The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival, taking place 18 - 22 March, celebrates the new roaring twenties - in 2020!
This week, Falkirk Community Trust announced details of its 10th Silent Film Festival, held at Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema in Bo’ness. Affectionately known as ‘HippFest’ this annual event is Scotland’s only festival dedicated to silent film – recently scooping two accolades in the international Silent London Poll - winning ‘Best Venue for Silent Film’ and an honourable mention as ‘Best Festival 2019’.
This year’s programme is packed with silent films featuring masked crusaders, real-life martyrs and mysterious femme fatales; world-class live music accompaniment, talks, workshops, tours and - in true Keystone fashion - a massive custard pie fight to kick off the Festival.
All films at HippFest are accompanied by live music and for our 10th year we see the return of skiffle and blues band the Dodge Brothers (Mike Hammond, film critic Mark Kermode, Aly Hirji, and Alex Hammond) and broadcaster, pianist and HippFest favourite Neil Brand performing the Scottish premiere of their new live score for FW Murnau’s City Girl (1930).
We also welcome acclaimed screen actor Paul McGann for the first time to provide live narration of the beautifully stylised, poetic intertitles that accompany our Closing Night screening L’Homme du Large (1920): a powerful tale of a fisherman and his family living on the remote Breton coast and torn apart by their idle and degenerate son.
Other new performers this year include Irine Røsnes who will join Yorkshire Silent Film Festival’s Jonny Best with a new musical collaboration to accompany Marlene Dietrich’s The Woman Men Yearn For (1929); and UK-based Australian musician Meg Morley who will accompany The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia’s new, 100th anniversary restoration of The Sentimental Bloke (1919), which we will be screening at HippFest just after its World Premiere in Sydney in February.
This year we also sees the return of Andy Cannon one of Scotland’s leading storytellers and founder of Wee Stories Theatre collaborating with musicians Wendy Weatherby, Frank McLaughlin and David Trouton on a new music and storytelling piece written for the World Premiere of a new restoration of The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots (1923) - an extremely rare British feature film full of intrigue, betrayal and scandal.
Our Friday Gala for the 10th Festival is The Mark of Zorro (1920) with swashbuckling screen-idol Douglas Fairbanks as Don Diego Vega aka ‘Zorro’ - the original caped crusader. Audiences are encouraged to dress ‘Zorro-esque or HippFest glamour’ and to enjoy the pre-screening birthday celebrations at a reception featuring Scotland’s own mariachi band, ‘Rapido Mariachi’.
Other screen highlights include the premiere of Laurel and Hardy’s recently restored Duck Soup (1927) (later remade with sound as Another Fine Mess), screening with two other comedy classics Two Tars (1928) and Liberty (1929); and Danish superstar Asta Nielsen taking the lead role in Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy Hamlet (1921). In this version there is a controversial twist as Nielsen plays a cross-dressing Hamlet whose true sex is kept secret to secure the future of the throne. This screening is complemented by a talk on Silent Shakespeare from Pamela Hutchinson (writer, critic and founder of silentlondon.co.uk) illustrating why audiences loved to watch Shakespeare without dialogue and how filmmakers learned to ‘suit the action to the word’ when adapting his plays for the big screen.
Also highlighted in our talks programme this year is Wartime Propaganda and Peacetime Diplomacy with Dr Lawrence Napper from King’s College, London, to complement our Opening Night screening of Dawn (1928). This is one of the most controversial films of the 1920s and tells the story of British nurse Edith Cavell who was shot at dawn by the Germans in 1915 for helping hundreds of Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.
Other international highlights include Julien Duvivier’s Poil de Carotte (1925) based on Jules Renard’s famous novel about an unloved, redheaded farm boy; Ernst Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan based on Oscar Wilde’s hit play; Chinese silent A String of Pearls (Yichuan Zhenzhu) (1926) based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Necklace, about a social-climbing middle-class housewife who cajoles her husband into borrowing an expensive necklace to wear at a party which is then stolen; and our community screening Filibus: The Mysterious Air Pirate (1915) an exciting, witty, feminist, steampunk, cross-dressing aviatrix thriller about a Baroness come jewel-thief and master of disguise, who uses an airship as her means of getaway.
Honouring one of the oldest cinema traditions of the 1920s is our Saturday morning Jeely Jar screening, which offers audiences 2-for-1 admission if they bring a jam jar to our double bill of Behind the Screen (1916) starring Charlie Chaplin, and Sherlock Jr. (1924) with Buster Keaton as a ‘crime-crushing’ detective.
Alison Strauss, Festival Director said: “We are thrilled to be celebrating our 10th edition, and so grateful to our audiences for joining us on the journey so far… Expectations are high but we are confident that this year’s HippFest will be our most successful yet. It’s not just the gripping stories – like edge-of-the seat war drama ‘Dawn’; the long-lost prestige pictures – like ‘The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots’; or the restoration premieres – like ‘Poil de Carotte’… it’s the activities, experiences, workshops and exhibition that brim out of the Hippodrome, bringing silent film fun into the schools, library, shops and streets around the area.
I’m particularly looking forward to our Custard Pie Fight! “Pieing” was a staple of silent comedy and Charlie Chaplin's ‘Behind the Screen’, showing at our popular Jeely Jar double-bill, was the first of many films to include extended pie-throwing battles. Chaplin’s Tramp character made his screen debut with Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio where they used so many pies they had to build their own bakery and Sennett coined the word “splurch” just to describe the expression on a pie-splattered face!
We hope that hordes of people will take part in our Pie Fight to make it the biggest splurch-extravaganza ever! Don’t worry about the mess… we’re substituting shaving foam for custard!”
David Smith, Director of Screen at Screen Scotland said: “HippFest is a wonderful film festival that breathes new life into silent cinema. With live music accompanying every screening, the festival is a treat for film and music lovers alike. New restorations such as Australia's THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE, and THE LOVES OF MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS, demonstrate a rich and eclectic offering from around the world.”
Sambrooke Scott, Manager, Film Hub Scotland said: “Film Hub Scotland is proud and thrilled to support the triumphant return of HippFest to Bo’ness for another great edition. It’s a fantastic showcase of film from another age, brought vividly to new life by a host of wonderful musicians through their brilliant live scores. It’s a rare jewel of festival that brings excited audiences from near and afar and this year’s edition promises to be one of the best yet.”
The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival is organised by Falkirk Community Trust with key funding and support from Falkirk Council, Screen Scotland, Film Hub Scotland (BFI Film Audience Network) and Visit Falkirk. Find out more at hippfest.co.uk.