “Kohlhiesels Töchter”, and two costume films: “Sumurun” and “The eyes of the mummy Mâ”. The outstanding quality of the comedies was also proven by the Karlsruhe audience. We then caught up with “The Wild Cat” in the “From Caligari to Metropolis” program in November 2006.
the event was named “Karlsruhe Silent Film Festival”. The student AFK (Academic Film Club) was still involved in 2004 and then withdrew. We presented four films by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau: “Nosferatu”, “Tabu”, “Schloss Vogelöd” and “Sunrise”. The pianist Eva Chahrouri and the pianist Frieder Egri participated for the first time with the musicians. Until 2015 he belongs to the musicians of the Silent Film Festival Karlsruhe. In 2004, Karlsruhe was in the fever of applying for the Capital of Culture. In the early phase of the application, we also looked into the allocation guidelines and learned that projects with children and young people are particularly important. In cooperation with Sylvia Jürges, a musician and music teacher at the Baden Conservatory, and Ilmar Klahn, a violinist and music teacher, a project was created that required a lot of courage: not only should one film be shown that is suitable for children, children should also accompany the film. Since there were no special children’s films in the silent era, the search for a suitable film was not easy; With “Sleeping Beauty” (1917) by Paul Leni, however, a perfectly fitting film was found. Finally, around 70 children in 3 ensembles accompanied the film. For the first time, we received a special grant from the city of Karlsruhe for this program.
Note: the student cultural center received a lump-sum project grant, which was then allocated to individual projects by the managing director of the cultural center, so that the silent film days can be regarded as being funded by the city even before this year.
The following year, 2005, we were less fortunate in finding a suitable film for children; three Chaplin short films were offered as a program for children accompanied by adult musicians. The main program was dedicated to one genre: we showed four street films; these were “Die Straße” by R. Grune, “Asphalt” by Joe May, “Varieté” and “Piccadilly” by E. A. Dupont. The silent film days were not spared from mishaps: the performance of “Varietè” had to be canceled due to a projector damage. The film was included again in the program at the next festival. When I was preparing for the festival in 2005, I was looking for another venue, but I hadn’t dared to address the ZKM with this small event. Unfortunately, it was not possible to hold the silent film days in the Landesmedienzentrum (State Media Center) for technical reasons.
we had contacted the managing director of the ZKM in good time so that we could show the two main films of the program “From Caligari to Metropolis” in the student house and in the ZKM. The program, which tried to trace the development of expressionist film, caused the number of visitors to explode, so that for the first time we were able to count more than 1000 visitors. The other two films were “Wax Works” (OT: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) by Paul Leni and “The Wildcat” (OT: Die Bergkatze) by Ernst Lubitsch. In the children’s program we were able to show the early animated film “Die Wunderuhr” by Ladislas Starewitch (a Pole from Russia who had emigrated to Paris). A program that met with full approval from the audience.
Because of the ZKM’s anniversary, the silent film days were postponed from November to January 2008. The scope of the program “1925 – A year in the cinema” was significantly expanded compared to previous years: we showed two programs that ran in the ZKM and in the student house, and two films each that were only shown in the ZKM and only in the student house. At the express request of the ZKM, the program for children was also performed at the ZKM. It was the beautiful silhouette film “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” by Lotte Reiniger. The films in the main program were “Battleship Potemkin”, “The Big Parade”, “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Ernst Lubitsch, “Varieté” by E.A. Dupont – we unfortunately had to do without Chaplin’s “Goldrush”, but Murnau’s “The Last Man” in the program.
In the summer of 2007, Dr. Heck, the head of the cultural department at the time, which has now become the cultural office, in which he expressed the opinion that the silent film days had become part of urban culture and had lost their purely student character. Dr. Heck suggested that the Silent Film Festival should be made independent in a suitable manner. I discussed this proposal with some people interested in silent film, especially among musicians. We came to the conclusion to found an association that should hold the silent film days in the future. We initially planned to found the association on December 28, 2007 (as is well known, the Lumière brothers’ first film screenings took place on December 28, 1895), but it took longer. Some articles of the statutes were discussed for a long time. When the time finally came, we found a date that was closely linked to local cinema and film history: on September 5, 1896, the first screenings of films by the Lumière brothers took place in Karlsruhe; we founded the Déjà Vu – Film e. V. exactly 112 years later.
On the occasion of the founding of the association, on September 6th and 7th, 2008, we played a program with films from early cinema and a screening of one of Ernst Lubitsch’s most wonderful films: “The Doll”. But the audience let us down a bit. A period of intense discussion and heated debates followed. Some club members wanted to change the direction of the festival. The Artistic Director struggled with his argument that he initially understood the Karlsruhe Silent Film Festival as a film festival and therefore had to choose films according to cinematic criteria and design the program accordingly. Other criteria seemed irrelevant to the artistic director and not suitable for leading to a cinematic convincing program.
