By Gary Meyer
The pure joy audiences experienced last weekend at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will be extended this weekend in the small East Bay town of Niles where the annual Charlie Chaplin Days will take place all day Saturday and Sunday, June 6-7 with film screenings, art exhibits, contests and a Chaplin Look-A-Like Competition to celebrate the 100 Anniversary of the comic creating great comedy here.
This charming location was the home of the Essanay Studios co-founded by silent cowboy star Broncho Billy Anderson who hired Chaplin away from Keystone to make movies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Today the town of Niles hosts the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, three transit museums, over two dozen antiques stores and art galleries plus several excellent restaurants.
On both Saturday and Sunday afternoons there will be screenings a the Museum of short Essanay films starring Chaplin filmed in Niles and San Francisco. Saturday evening brings the classic Modern Times preceded by A Dog’s Life at 7:30.
Throughout the weekend there will be Charlies around town culminating in the “Charlie Look-a-like Contest” on Sunday at 2pm. The Museum will have some clothing and make-up for those wanting to participate but without their own costumes.
A special guest from Canada will be Jason Allin who is making quite a name for himself with a Kickstarter campaign that got him to London and Adipur, India portraying his hero. His Chaplin impersonation is impressive. The video for his Kickstarter to make a documentary about his trip has Allin putting on makeup and transforming himself before our eyes.
Allin explained why he started this project. “Ashok Aswani has been celebrating Chaplin’s birthday for over 40 years in an event that has progressively gotten bigger to include a parade and performances including a large portion of the town of Adipur. I found out about Ashok by randomly researching Chaplin and his upcoming 125th birthday in April 2014. It was October 2013 that I noticed Ashok and his festivities in Adipur. Taken and touched by this, I contacted him and he invited me as a guest of honor after seeing my work as Chaplin. I successfully funded my first trip for April 2014 by creating a campaign on KickStarter. To my surprise and great pleasure I have become a celebrity there for my portrayal and involvement in the celebrations and was asked to return again this past April 2015. I imagine this will be an annual thing for me I hope you enjoy these photos taken in the Indian villages of Koday, Kutch, Gujarat on April 15.”
“To understand why Dr. Aswani feels so strongly about the Tramp character and Charlie Chaplin, here is a link to an article about his passion.”
To learn more about Jason Allin check out his website where you can watch his two Chaplin homage films, Home, Sweet Home and Start Something filmed in Adipur, India with a surprise musical twist.
For photos, videos and more information about Chaplin Look-a-like contests, past and present, please read our previous article, “You Can Be A Chaplin.”
There is an updated version of my article “Charlie Was My Co-Pilot.”
Also of interest are Michael Covino’s fascinating article about Niles and his recent review of the stunning restorations of Chaplin Mutual shorts.
Things to do and eat in Niles
During your visit continue an immersion in history at the Niles Canyon Railway and Museum, Niles Depot Model Railroad Museum and the Pacific Bus Museum with train and bus rides available. Or stretch your legs with walks in historic parks or on nearby hiking trails.
I have enjoyed excellent lunches at The Vine, The Nile Cafe, and Papillon, superb home baked pies at Niles Pie Co. and pigged out on ice cream sundaes at Niles Ice Cream amidst over a dozen Chaplin impersonators of all ages.