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DeMille film festival coming to Pine Hills

November 13, 2015

by Aaron Krein

Traces of Hollywood history will make their way to the Albany Pine Hills district in the next couple of weeks. A two-day festival entitled “Cecil B. DeMille: The Man Who Invented Hollywood” will be hosted by the Pine Hills Film Colony. Four films from DeMille’s vast catalog will be presented at two different neighborhood locations to reflect distinct aspects of his career. One of the films, which is a lost film that has been recently restored, will have its world premiere.

Cecil B. DeMille, commonly referred to as the “founding father of Hollywood,” was a world-renowned director known for his silent and early talking pictures from between 1913 to 1956. He was the recipient of two Academy Awards and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globe Awards honored him by naming their lifetime achievement award after him. He was the first to show bathrooms in movies as well as two people in the same bed at a time when most films showed couples sleeping in separate beds. He is known for highly glamorized scenes involving elaborate costuming and settings.

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Professor Mary Alice Molgard discussed her knowledge of DeMille and her interest in the festival/Aaron Krein

This will be the third festival that the Pine Hills Film Colony has put together. They held a World War II commemoration last year and last spring assembled “Lost Paradise,” which was composed of silent and talking films from “The Jazz Age.” The group plan on putting together two festivals a year in the future.

The Pine Hills Film Colony was co-founded last year by its creative director, Michael Butler, and has a board of four directors. Butler, a silent and talking film director himself, is a former UCLA professor who also worked for the university’s film archive. At UCLA, he helped restore nitrate film, which was used to make all films prior to World War II.

“They were highly flammable, deteriorative stock that not only turned into gunk but also caught on fire of its own volition,” Butler said.

Long after coming back to the area, he formed the Pine Hills Film Colony when the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association wanted to “boost itself.”

“We’re so fortunate to be a neighborhood filled with hardworking and dedicated neighbors who help to add a certain flair to the atmosphere,” said Leah Golby, a Pine Hills representative on the Albany Common Council.

The Film Colony didn’t hesitate to choose Cecil B. DeMille as their first director honoree.

“He’s my absolute favorite director,” Butler said. DeMille is his biggest inspiration as a film director, and has cherished his work since he was a child. “I wanted to make people realize that he should be brought to light in a serious way.”

According to Butler, DeMille was mocked for his films for years. It wasn’t until long after his death in 1959 that in the 1970’s and 80’s, his reputation began to escalate in a more positive way. This upcoming festival is designed to celebrate DeMille’s work and give him the credit he deserves.

“We didn’t want to show anything that people could see on TCM or Netflix,” said Virginia Hammer, who serves as the secretary of the Film Colony. She is also the president of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association. “We wanted to get things that were fairly esoteric and not easy to get a hold of.”

The “rare” hand-tinted restored version of the 1923 silent film, “The Ten Commandments” will be shown on November 20 at 7 p.m. at the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on North Main Avenue accompanied by an organ and live percussion.

Some of the large sphinxes and relics used during the film’s production were discovered in a recent dig up in Guadelupe, California, according to Mary Alice Molgard, a film studies professor at The College of Saint Rose. Molgard, who previously studied archeology and anthropology, found the connections to the film amazing when she read Outside Magazine’s article, “The Cursed, Buried City That May Never See The Light of Day,” by David Ferry.

At the Madison Theatre, the 1930 cult-classic talkie “Madam Satan,” and “Chicago,” which is also considered a “rare” film, will be shown. The latter film from 1927 is based on a true story and was the basis for the 2002 Academy Award-winning musical film. DeMille was embarrassed about “Chicago” since at the time he had recently directed “King of Kings,” the story of Jesus. According to Butler, DeMille gave the directing credit to Frank Urson but it was truly his film. “Chicago” will be shown at 2 p.m. while “Madame Satan” will be shown at 4:30 p.m. on November 21.

What will probably be the most talked about moment of the festival will be the world premiere of the 1925 silent film, “The Golden Bed.” The film was restored at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Butler refers to this film as one of DeMille’s “matinee programmers,” which targeted women who went to the cinema after lunch and sometimes would get cocktails after the movie finished. This film will also be shown at the Madison Theatre on November 21 at 8 p.m.

Butler hopes that audiences will develop greater respect for silent film and early talking motion pictures. He also wants to enlighten the younger generation about this era of film.

Hammer, a member of the Upper Madison Improvement Group, hopes that this festival will help bring more people to the area and show how much Pine Hills has to offer in terms of entertainment, dining, and architecture. There will be 30 minute breaks in between each film on the second day and a dinner break from 6 to 8 p.m., which will allow people from out of town time to explore the neighborhood. Hammer said directories will be available showing places in Pine Hills that people can visit.

Most importantly, the Pine Hills Film Colony hopes that people will look at DeMille’s early work with a newfound appreciation.

“I think underappreciated is a good way to describe him,” said Molgard. “Some people didn’t like his style of operating.”

Molgard has expressed interest in seeing these films again and is intrigued to see how the Pine Hills Film Colony plans to honor the “enterprising and enthusiastic” director.

“Michael Butler is second to none,” said Golby. “He’s interesting, smart and very talented. I’m looking forward to the upcoming DeMille festival and more from Mr. Butler.”

DeMille’s later work was “tainted” by critics but Butler feels that if people would study his early works, they’ll be able to look at his later works in a different way.

“I don’t think he intentionally wanted to shock, I think he intentionally wanted to entertain and did the best he could,” Butler said. -30-

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