‘Let’s make movies first, art will appear by itself.’
Paris was considered the capital of world cinema from the very beginning. On 28 December 1895, at the Indian Salon in the Grand Café, the first public presentation of the Lumière brothers’ cinematograph took place. It was supposed to be merely a technological curiosity, but it soon became clear just how extraordinary its possibilities were. Georges Méliès, another cinema pioneer, also participated in this show, but in his artistic experiments Méliès actually went a step further than the brothers: instead of recording reality, he began to transform it. From then on, these two aesthetic cinema paths would intertwine. It was also in Paris, at Léon Gaumont’s production company, that the works of the world’s first female film director – Alice Guy-Blaché – were made.
The 17th Silent Movie Festival, with its theme of Voyages [Journeys], could therefore not start its journey anywhere else.
The French section, and thus the whole festival, will open with René Clair’s debut film The Crazy Ray (aka Paris Asleep), which perfectly fits the theme of the festival with its film journey around Paris. Perhaps it was a result of Clair’s work that other directors also began to love the capital of France so much, making it one of the most filmed cities in the history of cinema. René Clair himself repeatedly took his cameras back there (such as in the sound picture Under the Roofs of Paris from 1930). The screening will be preceded by the premieres of some short films about cycling, which will introduce viewers to the atmosphere of pre-war France.
In addition to Clair, Jean Renoir and Jean Epstein will also appear in the French section of the festival and their films will also take us to Paris, though a less obvious one. In their case, we have focused on surprising films which are possibly the only ones of their type in the directors’ whole work. Charleston Parade by Renoir and The Lion of the Moguls by Epstein both escape any pigeonholing in terms of genre.
This edition of the festival would not have been complete without the inclusion of French cinema for one more reason. It was in France that Warsaw-born Jan Stanisław Alfred Epstein (Jean Epstein) settled, and it was also where Alice Guy-Blaché set out to conquer America. It is also from where the Lumière brothers’ cameramen set off on their journey to capture the world on film and amaze viewers with its beauty.
French cinema is cinema on an eternal journey.