Back in March, I was invited back to Cinefest 34 as one of their official accompanists. Cinefest is an annual film festival in Syracuse, NY, whose focus is on old films – silents and early talkies (you can read how it all started here). I played there from 2008 to 2010, and it was wonderful to be back – the festival staff and regular attendees remembered me and I received such nice, warm welcome-back greetings everywhere, even before I accompanied the first film.
The uniqueness (and challenge) of the Cinefest is that we, pianists, get to sit down with the festival’s curator and discuss/pick the films we each would play for, in the evening before the festival starts. So most likely you don’t get to see any of these films, unless you’ve been lucky enough to have played for them previously at some other occasions. For me, who’s been playing for silent only for 10 years (which is still a “newbie” in this industry :)), chances are very slim that I would know ANY of these films – so all the films I played for this year were, again, all first-seen and the score was improvised on-the-fly as I watched the film with the audience.
I used to be scared of accompanying a film without watching it beforehand, but 3 years of past Cinefest experiences trained me well, and now I have a total confidence in me that I will come up with some score, no matter whether I have seen the film before or not. Boy I feel experienced. 🙂
This year, there were a total of 5 pianists: Ben Model, Jon Mirsalis, Jeff Rapsis, Judy Rosenberg and myself. I really enjoy being at Cinefest as I get to hear my wonderful fellow pianists’ works day in and day out during the festival – you can learn so much from them! (And the more the merrier, too. :))
The films I played for this year were:
CASEY AT THE BAT (1927)
HOUSEHOLD BLUES (1929)
THE JOY GIRL (1927)
ANKLES PREFERRED (1926)
(We also took turns to accompany assorted short films, which was quite fun.)
The twist for me was that the prints for THE JOY GIRL and ANKLES PREFERRED were both European editions, so the inter-titles were all in Czech (!) – I had to make up the story on my own for THE JOY GIRL (as I had no idea what those inter-titles were saying!), but for ANKLES PREFERRED, I luckily got to read the continuity the night before the show, so I at least knew the story which helped a lot. (What are the chances of randomly picking both of the films that only had Czech titles?!) Anyhow, I somehow survived both films, and for ANKLES PREFERRED, I had a pleasure of accompanying alongside the famed Mr. Leonard Maltin making his debut as a live inter-title translator! 🙂 (He is a Cinefest regular and you can read his review for this year here.)
Ben left early so we didn’t get to take a photo of all 5 of us together, but here we are sans Ben – I had a great time, and it was such a privilege to share the stage with these wonderful pianists. A big thank-you to everyone at Syracuse Cinephile Society!!