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Duke Independent Film Festival presents 'A Night of Silent Film'

For a few brief moments last Saturday night in the Ruby, I was teleported to the 1920s, delighting in the flashing motion pictures. The monochrome colors and absence of vocal dialogues no longer bore importance, because a night of silent film is exhilarating in its own right.

“A Night of Silent Film” was a Valentine’s Day-themed film screening held by Duke Independent Film Festival (DIFF). The event featured eight short films, played on DVDs from Lilly Library. The oldest of the films were both released in 1914, starring Charlie Chaplin, and the most recent one was a Walt Disney production from 1928. 

Founded in 2014, DIFF hosts an annual campus-wide film festival for the Duke community. In recent years, they have expanded their reach to become a year-round community for filmmakers and film lovers. They now host other academic year events, including their showing of “Dear Evan Hansen” in fall 2021. In collaboration with Universal Pictures, DIFF screened “Dear Evan Hansen” at the AMC Classic Durham theater eight days before its U.S. release date. On the DIFF website and YouTube page, one can find editorials and reviews of films.

The idea of hosting a silent film night was inspired by DIFF’s marketing director Cate Knothe, shared Sofia Silvosa, SEO Director of the DIFF team. “In Cate’s hometown there is an annual silent film festiva accompanied by orchestra music. She wanted to bring this tradition to Duke’s campus,” Silvosa said. “We are planning on making the silent film night into an annual event.

The DIFF team considered the taste of the general audience when selecting their program for the silent film night.

 “Since silent movies are a rather unfamiliar form of cinema to most audiences, we wanted to choose somewhat digestible films instead of more experimental ones,” Silvosa said. “

The program included films starring household names such as “Cruel, Cruel Love” with Charlie Chaplin, “One Week” with Buster Keaton and “His Royal Slyness” with Harold Lloyd. Meanwhile, the event also featured a few less well-known personalities such as Felix the Cat, Charley Chase in “Dog Shy”, and Alice Howell in “Neptune’s Naughty Daughter”. 

Silent film fanatics and first-time silent film watchers alike, attendees found joy in discovering new treasures in the cinematic world. From Keaton’s astonishing stunts and his obvious-yet-not-unrealistic comedic movements to the street-smart mischief of Felix the Cat, “A Night of Silent Film” had something for every one of its viewers. Slapstick from 100 years ago is grossly underrated. 

After hosting the silent film night, DIFF is now preparing for its annual big event - Duke Independent Film Festival. Similar to previous years, the festival will take place sometime in March or April. What makes this event especially worthy of attention is that this is the first time the film festival will be held in person since 2019.

 “We are really excited about it being in-person in the [Rubenstein Film Theater],” said Silvosa. “Students who attend the festival will get a unique opportunity to see fellow students’ work and get to know the film community here. Many of the films will be documentaries, showcasing stories in the Durham community.”

 This year, DIFF is accepting submissions from not only undergraduate students, but also graduate students for the first time, and they are planning to divide the awards into two sections for the undergraduate and graduate student submissions, respectively.

Silvosa shared the DIFF team’s goal for this year: “Our team is trying to balance hosting public events and smaller events for community-building within the film community at Duke. We want to host more independent film screenings, continue the silent film festival, find more ways to fit more genres and increase diversity in our film selection.”

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