ROME – The Pordenone Silent Film Festival, which is widely considered the premiere event of its type in the world, has appointed film scholar and Variety film critic Jay Weissberg as its new artistic director.
A lover of silent movies since childhood – and a Pordenone collaborator for several years – Weissberg will take the reins at the Italian fest next year, replacing Pordenone’s revered longtime topper, David Robinson, who will step down after a nineteen year stint during which he propelled Pordenone to its current stellar status. Robinson next year will take the title of director emeritus. They will work in tandem.
“I’ve known David’s work way before I knew him,” Weissberg said. “He has a deep understanding of film history as well as form. He’s an inspiration on so many levels.”
“I first remember being aware of silent film when I was ten years old,” Weissberg reminisced. “Lillian Gish was hosting a series of silent films on PBS, and so as a kid I brought the television to my room and was just enthralled by what I was seeing: films like [D.W. Griffith’s] “Orphans of the Storm” and “Broken Blossoms.”
After studying film at University of Michigan and going wherever silent films were being screened, Weissberg landed in Italy where he started collaborating with Pordenone, starting with the retro “Sherlock and Beyond: British Detectives in Silent Cinema, in 2009. He also programmed several strands at Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato, Italy’s equally celebrated festival of film preservation and restoration.
The announcement of Weissberg’s appointment comes just before the fest’s 34th edition kicks off, on October 3, with Ernst Lubitsch’s 1920 “Romeo und Julia im Schnee” (“Romeo and Juliet in the Snow”). The 41-minute silent pic transposes the Shakespeare tale to the Bavarian Alps. It will be accompanied by its live original score conducted by Antonio Coppola and played by the Octuor de France orchestra. Pordenone will run October 3-11.
The closer will be the 1925 adaptation of “The Phantom of the Opera,” starring gothic genre star Lon Chaney, also with the live original score. This year’s special guests will include director John Landis and animator Richard Williams (“Who Framed Roger Rabbit”).
“Seeing something in the proper aspect ratio; the proper speed; with wonderful musical accompaniment. That for me is something that Pordenone has always been about,” Weissberg enthused.
The 34th edition of Pordenone will be dedicated to Jean Darling, the American actress who was the blonde child star of the “Our Gang” series of silent films in the late-1920’s. She was known as “The Most Beautiful Little Girl in Pictures.” Darling recently died aged 93.