Highlights of the 19th British Silent Film Festival

13-17 September 2017,
Phoenix Cinema, Leicester

Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1932)

Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1932)

The British Silent Film Festival returns to the Phoenix in Leicester this September and the good news is that you can book your tickets and passes now. We are excited to unveil our four-day programme of silent and early sound cinema from around the world – with a special focus on British film.

All the silent films will be accompanied by some of the world’s best silent film musicians, including a very special score for Vampyr, by Stephen Horne and Minima. This haunting, hallucinatory horror film was directed by Carl Th Dreyer in 1932 with barely any dialogue. It is based on the writings of Sheridan le Fanu and follows a young scholar of the occult who enters a village that is under the curse of a vampire.

More silent horror in the programme comes courtesy of a selection of chilling films inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, which will screen at Leicester’s atmospheric 12th-century St Mary de Castro church, with an introduction from BFI curator Bryony Dixon.

We’ll also be celebrating some of the silent era’s lesser-sung comedians. We are screening the hilarious Hands Up! in which comic Raymond Griffith plays a Confederate spy trying to capture some Yankee gold during the American Civil War. We are also showing Cocktails, a rarely seen, sparkling comedy from 1928 starring Pat and Patachon, the “Danish Laurel and Hardy”.

L’Hirondelle et la mésange (André Antoine, 1920)

L’Hirondelle et la mésange (André Antoine, 1920)

A rarely seen treasure of silent cinema, L’Hirondelle et la mésange, directed by André Antoine in 1920, also screens at the festival. This lyrical, suspenseful film, set in the canals of Flanders, and taking its name from two barges driven by the protagonists, was not released for 60 years as the studio considered it too realistic. Now its naturalistic acting, and sophisticated camera effects are celebrated as an example of silent cinema at its finest. This film has been restored by La Cinémathèque française, and we are showing the film in a gorgeous 2K restoration, complete with the original tints.

It wouldn’t be a celebration of British silent cinema without Alfred Hitchcock, and we’ll be showing the recent BFI restoration of his debut film The Pleasure Garden, with an introduction by musician, composer and TV presenter Neil Brand.

The Pleasure Garden (Alfred Hitchcock, 1925)

The Pleasure Garden (Alfred Hitchcock, 1925)

Again we’re looking at British cinema’s transition from the silent era to the talkies. We are screening some early sound classics, including Walter Summers’ nail-biting Suspense (1930) in which a group of British WWI soldiers are forced to listen to the enemy laying mines in the tunnel beneath their trench. This brilliant film will be introduced by journalist and film researcher Geoff Brown.

There is plenty more in the full programme, which we’ll be announcing in full soon, including some fascinating archive film, two appearances by Betty Balfour, and Bill Morrison’s acclaimed documentary, Dawson City: Frozen Time.

Don’t forget, the festival kicks off on 13 September with a one-day colloquium on Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound – see the at a glance timetable for the papers and presenters!

See you in Leicester!

The British Silent Film Festival runs from 13-17 September 2017 at the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester. You can book weekend passes here.





Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound

Symposium 13 September 2017

Phoenix Cinema, Leicester

as part of the 19th British Silent Film Festival, 13-17 September


The transition from silent to synchronised sound cinema in Britain between 1927 and 1933 was a period which changed British cinema as both industry and art form forever, but which has largely been overlooked by cinema historians.

This symposium, which will precede the British Silent Film Festival, will examine the transition from silent to sound across the cinema industry in terms of economics, employment, technology and infrastructure, as well as the shift in film form and style including its impact on production, distribution, exhibition, reception and critique.

We invite papers and presentations from a range of disciplines that help to advance our understanding of the film industry during this tumultuous period. We particularly welcome contributions which consider the transitional period in European cinemas along with Britain’s own international relationships to both Anglophone and non-Anglophone countries. We also invite papers that consider the role of music and sound in silent cinema, before the period of the transition to sound.

The symposium is part of the AHRC-funded project on British Silent Cinema and the Transition to sound (a collaboration between De Montfort University and the University of Stirling) and will precede the 19th British Silent Film Festival which will include four-days of screenings and presentations on the transitional period 1927 – 1933.

