Cameron Smyth | A Journey Through the Silver Screen

Cameron Smyth
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Dating back to the early 20th century, Santa Clarita has stood as a favored filming destination with silent movie productions seeking the region’s scenic backdrop for their films. The vast expanses of rugged mountains, sprawling ranches and iconic canyons provided filmmakers with a versatile canvas for their storytelling. Stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Harry Carey and William S. Hart were among the first to be featured in films that showcased Santa Clarita’s captivating scenery. 

Our valley quickly became synonymous with the Western genre, thanks to ample open spaces and rustic charm, which made it an ideal setting for countless cowboy epics. Notable productions, including “The Searchers” and “Ramona,” showcased the city’s old West allure and established Santa Clarita as a go-to set for western filmmakers. With the expansion of the film industry, Santa Clarita continued to attract major productions such as “Iron Man,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Oppenheimer.” However, beyond these cinematic milestones, it is the shared history between Santa Clarita and Hollywood that remains a matter for festivities. 

Annually, Santa Clarita commemorates its deep ties with the film industry through the Newhallywood Film Festival. This unique event, taking place this weekend from Friday, Feb. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 18, delves into the silent film era and Santa Clarita’s distinctive role in shaping the history of cinema that has enchanted generations for over a century. This year’s festival pays homage to the careers and legacies of two titans of early American film, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Thomas Ince, offering enthusiasts a chance to explore the early days of filming in Santa Clarita and uncover behind-the-scenes details from iconic silent movies. The weekend will be filled with opportunities for attendees to engage with the history of silent films through guest speaker presentations and special screenings. 

Among the featured films, “The Mark of Zorro,” starring Douglas Fairbanks, kicks off the festival at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16, at the Newhall Family Theatre for Performing Arts (24607 Walnut St.). This iconic movie skillfully tells the story of a seemingly foolish man who disguises himself as the valiant vigilante Zorro, dedicated to safeguarding the oppressed. Later in the evening at 11 p.m., starting the festival’s “Silent Screams” program at The Main (24266 Main St.), is the 100th anniversary of “Waxworks,” a horror anthology including tales about Ivan the Terrible, the Caliph of Bagdad and Jack the Ripper. 

The following day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Newhall Community Center (22421 Market St.), join us for “BusTour” Keaton, a tour of famous Hollywood sites that include studio locations from the silent era with a focus on sites where Fairbanks and Ince made their films. This event includes lunch, as well as some walking, so please wear comfortable shoes! To purchase tickets for this tour, visit NewhallywoodFilmFest.org.  

Later in the day, at the Newhall Family Theatre for the Performing Arts, be sure to check out Douglas Fairbanks’ “Robin Hood” at 4 p.m., as well as his induction and the 100th anniversary of Thief of Bagdad at 8 p.m. To end your night, if you’re looking for more “Silent Screams,” the 100th anniversary of “The Hands of Orlac” at 11 p.m. will definitely send chills down your spine, but don’t worry, The Main seats are comfortable! 

On Sunday, Feb. 18, concluding the weekend’s film festival is a full day of Thomas Ince’s historic classics at the Newhall Family Theatre for Performing Arts. Starting at 1 p.m. will be “The Cat’s Meow,” followed by “The Ruse” and “Hell’s Hinges” at 4 p.m. and Ince’s induction and the film “Civilization” at 8 p.m., offering an entertaining closure to the weekend. 

All film screenings at the Newhallywood Film Festival are free to attend, with “BusTour” Keaton being the only ticketed event. Embark on this exciting journey into Santa Clarita’s silent movie memoir and immerse yourself in the magic of cinematic history. To learn more, visit NewhallywoodFilmFestival.org. 

Mayor Cameron Smyth is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council and can be reached at [email protected]. 

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