Tyne Valley Film Festival is nigh...
And let’s start at Hexham’s Forum Cinema because they’ve really pulled some cinematic rabbits out of hats for their line-up this year. To open their programme they’re turning the clock back to 1937, when the cinema first opened, with a screening of George Formby’s knockabout comedy Keep Your Seats, Please, which – get this! – was the very first film they screened. The night will also include a brief talk about the history of the cinema from the Hexham Local History Society.
It won’t be the earliest work screened during the festival, however. We’re also being treated to The Marvellous Mabel Normand, a package of short films from the leading lady of silent film comedy. An extraordinary performer from the anarchic days of Mack Sennett’s Keystone company this showing sees her outshining the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and a young Oliver Hardy.
A silent film dealing with rather more serious matters is Shoes (1916). This features a remarkably subtle performance from Mary MacLaren playing a young shop assistant who is the sole wage earner for a family of six in Los Angeles. This fascinating time capsule of urban working-class life will follow an illustrated lecture from silent film critic and expert Pamela Hutchinson.
Some classic foreign films are also part of the programme at the Forum including former Crack Film of the Month, Rams (2015). This tells the tale of a hard-drinking Icelandic farmer and his estranged brother who are forced to band together to save their flocks of sheep from the authorities who want the animals destroyed.
Justly considered one of the classics of New German Cinema is The German Sisters (1981). Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is the purest expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political.
Pioneering director Agnès Varda eloquently captures Paris in the sixties in Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) a real-time portrait of a singer set adrift in the city as she awaits test results of a biopsy. A chronicle of the minutes of one woman’s life this New Wave classic is a spirited mix of vérité and melodrama.
Of course, Hollywood hasn’t been elbowed out entirely and one of my favourite films of the 1940s gets a screening in the shape of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940). Based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name the film stars Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier and tells the story of a young woman who marries a widower only to find out that she must live in the shadow of his former wife who died mysteriously several years earlier.
Among the other highlights to look out for at The Forum are Britain on Film: LGBT Britain (a documentary looking at representations of homosexuality on film from 1909 to 1994); Hexham on Film (archive footage of the town); and A Couple of Down and Outs (another silent classic from 1923).
The festival will also spread itself across the Tyne Valley with screenings at a diverse range of venues with some real crackers lined-up including The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) at Hexham Abbey. One of the greats of the silent era this features an extraordinary performance by Renée Jeanne Falconetti in the title role. The screening will include live improvised organ accompaniment by Jonathan Eyre.
Another of the silent era’s blockbusters arrives in the shape of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) showing at the General Havelock Inn. Lang’s vision of a futuristic society, where workers toil for their domineering overseers, has proved an immeasurable influence on science-fiction filmmaking.
There will be more classic science fiction with Things To Come (1936 - pictured) at the Haydon Old Church. After a decades long second world war, an attempt is made to rebuild civilisation and conquer space travel in a film which, for its time, featured ground-breaking special effects.
One of my very favourite films, The Third Man (1949), will be screened at The Vault. This sees Joseph Cotton on the hunt for Orson Welles in post-war Vienna in Carol Reed’s celebrated film noir which is often touted as the greatest British film of all time. I’m not arguing.
One of the best book shops in the region, Forum Books in Corbridge, will also be getting in on the act with a screening of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), which tells the story of a boy who lives alone in the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris in the 1930s. The film is suffused with a magical air and contains plenty of nods back to the earliest days of cinema.
We haven’t mentioned every film that is being screened during this festival so be sure to check out the website below for details on all of the screenings as well as times and ticket information.Tyne Valley Film Festival, Friday 22-Sunday 31 March. forumhexham.com