The uniqueness of this annual event is not lost on the organizers and musicians participating in the 7th International Silent Film Festival in Manila, opening Friday at the Shangri-La Plaza mall.
“As far as we know, it is the only festival of its kind in Asia,” said Jose Maria Fons Guardiola, Instituto Cervantes deputy for cultural affairs.
Munich-based composer-musician Pierre Oser, who is collaborating with Filipino ethnomusicologist Jonas Baes and Composers’ Lab in scoring the German entry, pointed out: “It’s admirable that Manila has a silent film festival.”
Added Briccio Santos, Film Development Council of the Philippines chair, in a statement: “It’s a ground-breaking, genre-bending fest.”
This year’s lineup of silent films and musicians cross genres and styles, noted Guardiola. “We welcome variety.”
Japan’s offering is Tomu Uchida’s “Keisatsukan (A Police Officer),” a crime drama about a bank robbery.
Shuji Takatori, director of the Japan Foundation in Manila, explained that the 1933 silent masterpiece “is the only one by the director that is still extant.”
“Ambient rock band” Pulso will accompany “Keisatsukan” during the festival opening tomorrow night at 7:30. “I’ve always wanted to do a movie soundtrack. We plan to string some pieces together,” said Pulso’s Robbie Mananquil.
Italy’s entry is Aldo De Benedetti’s “La Grazia,” which straddles three art forms: literature, opera and cinema, according to Emanuela Adesini, cultural attaché of the Italian embassy.
“This 1929 drama is a tribute to Nobel Prize winner for Literature Grazia Deledda,” Adesini said. “It’s significant because it is the last silent movie released before the age of sound.”
The Italian classic tackles the conflicts between the rural and the urban/regionalism and cosmopolitanism. It finds a perfect match in the jazz-funk-blues band SinoSikat. “I wanted music that could capture the dualities in the film,” Adesini said. “It would also be interesting to hear a female voice (Kat Agarrado) interpret the story.”
Agarrado and bandmate/keyboardist Nikki Cabardo promised to lend the soundtrack a distinct Filipino flavor. “Music will be the language of this silent movie,” said Agarrado of “La Grazia,” screening Aug. 24, 5 p.m.
From Germany, Ernst Lubitsch’s “Ich Mochte Kein Mann Sein” also bears a strong female point of view, said Petra Raymond, director of the Goethe Institut.
The 1918 comedy is important, said Raymond, “because it deals with gender stereotypes,” and was released a month before women were granted the right to vote in Germany.
Goethe paired musicians Oser and Baes for a one-of-a-kind collaboration. “[Scoring for silents] is a special form of art. We will be working with young artists from the University of the Philippines,” said Oser.
Baes related that they were undertaking “an exciting experiment, creating music with piano, violin, cello, trombone and clarinet that will reflect the environment depicted in the film—Berlin at the end of World War I.”
The German film will be shown also on Aug. 24, at 8 p.m.
The United States is presenting Rupert Julian’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” the iconic horror film starring Lon Chaney.
Kristin Kneedler, cultural affairs officer of the US Embassy, told Inquirer that the metal sound of rock band Razorback suited the 1925 thriller. “Metal rock can be dramatic and scary,” Kneedler said.
More than a horror flick, Razorback frontman Kevin Roy considers “Phantom” a “tragic love story.” Roy envisions an “interactive” show when “Phantom” is screened on Aug. 25, 2 p.m. “We are creating new riffs. We will match every gesture, every expression onscreen with a new sound… a chord on the keyboard or a shriek from the vocalist.”
Spain’s “El Abuelo” intersects literature and cinema as well, said Guardiola. “It is based on a novel by Benito Perez Galdos, who influenced (Philippine national hero) Jose Rizal.”
Instituto Cervantes recruited ambient instrumentalists Earthmover to provide music for “El Abuelo,” which will be shown on Aug. 25, 5 p.m.
“We picked a modern, electronic sound to accompany the 1925 melodrama,” Guardiola said. “We realize that the band is taking a big risk with this project.”
“We will use instruments to convey emotions,” said Dru Ubaldo, Earthmover percussionist. Ubaldo, who attended a silent film screening six years ago, made sure his band would be part of this year’s event.
Since most of the Philippines’ silent films were destroyed during World War II, the country is fielding Raymond Red’s 2012 Cinemalaya winner “Kamera Obskura,” which will close the fest on Aug. 25, 8 p.m.
Red is giving Spy, the band assigned to score his film, carte blanche, “in keeping with the fest’s tradition of total creative freedom.”
“Since I am the only filmmaker [in this festival] who is still around, I can actually meddle with the band,” Red said in jest. “I met with (Spy frontman) Sammy Asuncion. All I ask is that the film’s structure be maintained.”
Spy drummer Reli de Vera said the band was toying with a slew of ideas. “It’ll be surprising. Nothing beats the live experience.”
Red, whose short “Magpakailanman” was shown in last year’s fest, said “Kamera Obskura” is his way of “paying homage to our country’s lost cinematic heritage.”