It may not be considered a traditional holiday film, but few stories bring more spirit and magic to the screen than "Peter Pan." In 1924, director Herbert Brenon made the first feature film adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic play about a group of children whisked to a far-off land where no one ages. Hollywood lore has it that Betty Bronson was hand-selected by author Barrie to play Peter over several Hollywood superstars, most notably Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford. Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star, is the definitive Tiger Lily and there are some eye-popping special effects, from the mermaids to Tinkerbelle's house. On Monday at 7 p.m., the Coolidge Corner Theatre presents a restored 35mm print of "Peter Pan" as part of its Sounds of Silents series, with a live harp score performed by Seattle native and Wellesley College graduate Leslie McMichael, who is traveling the Northeast accompanying the film. McMichael's original score incorporates elements of ragtime, Celtic-infused sea chanteys, and poignant recurring theme music for many of the main characters.
For more information, go to www.coolidge.org.
The Japanese used live accompaniment for silent films in a different way. Performers called "benshi" used their masterful voices to narrate silent films, delivering highly expressive performances that included narrating both the story and the characters' dialogue. On Sunday and Monday, the Harvard Film Archive presents Ichiro Kataoka, the most well-known and internationally active benshi of his generation. Kataoka will be on hand for two evenings of live interpretations of silent films. The HFA has selected a combination of Western and Japanese movies for this event. "Shoes" (Sunday at 7 p.m.) is, according to the HFA, "a remarkably frank progressive feminist film by the great Lois Weber, one of the most prolific and high ranking directors of the silent era. One of Universal's biggest box office successes of 1916, 'Shoes' was rapturously received by contemporary Japanese audiences." Weber's film is paired with "Kid Commotion," a classic Japanese slapstick comedy by Saito Torajiro, an influence on Ozu Yasujiro, whose 1933 silent, "Dragnet Girl," will screen Monday at 7 p.m.
For more information, go to www.hcl.harvard.edu/hfa.
"It's a Wonderful Life" provides a more classic — and, dare we say, numbingly ubiquitous — visual and aural track to the holiday season. But these days Jimmy Stewart's voice is usually emanating from a television, perhaps heard over dinner, gift openings, or arguments about the latest not-so-easy-to-assemble gadget. That's hardly the way filmmaker Frank Capra intended his film to be experienced. So how about an early holiday treat: seeing "It's a Wonderful Life" on the big screen? The Brattle Theatre continues a holiday tradition with showings of the 1946 classic, this year running Dec. 14-16. And when the tradition begins to wear thin, check out the Brattle's "Alt X-Mas Late Shows," with special engagements of Joe Dante's 1984 favorite "Gremlins" (Dec. 14 at 9:45 p.m.) or a pair of surreal films from 1985: the director's cuts of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" (Dec. 15 at 9:30 p.m.) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's "The City of Lost Children" (Dec. 16 at 9:30 p.m.).
For more information, go to www.brattlefilm.org.
Two other family films arrive in town for the holidays, and they demand audience participation. The Arlington Regent presents its sixth annual "Sing-A-Long Mary Poppins." "This has become a highlight of our season and a Thanksgiving tradition for many of our patrons," says the Regent Theatre's Leland Stein. From Friday through next Sunday, the Regent presents seven screenings of the interactive version of the popular Disney film musical featuring on-screen lyrics, a bag of play-along props, an audience costume parade, plus — a newly added feature — Mary Poppins impersonator Linda Peck as master of ceremonies. And if that's not enough, then get ready to break out the lederhosen and return to the Regent sometime between Dec. 26 and Dec. 29 for multiple screenings of the "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music." Back by popular demand, the interactive version of the original 1965 Oscar winner in glorious Technicolor invites devotees to arrive in costume and join in the singing of the legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein score.
For more information, go to www.regenttheatre.com.
Modern Kazakhstan boasts a vibrant film culture that honors its historic past and the diverse voices of its present. A major early milestone for cinema in Kazakhstan was the making of Sergei Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible" during World War II. But home-grown filmmaking really came to international attention in the post-Soviet era of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the so-called Kazakh New Wave. "Flowers of the Steppe: A Festival of Kazakh Cinema," a traveling series of recent titles from modern Kazakhstan, closes Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts with Sabit Kurmanbekov's 2009 film "Seker" at 3:30 p.m. "Seker" (translated as "Sugar") is about a man named Kurmash who religiously follows the tongue-in-cheek advice of the village healer, who tells him to raise his first child — Seker, a girl — as a boy. According to the MFA, the film was inspired by the experiences of Kurmanbekov's own mother, as the director "presents a subtle coming-of-age comedy set in the stunning Kazakh landscape."
For more information, go to www.mfa.org/film.
HFA spotlights directors
Director Andrew Bujalski took the indie and local film world by storm nearly a decade ago with his debut feature, "Funny Ha Ha." Featuring a cast and crew of fellow Harvard grads, Bujalski's low-key relationship movie, filmed in 2002 but released theatrically two years later, was selected by New York Times critic A.O. Scott as one of the 10 best films of 2005. The Harvard Film Archive worked closely with Bujalski to complete a recent print preservation of "Funny Ha Ha," which will screen at the HFA Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. in a new 35mm print with Bujalski on hand to introduce the film. . . . Also notable at the HFA next week is a series of films from the great Iranian director Jafar Panahi. Presented in collaboration with the Boston Society of Film Critics, "Jafar Panahi: This Is Not a Retrospective" runs Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 and offers six films. The first is "This Is Not a Film" (Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.), made while the director was under house arrest by the Iranian government and filmed entirely within Panahi's apartment. (Panahi remains banned from filmmaking and sentenced to six years in prison.) Other films in this series: "The Circle" (Nov. 30 at 9:30 p.m.); "The Mirror" (Dec. 1 at 7 p.m.); "Crimson Gold" (Dec. 1 at 9 p.m.); "The White Balloon" (Dec. 2 at 5 p.m.); and the last film Panahi made before being sentenced, "Offside" (Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.).
For more information, go to www.hcl.harvard.edu/hfa.
Boston College grad and former "American Idol" contestant Ayla Brown stars in and will perform at the premiere of "Cowboy Spirit," an independent feature shot in and around Boston. It's about a man who must draw on lessons he learned as a kid from his grandfather, a champion rodeo cowboy, as he tries to help a girl battling cancer. It premieres Nov. 29 at the Orpheum Theatre in Foxborough. Brown will perform at 6 p.m. The screening is at 7, followed by a Q&A with members of the cast and crew.
For tickets and information, go to www.cowboyspiritmovie.
Loren King can be reached at