Brochure 06 February 2024
Programme Announced for Hippodrome Silent Film Festival 2024
The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival has announced the programme for its 14th edition, with a stellar line-up of silent films presented with live musical accompaniment plus fascinating talks, engaging workshops, exhibition, and a generous online offering too. Named after its home cinema in Bo’ness, the Festival which is affectionately known as HippFest, will take place from Wednesday 20 to Sunday 24 March 2024.
Contemporary talent and vintage Hollywood stars will take the spotlight in a programme that features Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Clara Bow, and Joan Crawford; with live appearances from musicians and silent film aficionados, including Neil Brand, Jenny Hammerton, Maud Nelissen, and John Sweeney.
Depictions of Scotland on Screen are in focus, as the Festival opens with Peggy (1916) on Wednesday 20 March with live musical accompaniment from silent film accompanist Stephen Horne. This sparkling film debut for Billie Burke (The Wizard of Oz’s Glinda the Good Witch) follows New York socialite Peggy Cameron (Burke) as she moves to Scotland to live with her new guardian, “a man as stern and unyielding as the rocky hills of his native land”. Will she succumb to the charms of the ‘hot’ Reverend? Once thought lost, the film has been reconstructed with the final missing scenes being filled in with stills and text from the 1916 copyright registration to ensure that today’s audiences are not left in suspense at the film’s conclusion.
Also on the opening day, pioneering Glasgow-born filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson directs an entirely different take on Scotland, The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric (1933), a poignant “story documentary” about crofting families in Shetland. Presented with a new music commission by award-winning multi-instrumentalist and composer from Fair Isle: Inge Thomson, with Shetland-born Catriona MacDonald (commission funded by Creative Scotland National Lottery Open Fund for Organisations), this tender and beautiful dramatisation of Shetland life surpasses the bounds of both fiction and non-fiction filmmaking.
Later in the Festival, local young musicians will accompany shorts from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive in the annual New Found Sound screening. Audiences can learn about the life of a Scottish locations manager with a visit to Callendar House on Thursday 21 March, setting for key scenes in the popular Outlander TV series, with illustrated talk from a speaker in the business of transforming some of Scotland’s best-known landmarks into backdrops for big budget blockbusters.
Thursday’s screenings begin with a film from screenwriter and director Frances Marion: Stella Maris (1918) starring “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford. Mary Pickford made some of the best features of her career with the prolific and respected screenwriter Frances Marion, including this first-rate female-fronted melodrama about two women who fall in love with the same man. Accompanied on piano by Meg Morley, the film handles some very dark themes, but balances them beautifully with genuine light and charm.
The focus on Marion continues with a new restoration of Just Around the Corner (1921), one of only two films directed by the prolific scenarist and a rare example of a 1920s film with a woman officially occupying the director’s chair. This unabashedly sentimental drama about maternal love and the trials of navigating a man’s world is a tantalising glimpse of another dimension of Marion’s unparalleled gift for movie making.
The triptych of Marion’s work is completed with the Festival’s closing night film, the world premiere of a prestigious new restoration of The Wind (1928). Starring screen legend Lillian Gish and containing many elements central to the Western genre – the settlers’ struggle, harsh frontier surroundings, lawlessness, honour and self determination – this legendary film, with screenplay adaptation by Frances Marion, is ultimately a stirring psychological study of one woman at odds with the world in which she finds herself.
World cinema once again features strongly in the HippFest programme with silent films from around the world. Following the successful screening of the Kyiv city symphony In Spring (HippFest 2023), Adventures of Half a Ruble (Priklucheniya Poltinnika) (1929), gives us a touching child’s eye view of life in Kyiv on the cusp of the city’s subjugation by the Soviet Union. On Saturday 23 March the Festival presents The Organist at St Vitus Cathedral (Varhaník U Svateho Víta) (1929) starring Czech actor/singer and war hero Karel Häsler and with live musical accompaniment from Dutch composer and pianist Maud Nelissen. From Sweden comes Per Lindberg’s The Norrtull Gang (Norrtullsligan) (1923), with musical accompaniment from John Sweeney. This screening is dedicated to the memory of long time HippFest supporter Graham Wilson.
Continuing HippFest’s long tradition of showcasing Chinese cinema, the Festival presents Queen of Sports (体育皇后) (1934) in celebration of the upcoming 2024 Olympics. Written for lead actor
Li Li-li, the film follows a young sprinter as she becomes a sporting celebrity, almost forgetting the spirit of true sportsmanship on the way. Musician Meg Morley and percussionist Frank Bockius provide the soundtrack which is sure to get the blood pumping.
