Arts 01 April 2021
HippFest Celebrates the Success of its First Online Festival
The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival, organised by Falkirk Community Trust, is celebrating the success of its 10th festival and first edition online. Since its launch in 2011 the Festival, which is usually housed in the Hippodrome in Bo’ness, has showcased over 220 films, and welcomed over 80 musicians to participate in its five day programme celebrating silent film with live music.
This year from 17-21 March, for the first time HippFest went online. Working in partnership with film industry partner INDY on Demand, the festival presented nine silent film titles, including the world premiere of the Mary Pickford Foundation’s new restoration of Sparrows (1926) accompanied by jazz, hip-hop artists Taylor and Cameron Graves aka The Graves Brothers based in Los Angeles; and the premiere of a new score by Frame Ensemble to accompany The Woman Men Yearn For (1929) starring Marlene Dietrich.
Audiences also enjoyed introductions from Festival Director Alison Strauss filmed in Falkirk and Bo’ness, and talks on the Flu Pandemic of 1918 and its impact on Scottish Cinema; Matthew Steele the architect behind the Bo’ness Cinema; and Scottish slapstick star Billie Ritchie in Hollywood.
Saturday morning kicked off with a cook-along demonstration and cocktail making session with Jenny Hammerton from Silver Screen Suppers who recreated Mary Pickford’s unique recipe for enchiladas. On Sunday morning audiences were treated to HippFest’s New Found Sound initiative: a programme of shorts from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive presented with scores composed and performed by young musicians from the Falkirk area.
Over the weekend there were also opportunities for audiences to gather online for various activities themed to tie in with the film programme: a chess tournament inspired by the Soviet silent comedy Chess Fever (1925) , a silent film quiz, a challenge to recreate a favourite silent film still, and the chance to stream specially created playlists put together by jazz musician Wycliffe Gordon, silent film pianist Mike Nolan and other participants in this year’s festival.
Over 600 audience members watched from across the UK (87%) Europe, and North America. Usually restricted to the modest capacity of the Hippodrome Cinema, the Festival programme attracted over five and a half thousand views, with more than double the seating capacity tuning in for the opening night film Body and Soul (1925) starring Paul Robeson and directed and produced by Oscar Micheaux – the silent era's most successful Black filmmaker.
Other highlights of the Festival were discussed on the bustling virtual hub on Facebook, where over 200 festival goers joined in the conversation. This year’s audience favourites included Underground (1928), Prix de Beaute (1930), and Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925). Praises were also sung for the international musical accompaniment, from the likes of Wycliffe Gordon and the Grave Brothers, and for the BSL interpretation and captioning presented during the live Q&As.
David White, Chair at Falkirk Community Trust said: “We are delighted that so many people took the opportunity to enjoy HippFest’s silent film programme online. After last year’s cancellation, we were very keen for the Festival to go ahead and we are very grateful to all the Festival’s funders, local businesses, and all the film archivists, artists and musicians for working with the teams at Falkirk Community Trust who pulled out all the stops to make this happen.”
Alison Strauss, Festival Director said: “HippFest 2021 has been an absolute triumph, exceeding our targets and garnering a deluge of appreciation and praise from our audiences and partners. The team did a phenomenal job in a very short time of learning an entirely new way to present film virtually and in such a way as to capture the most treasured elements of our ‘in real life’ festival… the warm welcome, the diverse programme with its emphasis on exceptional musical accompaniment, and the accessible approach. I could never have imagined how many positives we would find in going online and am confident that we have won multitudes of new fans who will join us in the Hippodrome next year.”
Nicola Kettlewood, Film Hub Scotland Manager said: “We are proud to have supported the work of HippFest for another year with funding from the British Film Institute, National Lottery and Screen Scotland. This year’s digital festival was a huge success that brought the magic of silent cinema to a wider audience and our congratulations goes out to all the team.”
The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival is operated by Falkirk Community Trust with key funding and support from Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, Screen Scotland and National Lottery funding from the BFI.
HippFest will return in 2022 with provisional dates set for Wed 16 – Sun 20 March.