The Tyne Valley Film Festival organisers have truly surpassed themselves this year with a programme that is as epic as anything David Lean ever conjured up (and Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia is just one of the delights on offer this year). The diverse range of films that are showing over this 10-day celebration of cinema will take in everything from pre-sound classics to preview screenings of new releases. Speaking of which, the festival will kick off with Leonor Will Never Die, a surreal comedy-drama from the Philippines that is set to be released later this year. It’s an apt curtain raiser because it’s a celebration of cinema and follows a retired filmmaker who, after falling into a coma, becomes the hero of her unfinished screenplay.
With so many films being screened this year, I can’t flag them all up here, but I will pick out some of my own personal favourites. And the first thing that caught my eye as I scanned the programme was Alfred Hitchcock’s silent masterpiece The Lodger: A Story of London Fog. This isn’t Hitchcock’s first film, but I think it’s fair to say, it’s the first Hitchcock film in which he deployed many of the elements that would make him the world’s most famous director. It stars Ivor Novello as the titular lodger. But his mysterious behaviour soon concerns his landlady and her husband – especially when reports start to come through that someone has been murdering blonde women in the area. This screening will be accompanied by a live piano score.
Hitchcock was revered by Peter Bogdanovich – another great director who sadly died last year. And the festival will pay tribute to Bogdanovich by screening arguably his greatest film The Last Picture Show. Shot in stunning black and white, this Oscar-laden 1971 film shone a light on a dying Texas town and stars Cybill Shepherd and Jeff Bridges.
Another, more recent film, which also scooped a whole load of awards (including armfuls of Oscars and Baftas) is Yorgos Lanthimos’ stunning The Favourite. This film features a stunning turn from Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne. And she has top-drawer support here from Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, both playing characters vying for the ailing queen’s attention. This 2018 black comedy thoroughly rejuvenated the period film genre.
More Oscar winners? The festival has got plenty and one of the most recent recipients of an Academy Award is Summer of Soul (pictured). This film won Best Documentary at last year’s ceremony and it’s an extraordinary document of stunning live performances that took place in Harlem in 1969. Among the performers captured at the height of their powers are the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, and many more.
Music is also to the fore in Spike Lee’s 1990 film Mo’ Better Blues. This comedy/drama follows a period in the life of fictional jazz trumpeter Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington at the top of his game) as a series of bad decisions result in his jeopardizing both his relationships and playing career.
There are plenty of copper-bottomed classics being screened at the festival and if you’ve not seen The Wizard of Oz on the big screen then I’d advice you to click your ruby slippers three times and make for the Forum Cinema in Hexham to catch it in all its glory. It’s one of those films in which every scene feels iconic, whether it’s Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion skipping down the yellow brick road, or Dorothy’s house landing on the Wicked Witch of the East, or those flying monkeys (brr…). And, of course, the film also features perhaps the most famous song in the entire history of movies. The festival screening will have free face painting for the kids.
One of the hottest talents in Hollywood right now is Greta Gerwig. Her ‘Barbie’ is one of the most talked about films of the year, but she made her name as a director (and writer) with 2017’s Lady Bird. This coming of age drama tells the story of a high school senior (Saorise Ronan) and her strained relationship with her mother.
Michael Powell is one of the most feted of all English directors, but one of his lesser-known works – The Edge of the World – is, to my mind, a minor masterpiece. The 1937 film is loosely based on the evacuation of the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda and is filled with arresting imagery. What’s more, this screening will be introduced by Ann Cleeves – author of the Vera novels.
There will be screenings every day at Forum Cinema in Hexham but there will also be screenings from Ryton to Haltwhistle at venues such as Wylam Institute, The General Havelock (Haydon Brige), Tarset Village Hall, The Hearth Arts Centre and more beside. Check the festival website for details on all these venues. The website also contains the rest of the programme, which takes in classics such as Belfast, Another Round, How Green Was My Valley, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Manon des Sources, and many more.
Tyne Valley Film Festival, 17-26 March. tynevalleyfilmfestival.com
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