FESTIVALS: 1st Silverlake: East of the Highland Curtain
by Neil Matsumoto
(indieWIRE/ 9.27.00) -- You know your neighborhood has reached its gentrification peak when a film festival suddenly appears. Recently profiled as LA's own Greenwich Village in Vanity Fair magazine, Silverlake is a small neighborhood that roughly borders Hollywood and Downtown LA. Once a predominantly working class Hispanic community, Silverlake has seen the rise of boutique shops, gourmet health food stores, French bistros and yoga facilities just in the past few years. And now that Indie Rock heroes such as Elliott Smith, Lou Barlow and Beck have settled in, it was only a matter of time before the Indie Film world would follow.
The first annual Silverlake Film Festival took place for four days starting on September 14th. The festival screened narrative features, documentaries and various shorts programs at various movie theaters, theater spaces, nightclubs and outdoor parks. The festival also conducted informative lectures, eclectic parties and even a screenplay contest. According to festival founders, Vangie Griego and Greg Ptacek, Silverlake represents "a state of mind as much as a point on the map." Their specific aim was to represent "the concept of Silverlake as the counter culture of cinema, just as Hollywood has come to represent the major Hollywood film establishment."
Kicking off at the historic Vista Theater, the festival opened with the World Premiere of Lucas Reiner's "The Gold Cup." However the highlight of the evening was not the screening but rather the first of two Spirit Awards that the festival handed out. Kenneth Anger, whom many believe is the Godfather of independent avant-garde cinema, made a rare appearance to receive his award and also to immortalize his hand and foot prints in cement at the Vista Theater. Anger, whose films include such influential classics as "Fireworks" and "Scorpio Rising," was also at the festival to screen the U.S. Premiere of his new video, "Don't Smoke That Cigarette."
Some of the other feature films included the L.A. premieres of Charles Burnett's "The Annihilation of Fish" starring James Earl Jones and Lynn Redgrave, and Alfredo Ramos' East LA urban drama, "Road Dogz." Perhaps the most interesting yet oddest selection of the festival was Samira Gloor-Fadel's "Berlin Cinema." Reminiscent of both Wim Wender's "Tokyo Ga" and Chris Marker's "Sans Soleil," Gloor-Fadel's work is a film essay on the city of Berlin, filmmaker Wim Wenders, who was in the process of making "Far Away, So Close" and the history and future of the cinema itself.
The activities that didn't involve film screenings at the festival were perhaps the most interesting events at the festival: for example, the informative program entitled "Before There Was A Hollywood" which focused on Silverlake's place and significance in the history of early cinema. Film historian, Mark Wanamaker, gave a lecture that also included his own collection of rare slides of various Silverlake landmarks that appear in many early films. For example, the actual space where the Vista Theater now stands was the Babylon set from D.W. Griffith's silent era epic, "Intolerance" which was filmed entirely in Silverlake. Another familiar landmark in Silverlake is the Vendome staircase, which are the historic steps that Laurel and Hardy struggled to deliver up a piano in their 1932 Oscar-winning short, "The Music Box." Screwball-chase film maestro Mack Sennett, cowboy Tom Mix and Walt Disney also built film studios in Silverlake.
Like most film festivals, there were many parties to attend and like the rest of the festival, it was an eclectic mix with the hipsters out in full force. There were parties geared towards boys, Grrrrls and Chicano Rock N Rollers. One of the more interesting parties was "Punks Galore" which followed the L.A. punk documentary "Forming," which features rare performances by T.S.O.L., Devo, The Go Gos and X. What was most interesting about the party was the lack of old school LA punk rockers in attendance. Instead of John Doe look-alikes there were numerous Peter Murphy/post Bauhaus clones.
Perhaps the most exciting event at the first annual Silverlake Film Festival was the closing night festivities. Held at the Canfield-Moreno mansion now known as The Paramour, the closing film was Vincente Blasco Ibanez's 1926 silent film, "The Temptress" starring Greta Garbo and Antonio Moreno. The film was screened on the grounds of the beautiful estate with the L.A. skyline in the background. Also at the closing ceremonies, the second Silverlake Spirit award was handed out to actress, Mary Woronov, who has appeared in over 70 movies in a 35-year career. Her films include Andy Warhol's "Chelsea Girls" to numerous Paul Bartel films such as "Deathrace 2000" and "Eating Raoul." Woronov was also there to present a sneak preview trailer of "The New Women" her first starring role since "Eating Raoul." The festival also screened Alan Arkush's 1979 cult classic, "Rock N Roll High School" which Woronov co-starred with The Ramones.
Because the festival was operating on a limited budget and the workforce were volunteers, there were obvious problems with organization and ticket distribution. Also the problem of getting exciting premieres is a difficult task when the festival lacks a name, market or competition laurels. Because of these obstacles, the decision not to be an industry-like event a la Sundance or a celebrity photo op such as The Hollywood Film Festival was a good decision on behalf of the programmers. The Silverlake Film Festival plans on being an annual event in Hollywood's backyard, and finding the truly underground or alternative niche films will be a great service to the community there. Much better than the Starbucks and Jamba Juice franchises that will inevitably appear.
[Neil Matsumoto is a freelance writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles.]