Possible topics include:
– technology and industry
– economics
– personnel
– film form, style and the impact of new production processes
– exhibition, reception, cinema-going and audiences
– cinema markets
– the transitional period’s impact and legacy
– music and sound in early cinema

Please send abstracts of 200-500 words to Laraine Porter at


Deadline for contributions: 31 July 2017.


Les Misérables (*pg) Sun 23 April 2.00pm Barbican Cinema 1

UK premiere with live piano accompaniment by Neil Brand


We welcome pianist Neil Brand, one of the world’s leading accompanists for silent film, to Barbican Cinema 1 for what will without doubt become one of the landmark events of the 2017 UK film year. Neil will accompany Henri Fescourt’s seven hour adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Never before screened in the UK, and known until now only in a black & white version, it will be presented in a new restoration with all the riches of the various colour techniques employed by Fescourt in 1925 (tinting, toning, and mordanting).  With its 365 chapters divided into 48 books and 5 volumes, Victor Hugo’s 1862 masterwork is perhaps the world’s most adapted novel, with upwards of 50 film adaptations since 1909, as well as innumerable stage productions, animation films, video games, and radio adaptations (including Orson Welles’ 1937 series in which he played the role of Jean Valjean). Among all these, however, it is not too much to surmise that Henri Fescourt’s 1925 version is the most faithful in every sense – to the narrative, the philosophy, the humanity, and the morality. Join us for this epic, landmark event.
France 1925-26 Dir. Henri Fescourt 397 min
For info:
·        It’s never before been screened in the UK – it’s a UK premiere
·        Only previously existed in a black & white version – now presented in a ravishing new restoration with all the original colour tints!
·        Neil Brand will be playing for 397 minutes – an epic undertaking!
·        Will be screened in 4 parts as director Henri Fescourt intended – with 3 refreshment breaks, including a one-hour dinner break between Parts 2 & 3
Barbican Cinema 1
Silk Street
Tubes: Barbican / Moorgate



King’s College London, Strand Campus, The Arthur and Paula Lucas Lecture Theatre (S-2.18)

Registration for the BSFFS 2017 is now open. Registration is £20 for one day [please specify which day], £30 for both days.

Please register at:  LINK

Tea and coffee provided morning and afternoon.


 The British Silent Film Festival affords scholars, archivists and enthusiasts the opportunity to re-asses film-making in Britain between 1895 and 1930. By bringing forgotten films out of the archive, and encouraging scholarly activity that can place those films in appropriate production and reception contexts, the festival has been the driving force behind a complete re-appraisal of what was previously an almost unknown cinema.

This two-day symposium is intended to complement the festival itself – an opportunity to consider the achievements and the key debates brought to light by the festival, and to discuss the new directions that future research may take. Highlights of the programme this year include screenings of A Lowland Cinderella (Sidney Morgan, 1921) starring Joan Morgan, in a romance set in Scotland but filmed on the English south coast, and two films not seen publically since their release – The Unsleeping Eye (Alexander Macdonald, 1928) and Empire adventure shot by a Scottish production company, and A Light Woman (Adrian Brunel, 1928) which was previously thought lost, but has now been discovered in a truncated home-market version.

The full programme of screenings and presentations is below

 THURSDAY 6th April


Welcome & Housekeeping (10 mins)

09.10: Tony Fletcher – Screening and Talk: The Transition to Sound 1925-7 (60 mins)

10.10: Rebecca Harrison – Class and the Train’s Effect: Reinvestigating the ‘Panicking Audience’

10.30: Bryony Dixon & Steve Foxon – Trainspotting Too: Reporting from the BFI’s Victorian Project

10.50: Questions

11.00-11.30 TEA BREAK


11.30: Stephen Morgan – Seismic Sturnutations: That Fatal Sneeze (1907) as Earthquake Film

11.50: Andrew Shail – The Series Character on UK Screens before the First World War

12.10: Stephen Bottomore – Caravans and Kinematographs: the origins of the public health film

12.30: SCREENING – The Fly Pest (1909) 35mm 6 min

  1. 40: Questions

13.00-14.00 LUNCH BREAK


14.00: Gerry Turvey – ‘A New Palace of Pleasure’: The Bohemia Cinema Pleasure Garden at Finchley, North London, 1912-18

14.20: Lucie Dutton MA – Maurice Elvey and Hindle Wakes: “It’s really about something – it’s about people”

