Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Film Festivals, Silent Cinema

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2024: Finding Clara Bow, Swashbuckling Restorations, & More

For over 25 years, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival called the Castro Theatre home. With the iconic theater now closed for a year-plus-long renovation, SFSFF has relocated to the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, located in a beautiful park created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition at the north edge of the Presidio. The auditorium, primarily a performance space, seats nearly a thousand and features a spacious foyer where passholders could visit and relax between shows (particularly useful on chilly weekends).

SFSFF prides itself on mixing landmark productions and audience favorites with rediscoveries, revelations, and rarities, often recently uncovered and restored. And for its 27th edition this year, the festival presented 20 features and six short films over five days, all with live musical scores by some of the finest silent film accompanists in the world.

The opening night film, Albert Parker’s 1926 swashbuckler The Black Pirate, certainly qualifies as both landmark and favorite. This rousing adventure, starring Douglas Fairbanks as the genial gentleman pirate, was shot on full-sized ships that give it a tremendous scope. It was also a groundbreaking experiment in Technicolor filmmaking, only the fourth feature shot entirely in color, and it was presented in a brand new restoration mastered from original camera negatives and a wealth of original archival prints. For the first time ever, the distinctive palette of the two-strip technology was accurately recreated for modern audiences.

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