PSSST! Silent Film Festival

Should we be surprised to find liberal, progressive, feminist approaches to issues such as mental health and crime in a selection of films from 1910 – 1925? 

The main strand of the sixth PSSST! Festival Nijemog Filma (Silent Film Festival), Zagreb comprised Danish silent film classics including Asta Nielsen’s vibrant HAMLET (Sven Gade and Heinz Schall, 1921), HIMMELSKIBET/ A TRIP TO MARS (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with its wise and pacifist Martians, and Benjamin Christensen’s HÄXAN/THE WITCH (1922) an astute dramatised documentary of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” culture which created the phenomenon of witch hunting.  This was a superb presentation with a live score which was consistently and thoughtfully integrated throughout, and the range of sounds you might demand from a group called the Oridano Gypsy Jazz Band, from bell-like piano clusters to filigree clarinet and Balkan ostinati with guitars and ‘oompah’ bass lines.  An inspired sung blues lament accompanied close ups of a beggar woman’s face during an inquisition and a judicious touch of foley, the first in three days of the festival, made two doors creak as though from another dimension.

… workers spit out lightbulbs to order, but the hero has a revolutionary plan for a romantic escape …

The festival, which had different musicians accompanying films each day, also featured two programmes of contemporary short films in competition for the “Veliki Brcko” (jury award) and the Audience Award.  These ranged from the daft slapstick romance of DAY’S MESSING (Jeff Seal, USA, 2011), which found a satisfying balance between its present day New York setting and classic silent comedy pastiche, to the found art of Damir Radić’s EKO-FILM TRANS (Croatia, 2012), which captured a broadcasting glitch of frozen image and rolling subtitles.  Both the winning films mixed live action and animated techniques; PYTUVANE/THE TRIP (Radostina Neykova, Bulgaria, 2011) is a satirical take on relationships set between two passengers’ train journeys, whilst in the pixellated 9 to 5 shuffle of LUMINARIS (Juan Pablo Zaramella, Argentina, 2011), workers spit out lightbulbs to order, but the hero has a revolutionary plan for a romantic escape.

It’s sensually suggestive, disconcerting, minimal and quite beautiful…

A memorable highlight of the competition was MELANCHOLY (Kaste Šeškevičiūte, Lithuania, 2012) in which a woman’s mouth hovers around a candle flame as if to taste it, and closes over it, momentarily aglow, before the flame is extinguished; other women follow suit, each with a different approach to the flame.  It’s sensually suggestive, disconcerting, minimal and quite beautiful. Elsewhere, new perspectives included THE ARTIST (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) rescored by pianist Joe Kaplowitz and a programme of early works by Croatian filmmaker, Oktavijan Miletić, the fruit of a digital restoration project by the Croatian Film Archive.  This is a relatively young festival of modest means putting its resources in the right places – stimulating silents and sounds.

PSSST! Festival Nijemog Filma 6, Zagreb, Croatia 8 – 10 November 2012 featured musicians: Vitomir Ivanjek (pictured above), The Kind Pirates (Joe Kaplowitz, Lela Kaplowitz and Kolja Gjoni) and the Oridano Gypsy Jazz Band.

Jo Shaw’s film, DOGGED (2011), screened as part of the festival competition.



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