14.40: Jo Botting – Adrian Brunel and the ‘missing’ film A Light Woman

15.00: SCREENING – A Light Woman (1928) DVD 25 mins [9.5mm cut-down version]

15.30-16.00 TEA BREAK


18.00: Ellen Cheshire – Making progress in re-assessing Progress Films

18.20: SCREENINGA Lowland Cinderella (1921) 35mm


FRIDAY 7th April


09.20: Jude Cowan Montague – The many voices of Gracie Fields: Sally in Our Alley (1931)

09.40: *John Ritchie – Silent Hollywood Scotland: Seeing Ourselves As Others See Us

10.00: *Sarah Neely – Tantalizing fragments: Scots language, dialect and song in the early talkies

10.20: Questions

10.30-11.00 TEA BREAK


11.00: Caroline Merz – Scotland and Empire: The Seven Seas Screen Productions

11.20: SCREENINGThe Unsleeping Eye (MacDonald, 1928) 35mm 68 mins

12.30-14.00 LUNCH BREAK


14.00: *Nyasha Sibanda – “Almost, If Not Quite, As Good as the W.E.”: On Sound Apparatus 1929-1930

14.20: *Geoff Brown – How To Lose Money In British Films: A SHAREHOLDER’S GUIDE

14.40: *Laraine Porter – ‘Avoiding a disaster attaching to a stampede’; the CEA and the reluctance of British cinemas to wire for sound

15.00: *John Izod – The Empowering of British Cinema Operators, 1927-33

15.20: Questions

15.30-16.00 TEA BREAK


16.00: Christina Hink – Machine Aesthetics in The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)

16.20: Pamela Hutchinson – Pandora’s Box (1929) Lulu’s ‘misadventures’ in London

16.40: Chris O’ Rourke: ‘The Worst Kind of American Sensationalism’: Selling Stardom in the 1922 Daily Sketch Contest

17.00: Bryony Dixon, Laraine Porter – plenary and final discussion

*indicates that speakers are part of the ‘British Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound 1927-1932’ research project co-ordinated at De Montfort University, Leicester and the Univeristy of Stirling, and funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.




Metropolis (1927)

Wednesday 22 March at 7pm
St Mary de Castro Church, 
Castle Street, Leicester,  LE1 5WN

With live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
All tickets £6 including a free drink


To marks its 90th anniversary year, we are holding a candlelit screening of Fritz Lang’s epic science-fiction drama in the unique Gothic setting of Leicester’s beautiful, medieval St Mary de Castro church. Enjoy this fully-restored version with live musical accompaniment from world-class musician Stephen Horne. The ticket price includes a complimentary drink, but you will need to bring your own cushion!
Screening in conjunction with DMU Local
All profits from the evening will go towards much-needed renovations at St Mary de Castro Church and the reinstatement of its iconic spire!

Tickets from Phoenix Cinema 0116 2422800

The Battle of the Somme (1916)

Saturday 1 Oct at 7.30pm – Leicester Cathedral

Silent film with live music by Laura Rossi. Performed by Leicester Symphony Orchestra

Tickets £10/£7 concs. available from Leicester Cathedral Shop, www.phoenix.org.uk, Leicesterso@hotmail.co.uk



Presented by DMU Local in association with the British Silent Film Festival as part of Somme100.

Film courtesy of Imperial War Museum.  All proceeds to LOROS and DMU Square Mile India Charities



For more information on Somme1000 see: www.Somme100film.com

Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound

Dates of EventImageServerup
23rd May 2016 – 24th May 2016
Last Booking Date for this Event
24th May 2016
Two-day colloquium.


The transition from silent to synchronised sound cinema in Britain between 1927 and 1933 was a period which changed British cinema as both industry and art form forever, but which has largely been overlooked by cinema historians.

This colloquium will examine the arrival of sound across the industry in terms of economics, employment, technology and infrastructure, as well as the shift in film form and style including its impact on production, distribution, exhibition, reception and critique. We invite papers from a range of disciplines that help to advance our understanding of the film industry during this tumultuous period when studios and cinemas were forced to re-equip and reinvest, when stars and creative personnel faced considerable turmoil and when British cinema’s relationship with non-Anglophone countries, particularly in Europe, was to change forever.

To Book:https://shop.stir.ac.uk/myaccount/?modid=2&compid=1

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