Friday night at HippFest is all about the Roaring-20s at the HippFest Friday Night Gala and Mantrap (1926) with music from Neil Brand. Victor Fleming (director of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz) directs the silent-era’s quintessential It Girl, Clara Bow in this entertaining battle of the sexes that allows the star’s wild and independent spirit to shine. Be sure to stay for the glamorous gala afterparty, including vintage clothing pop-up, Roaring-20s revelry and much more.
Lon Chaney and Jackie Coogan star in one of the earliest adaptations of Dickens’ work, Oliver Twist (1922) directed by Glasgow-born director Frank Lloyd. With musical accompaniment from Neil Brand. There are more big names of the silver screen including Joan Crawford in the film that catapulted her to stardom, Our Dancing Daughters (1928). The film was originally released with a synchronised soundtrack, but the Festival will show the film with accompaniment from Maud Nelissen.
The transition to sound in film features again in this year’s Platform Reels with an outdoor screening of hybrid-talkie The Flying Scotsman (1929) on the platform of the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway. A daring thriller set on the journey from London to Edinburgh, the film is notable for its dangerous stunt work and stars the original, iconic steam locomotive. With musical accompaniment from Jane Gardner. The original and rare fully silent version of The Flying Scotsman will be screened the week before at the HippFest community screening hosted by the Barony Theatre in Bo’ness on Saturday 16 March.
From thrillers to crime dramas, Saturday evening’s entertainment begins with The Racket (1928), the original, bold gangster film (predating producer Howard Hughes’ influential Scarface by four years), about an honest cop who vows to bring down his Capone-like nemesis in corrupt, Prohibition-era Chicago.
No HippFest would be complete without a touch of silent comedy, and this year has laughter aplenty with screenings featuring comedy giants Laurel and Hardy, and Buster Keaton. Start the weekend right with HippFest’s Saturday morning’s Jeely Jar Screening of Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928). Buster Keaton’s inspired energy and inventive physical comedy dazzle in this hilarious, heart-warming comedy, featuring possibly the most celebrated comedy set piece in cinema history. Plus a double bill from history’s favourite comedy duo: Laurel and Hardy in The Second Hundred Years (1927) and The Finishing Touch (1928) with Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius performing live.
Rounding off the Festival line-up is an entertaining and informative programme of talks and an exhibition including Behind the Scenes Tours of Scotland’s oldest purpose built cinema; a Bo’ness Witch Trials Walking Tour with local historian Ian Scott, a deeper dive into the The Flying Scotsman and Britain’s part-talkies delivered by writer and self-declared “film nerd” Marc David Jacobs; and How to Be a Flapper, an insight into the joyful women’s cinemagazine Eve’s Film Review from author and film archivist Jenny Hammerton. The Pen to Picture Exhibition at Bo’ness library (17 February - 15 April 2024, free) curated by Richard Weeks will showcase the colourful
artwork that graced the eye-catching covers of ‘Film-tie-in’ books published by the Readers Library during the early years of cinema.
Looking ahead to the Festival, HippFest Director, Alison Strauss said: “HippFest is proud to have grown a real community of people who share an adventurous appetite for extraordinary cinema and live music. I am particularly thrilled that this year we have been chosen as the festival to host the world premiere of the prestigious new restoration of ‘The Wind’ from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and I am over the moon that we have secured the means to commission a new accompaniment for Jenny Gilbertson’s rarely screened Scottish masterpiece ‘The Rugged Island’ for the exceptionally talented Inge Thomson and Catriona MacDonald. We can’t wait to welcome everyone to discover these and the many other brilliant films and musicians that we have lined up. Come one come all, and be part of the unique atmosphere of the Festival, of Bo’ness and of the Hippodrome itself, where you’ll be sure to find great films, great fun, and great music.”
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, Leader of Falkirk Council added: “Visitors come from across the country and beyond to attend this great festival of silent film. It has always attracted an enthusiastic audience, including some well-known personalities and it’s great to see it return again for its 14th year.”
Katharine Simpson from Screen Scotland said: “HippFest, held at Scotland's first-ever cinema The Hippodrome in Bo'ness, is an unparalleled experience that stands out in both Scotland and the UK. This festival offers a one-of-a-kind blend of historic films from our cinematic legacy, complemented by live music, all curated and presented for today's audience in engaging, fun, and meaningful ways.”
The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival will run Wednesday 20 to Sunday 24 March 2024 at the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness, Falkirk. Selected events and screenings will be livestreamed from the cinema, plus pre-festival talks on Frances Marion, Jenny Gilbertson, and the story of Victorian film by British Film Institute Curator of Silent Film, Bryony Dixon as part of HippFest At Home. For more information about this, the full HippFest 2024 programme and to purchase tickets, please visit www.hippfest.co.uk.
The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival is a project of Falkirk Council, supported by Film Hub Scotland part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and National Lottery funding from the BFI.