FREMONT -- All things Charlie Chaplin -- once the brightest star in the Bay Area's most accomplished silent film studio -- will be honored this weekend at an annual festival in the Niles district.
Charlie Chaplin Days, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will feature movies, art exhibits and carnival games on the same streets where the screen legend honed his craft 98 years ago.
The event will focus "on what he did best -- making movies and making people laugh," said Rena Kiehn, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum spokeswoman and store manager.
Niles was the center of Bay Area filmmaking from 1913 to 1916, when the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company made silent movies. Meanwhile, the British-born Chaplin started his film career in 1914 at Keystone Studios in Hollywood, where he earned $150 a week while working alongside Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and other silent film notables.
Essanay executives lured Chaplin to Niles by offering him an 800 percent raise and a $10,000 signing bonus, according to the museum. He filmed a handful of movies in Niles in 1915 before heading back to Los Angeles at the end of the year, once again for a bigger paycheck. Essanay closed its studio doors for good a few months later.
The festival aims to celebrate that short-lived but historically significant era. On Saturday and Sunday, five movies that Chaplin filmed in Niles will be screened. The first short, a 34-minute comedy titled "A Night Out," is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. The slate of movies ends with "The Tramp," a 32-minute yarn in which Chaplin plays his signature role, a good-hearted hobo who perseveres through hard-luck scenarios. Suggested donations for admission to those screenings is 50 cents.
The weekend's feature film, "Shoulder Arms," will screen at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Chaplin wrote, directed and starred in the 45-minute 1918 film, which is set in an unlikely place for a comedy: World War I. Admission for "Shoulder Arms" is $5 and can be purchased in advance at www.nilesfilmmuseum.org.
Two documentaries on local film history will be shown during the weekend, Kiehn said. "When the Movies Came from Niles" will begin at 4 p.m. Saturday, and "The Movies Go West" can be seen at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
All movies will be shown at the Edison Theater, at 37417 Niles Blvd., a nickelodeon built in 1913 and housed by the museum.
The festival also is featuring Chaplin-themed art exhibits, which will be on display at the Fremont Art Association on Niles Boulevard, two blocks south of the theater/museum. Carnival games, including a bean bag toss, will be available all weekend. A contest of Chaplin impersonators is scheduled at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Also, the Niles Canyon Railway will offer train rides between the Niles and Sunol depots on both days. "The trains will go through the very canyon where Charlie made some of his films," Kiehn said.
The festival, which began in 1979, is being co-hosted by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and the Niles Main Street Association.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
WHAT: Charlie Chaplin Days
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Niles Blvd., between F and I streets, in Fremont's Niles district
INFO: 510-494-1411 or www.nilesfilmmuseum.org