Life is short, people are busy, most of us have no time to waste. Pirmoji Banga, Vilnius’s hip festival of silent and early sound cinema, knows the importance of getting straight to the good stuff. How so? When the festival’s remit covers decades of film history?
In 2023, Pirmoji Banga, directed and curated by Aleksas Gilaitis, concentrated solely on the female contribution to beginning of film, which we all know by now is substantial. This year’s edition of Lithuanian festival Pirmoji Banga screened films starring Asta Nielsen, Mae West, Brigitte Helm and Louise Brooks, directed by Elvira Notari and Lotte Reiniger, and female-led stories such as The Nortull Gang, directed by Per Lindberg in 1923. Beautiful programming.
Yes, you may have guessed correctly that I have been collecting stamps in my passport again. I was delighted to be invited to the festival for a second time, and to take part by introducing a few of these wonderful films to young and engaged audiences at the Skalvijos Kino Centras in the beautiful city of Vilnius. We had great music for the silents, from the likes of Lithuanian composer Viktoras Orestas Vagusevičius and Daan van den Hurk from the Netherlands.
Perhaps, next year, for balance, they might institute a “men in film” sidebar? I am joking, of course. The usphot of this female emphasis was naturally a very diverse festival covering films from different regions, eras and genres. Leaning towards female creativity does not represent a narrow focus – quite the opposite. My favourite film of the festival was Notari’s realist Napolitan melodrama È’Piccerella (1922). Every frame seemed to burst with life, and her star Rosè Angione was such a striking presence on film. The music for this screening underlined the story’s origin in a song, with lyrical accompaniment from musicians and vocalists playing tradition Napolitan songs.
My work for Pirmoji Banga centred on Brigitte Helm: introducing the silent Manolescu (Victor Tourjansky, 1929) in which she starred opposite Ivan Mosjoukine, and the sound film L’Atlantide, directed by GW Pabst in 1932. I also wrote an essay for Brigitte Helm to be translated into Lithuanian for the festival guide and was delighted to discover that it had also been published in the film magazine Kinas. More on Helm, here. I also stepped in when another guest was sadly unable to attend the festival due to a Covid diagnosis, so it was my great pleasure to hep to introduce Mae West (and Cary Grant) in I’m No Angel (Wesley Ruggles, 1933), also. If you’re ever in a pre-Code fix, I am your gal.
I was also very happy to take part in a podcast, hosted by Gilaitis, with early cinema scholar Andrea Haller, and Robert Byrne, film restorer and president of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. We devoted this podcast to some of the wonderful women featured in the festival, especially Nielsen, West, Helm and Brooks. Imagine a conversation between those four! I can’t claim we were as racy as that would have been, but it was a very enjoyable chat and here is the podcast for your listening pleasure.
There were extracurricular activities alongside the films, of course. We were given a tour of the state film archives, and of the former Soviet film distribution centre, before a discussion under the “Film Heritage Without Borders” umbrella on the topic of national cinematheques. Guests for this dicussion were Mikko Kuutti from Kansallinen Audiovisuaalinen Instituutti in Finland, and Tiago Baptista from the Cinemateca Portuguesa.
Here are some snaps from the festival:
My very sincere thanks to Pirmoji Banga for inviting me to another splendid festival. I highly recommend this event.
- Lithuanian vocabulary hint of the day: “pirmoji banga” means “first wave” and “ankstyvojo kino festivalis” means “early film festival”. What else could you possibly need to know?
- Love Mae West? I contributed an audio commentary (for She Done Him Wrong) to this amazing box set.
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