In January we played a program with the long title “Georg Wilhelm Pabst – Asta Nielsen – Lulu – Films” at the 7th Karlsruhe Silent Film Festival. It was the most extensive and also the most expensive, but also the most successful program to date. Since “Erdgeist” with Asta Nielsen is a very seldom seen film, some guests also came from abroad. Unfortunately there were some mishaps during the organization, so that the artistic director spoke of “The seven year itch” afterwards. Screenings of films such as “Pandora’s Box” or “Diary of a Lost Girl”, but also Asta Nielsen as “Robber Chief Wife” in “Zapatas Gang” or “Engelein” compensated for all the effort, so that the Artistic Director once again realized why he organized a silent film festival.
For the first time, a project seminar took place in cooperation with the ZAK, where the then 1st chairman of the association Wolfgang Petroll worked as a lecturer, so that we had some valuable helpers with the organization. In this way, members found the association who are equally enthusiastic about silent film and have since contributed their strength and ideas to the organization of the silent film days. Stefanie Tieste is currently the 2nd chairwoman of the association (2015).
To finance the Silent Film Festival, a grant from the Baden-Württemberg Media and Film Company could be used for the first time – but only after intensive contacts at the political level and a few letters to members of parliament and ministries.
After the person-oriented programs of the previous years, we played a program called “Einbruch des Fantastischen”. We mainly concentrated on German films, not least to keep the financial risks low. In addition to classics such as “Nosferatu,“ Der Müde Tod ”or“ Orlac’s hands ”, there were also discoveries such as the unique“ Shadow ”by Artur Robison, one of the best films of the 1920s – if you follow Siegfried Kracauer. We added “Vampyr” by Carl Theodor Dreyer as a replacement for “The Downfall of the House of Usher”, which the Cinémathèque francaise unfortunately did not want to make available to us. We conducted a visitor survey to find out which films the typical Karlsruhe visitor wants to see, or to see who is interested in a film like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide “arrives late at night with electronic music: the young audience predominated. We realized that we could influence the placement of a film; however, most of the Karlsruhe visitors would prefer to see the German silent film classic. The result makes us work for the future: we have to drive multi-track: The Karlsruhe audience has to be reached with special offers such as the “Culinary Cinema” and the “Film Concert” on Saturday evening, for the cinematic demanding program with rarely seen silent films, we have to go beyond the region attract national and even international audiences. We have entered into a partnership with the festival in Anères / France and will in future be inviting films and musicians from the Anères program. In return, Anères is inviting a film from our festival to France. In 2010, for the second time, “as an exception”, as it was said, we received a grant from MFG. In 2011 that was no longer possible. After an exchange of views with a key representative of the MFG, we entered into a cooperation with the Kinemathek. For the first time, we were able to benefit from the usual subsidy at a ratio of 2: 1 H. we received a grant from MFG amounting to 50% of the municipal grant.
The silent film days were postponed a bit and took place from March 11th to 14th, 2010 again in the ZKM and in the student house. We ventured into a purely French program and played “René Clair and Jean Renoir – two poets of light”. Unfortunately, the beautiful name did not bring any new viewers; after the success in the previous year, the people of Karlsruhe were apparently a bit tired of silent films. Or was it the fact that we were playing a program whose individual tracks were mostly unfamiliar to the audience? In the previous programs it was rather the other way round. Nevertheless, this program is also associated with some unforgettable film experiences, such as B. the performance of the long version of “Paris qui there”, accompanied by Günter Buchwald with ensemble. “Nana”, a great but not easy film by Jean Renoir with an outstanding Werner Krauss, should also be mentioned. With Jacques Poitrat, who was still an editor at ARTE at the time, we had a guest who talked to Josef Jünger about the restoration of “Nana”. Jacques Poitrat’s visit was to have many positive consequences. From a financial point of view, the festival unfortunately generated a deficit, as a result of which the finances of the association were very tense for a long time and could only be saved from even bigger problems thanks to help from private sources.
The organizing team of the Silent Film Days takes on the challenges that the realization of the Karlsruhe Silent Film Days presents now and in the future. In future, we will distribute our advertising material between Pordenone and Paris – and not skip London and Amsterdam. Nevertheless: the Karlsruhe Silent Film Festival is (still) a small festival. For the first time, we will receive a grant of more than 5000 euros for the anniversary program. We want to expand the festival continuously but not rashly. We are convinced that cultivating the cultural heritage in the film sector will not only introduce the audience to the almost forgotten riches from the first third of the 20th century. In almost every conversation about silent films with non-experts, we have the experience that we are asked whether there are enough films from this time? This question alone shows the extent to which knowledge about early cinema in the first two decades of the 20th century and the heyday of silent films in the 1920s was lost. There is another decisive reason for preoccupation with silent film: only those who know the past can talk about the future. Those who take the present as zero point do not know their own direction.
Addendum 2018: it is time to revise the text and reassess the possibilities and the future of the festival. JJ