It’s five days since BIFF ended and today is the opening of the National Media Museum’s Widescreen Weekend – four-day extravaganza of films screened in their original formats, something the museum is able to do across the whole range and matched only by a couple of other venues in the world. 2013 is the 60th birthday of CinemaScope and I wish I could sample the weekend but I’m exhausted and there is much else to do. I don’t know how the museum staff manage to keep going.
This is the first year that Widescreen Weekend hasn’t been directly part of BIFF, but that doesn’t mean that the festival felt thin or diminished. In fact, it felt busier than ever as a programme. I will eventually post on The Chess Players and that will make 23 film programmes I’ve reported on. The only other one I haven’t reported so far was last Friday’s ‘Bradford on Film’ programme at Bradford Cathedral. This complemented the earlier session of films from the Bradford-based C.H. Wood film company and was once again presented by Graham Relton of the Yorkshire Film Archive. The selection from the archives covered a wider range of Bradford material with virtually no overlap from the earlier show. Given that the Cathedral itself was celebrating 50 years of a newer part of the building the Bishop had requested some material from the 1960s. This there was, but also we had sequences of Town Hall square in 1897 and jubilee celebrations for George V in 1935. Again there was a good audience and each clip received a round of applause.
Although I found many of the clips interesting and I learned several things about Bradford’s history, I didn’t enjoy this show quite as much as the C. H. Wood presentation. Partly it was because the seats were less comfortable (the show ran over the scheduled 90 mins) and the screen was far too small for a venue of this size (there were actually two small screens operating simultaneously) and it was still daylight in a building without blackout curtains. The sound, however, was excellent. For me, one of the most interesting clips was from a late 1940s film showing the Bradford City refuse collection and street cleaning services. This 16mm film was in beautiful colour but someone had added music which had the effect of making the film feel like a silent cinema comedy. This was a shame, because along with other films on town planning and promotional films from the woollen industry in the city, there was the opportunity here to reflect on Bradford’s social history. (You can see the film silent on the Yorkshire Film Archive website.) This brings me to a final observation. I would have liked to have seen a little more about the changing social structure of the city which was hinted at in a film about Bradford University and students offering language support to recent immigrants – but of course, migration to Bradford has been important since the end of the 19th century. I think I need to investigate the YFA website further to see what else is available.
At the awards presentation session on Sunday evening, the Shine Short Film Award went to Ico Costa for his Portuguese-French film Four Hours Barefoot. This was the only one of the six shortlisted films for this award that I’d seen and I was able to see it again following the award. Shine Shorts are judged by a panel comprising a film producer, film educators, a programmer and a scholar/journalist. As with the European Feature Award, I haven’t seen the judging criteria. Four Hours Barefoot is a well-made film that works as part of a narrative about a horrific family incident which we only witness partially and mainly in the darkness. Most of the 15 min running time is concerned with a 16 year-old boy and his barefoot journey through the mountains to a police station. While I can appreciate the film’s undoubted merits, I have to admit that when I first saw it, screened before a feature, it had not particularly made an impact. This isn’t a criticism of the programme. The festival tries to carefully choose a complementary short (shorts) to go with each feature and I applaud this but as I set out earlier, there is a difference between a programme of shorts (and a sense of looking for a prizewinner) – the six competition entries are also shown in two competition screenings – and programmes of shorts plus features. Festival Director Tom Vincent said this was the strongest overall shorts selection for many years. He’s seen them all, I’ve only seen around a third (feature programmes also included some avant-garde shorts) so I’m not going to make an overall evaluation.
Perhaps this is the defining feature of Bradford’s film festival. I watched films on 10 days out of 11, sometimes four screenings a day, but I mainly concentrated on two strands – 100 years of Indian Cinema and the European Features Competition. Inevitably, the other films I saw were partly because they were on at times I could see them. In fact there were several other strands that I didn’t visit at all – and I think that these included some of the most popular shows, especially at the weekends with the live events. My guess is that there are at least three significantly different audience groups who visit the festival plus several other smaller segments. It’s dangerous to try to categorise these, but I’ll try. One group is the older, traditional arthouse audience (who may be retired and can visit in the afternoons), one is younger and perhaps more into ‘independent’ American and British films and a third group is more populist and interested in celebrity appearances. Of course, some festivalgoers go to a little of each strand. It just means that there are several different perspectives on the Bradford festival experience. To get a flavour of this, have a look at the posts from some of the most active BIFF bloggers:
Sam Turner (Film Intel)
Bob Brook (Otley Film Society)
I think these bloggers accurately represent some of the variety of interests. Bradford is a big, ambitious festival and it has lots of different types of film experience on offer. I think that’s a good thing. I thoroughly enjoyed BIFF 2013. I’m not going to pick out a Top 5 but I did want to congratulate all the organisers who had to sift through entries and write programme notes, introduce films, meet guests and all the other tasks. I’d like to give a big thanks to all the projectionists who triumphed over all the odd formats thrown at them (and the one, nameless filmmaker who caused mayhem). I have to add that I’m most grateful for the chance to see the Indian classics on wonderful prints and the new Indian films too. I’m looking forward to a similar celebration in 2014. Finally, congratulations to co-director Neil Young who is to appear on a festival jury at Cannes, we hear. That will help to support Bradford on the film festival map. No doubt Tom Vincent will be there soon as well.