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June 25, 2008 > Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival

Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival

Submitted By Rena Dein
Photos By courtesy of Essanay Silent Film Museum

This weekend go to the movies... but this time watch films made almost a hundred years ago! The Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival in Niles sends time travelers back almost 100 years to watch movies that made history - some of it in Niles, now a district of Fremont. This is a special annual event sponsored by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

The silent film museum showcases films that have not been seen by the public for 80 or 90 years. These precursors of modern movies still retain the charm and allure that attracted audiences and fans in the early 1900s. Movie stars were idolized and exuded the charm and magnetic appeal of top present day film personalities; among those revered, the festival's namesake, Broncho Billy. Films on that era - westerns, horror, mystery, situational dramas and comedies - relied on facial expressions and acting abilities rather than special effects of modern cinematography. Going to the "flickers" was a significant social experience. Morally instructional or just plain entertaining, they had an influence on daily life. Early movies were part of a social transformation whose legacy remains with society today.

Previous festivals have been held over the past 10 years with themes about women in film, cowboys in film, comedians and movie serials. Last year's festival showcased films from the Essanay Studios, some made in Niles, Los Angeles, as well as the Chicago studios which turned 100 years old last year. The previous festival was a comprehensive look at Essanay and its impact on the movie industry.

This year, the Broncho Billy Film Festival will showcase pioneering film companies in a similar manner. The seven American film companies that were part of The Patents Company Trust were instrumental in bringing movies into daily contact with the public. Each company made thousands of films over the course of their existence and it is estimated that only 10-15% of those films survive.

These movies are the basis for our film heritage which may sound rather dusty and full of cobwebs, but it is surprising how entertaining these films are - full of good storylines, good acting, unexpected and clever situations delivered with underlying intelligence. Contrary to popular belief, films from that day and age were advanced, not primitive. They have plotlines, significant character development and a multi-dimensional. The early 20th century was a time when millions went to movies on a daily basis just as people watch television today.

Watching movies from "back then" is a time machine that takes us to the past showing how alike we are to our predecessors. Emotions are timeless and these films evoke them, bridging a century-wide generational gap.

The Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival is a wonderful and inexpensive way to be introduced to a riveting part of American history. So-called "silent films" are not really silent; world-class pianists accompanying the action. Viewers will be pleased even if they simply listen to the catchy tunes, but the combination of movies and music is a complete entertainment package not to be missed. For those who want to experience the scenery of early Niles Canyon film action, a special train ride is scheduled for Sunday morning.

Tickets should be purchased now since seating is very limited. For more information about the Festival, and how to get tickets, visit

Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival
Friday, June 27 - Sunday June 29
Niles Edison Theater
37417 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(510) 494-1411

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