The Leeds International Film Festival offers its 30th programme this year. So it is interesting to go back to the beginnings which were in 1987. This was the year of:
1st Leeds ‘Electric’ Film Festival 5 – 19 March 1987
Organised under the auspices of Leeds Leisure Services it was sponsored by the Yorkshire Electricity Board. However the organisations was done by two keen film enthusiasts at the BBC, Janice Campbell, Bob Geoghegan, and Michael Johnson who was Head of Music with the Council. The Film Festival emerged out of the activities of the Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House, then an independent cinema which was facing hard times. So the Festival aimed both to showcase cinema as an entertainment and art form and to protect this iconic movie theatre. The 1987 Festival set a standard in quality, variety and interest that subsequent Festivals have had to work hard to match.
The programme included mainstream features of the period, key British films, art and foreign language titles, and archival films. The opening Gala was Ken Russell’s Gothic (1987): not his best film by any means but anything by the enfant terrible of British cinema was an event. For Jazz enthusiasts there was Round Midnight (France 1986): this is a fascinating film by Bernard Tavernier and featured the great US sax player Dexter Gordon. Another art film featured was Paris, Texas (West Germany 1984): certainly one of the best film directed by Wim Wenders and with fine performances by Harry Dean Stanton and Natassia Kinski. There was a mini-retrospective of films by Andrei Tarkovsky, Solaris (USSR 1972), the very fine science fiction movie; Stalker (USSR 1979), impressive but hard work to watch; and Nostalgia (Italy/USSR 1983) and The Sacrifice (Sweden/France 1986), films that I have to admit defeat me. Ken Loach was represented by Fatherland (UK, France, West Germany 1986), which, unfortunately, is one of the least successful of his films. Titles still familiar today included Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (USA 1984); The Color of Money (USA 1986); A Chorus Line (USA 1985), in 70mm; Back to the Future (USA 1985); The Railway Children (UK ); Sid ‘n Nancy (UK 1986), now re-released on digital; the mammoth War and Peace (Voyna i mir USSR 1969): and Salvador (USA 1986).
Less familiar films and ones little seen nowadays included the first Welsh-language film Coming Up Roses (UK 1986); a film from Eire, Eat the Peach (Ireland 1986); Bertram Blier’s Tenue de soirée (France 1986) starring Gérard Depardieu; Desert Bloom (USA 1985), an intriguing drama set in Las Vegas when nuclear testing was taking place in the state; Carlos Saura’s A Love Bewitched (Spain 1985), a variation on the story of Carmen; True Stories (USA 1986), the feature debut of musician David Byrne; Almost You (USA 1986) a New York based romantic comedy; Rocinante (UK 1986), a picaresque tale with John Hurt and Ian Drury which I have not seen again but remember being very good; the feature launch of Spike Lee with She’s Gotta Have it (USA 1986); Heavenly Pursuits (UK 1986), with Tom Conte and Helen Mirren as teachers in a Roman Catholic school in Glasgow where possibly a miracle has occurred; Duet for One (USA 1986) with Andrei Konchalovsky directing a star studded cast in a film adaptation of a successful play; an Israeli film and Silver Bear Winner at the Berlin Film Festival Smile of the Lamb (1986); Smooth Talk (USA 1985) a Brooklyn-based teen friendship film; and Children of a Lesser God (USA 1986) with William Hurt and an Academy Award winning performance by Marlee Matlin. A special double bill offered Claude Lelouch’s popular A Man and a Woman (France 1966) together with his follow-up A Man and A Woman Twenty Years Later (France 1986).
The cinemas that hosted these films were part of as now-vanished film-going world. The Hyde Park Picture House was the key cinema, and that is happily still with us: though no longer the central venue in the Festival. There was the Odeon on the Headrow: by now multi-screen but still with one large auditorium and the largest screen in the city. There was the Canon or ABC cinema, also a multi-screen. It still had one large auditorium though the sound proofing in the smaller auditorium was not as good as the Odeon. Both The Cottage Road Cinema and The Lounge were also open then: though not involved in the Festival. The Lounge is sadly another defunct cinema but The Cottage Road still screens films. There was also the old Leeds Playhouse in Calverley Street, just below the University Campus. It was home to an active Film Society which lost its home when the building suffered a fire.
Besides the cinema screenings there were a number of events and special screenings. Some of these ran under the auspices of Yorkshire Arts, including a new film by the Leeds-based filmmaker Richard Woolley, Brothers and Sisters (UK 1980) with the director present to talk about this film and his other films. This took place at the Leeds Art Gallery, the venue for almost daily events. Among the best was ‘an afternoon’ with Richard Rodney Bennett on ‘Composing for Film’. Bennett was an accomplished composer, nominated for an Academy Award for his splendid score to the earlier [and superior] adaption of Far From the Madding Crowd (1986). Award winning cinematographer Sid Perou, noted for his work in extreme situations, was at there: as was Roy Alon, a leading film stuntman. And Russell Harty interviewed John Kobal of the famous Kobal Photographic Portrait Collection. The last was accompanied by an exhibition of star portraits from the Collection at the Art Gallery.
Later in the Festival the BBC regional arts magazine hosted a Northern Lights Award for the ‘best Super-8 film’. The contenders were part of the West Riding Group of Cine Clubs, based round Bradford, Leeds Huddersfield, Harrogate and Wakefield. And then there was a programme of Independent Shorts from Yorkshire. This was followed by a discussion around short film production including the local production groups at Hall Place Studios and Video Vera. ‘Screening Women’ at the Art Gallery offered two fairly avant-garde documentaries: one on an African dancer the other a treatment of anthropological films by Trinh T Minh-ha. I did find the latter rather ‘academic’. Leeds Animation Workshop offered a retrospective with six of their excellent short films. The Workshop has continued to feature in subsequent festivals as they continue their innovative and progressive filmmaking.
The First Yorkshire Movie Makers featured the pioneer films of Louis Le Prince, the Holmfirth based Bamford Company and the Sheffield Film Company. All were pioneers in film production, not just in the UK but in the fast developing world of early cinema.
The Art Gallery has not been used in recent Festivals. The acoustics were not brilliant but it served well for certain sorts of presentations and the tie-in with Art Exhibitions was good.
Peter Ustinov gave a Guardian Film Lecture at the Hyde Park: one of the few occasions that this series has strayed outside the National Film Theatre. Whilst the Civic Hall had the Cannon Film Exhibition, with various memorabilia of the Industry and Q&A’s on the Industry’s future. More memorabilia was available at a Film Fair held at the Queen’s Hotel. The Rank Film Laboratories hosted two Open Days where film lovers and school students could see the process for 16mm film, then mainly servicing television and independent filmmakers.
Special film event included a Day of Films at Swarthmore organised and presented by Les Rayner. Les was a film collector and ran film classes at the centre. he had a particular interest in films on 16mm and on the early film format, 9.5 mm. The day included avant-garde films, a Rayner speciality. And it ended up with Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Deserter (USSR 1933).
The famed Leeds City Varieties Theatre was the venue for a re-creation of ‘The Silent Cinema’. There was Charlie Chaplin the iconic figure of early film. And the French classic Casanova (1927), produced by Russian émigrés in Paris and starring one of the great European film actors Ivan Mozzuhkin. Local musician Jon Barker provided accompaniment at the piano. Silent films are one type of cinema that re more accessible now than they were in the 1980s.
Film Education provided three screening for school students at the Hyde Park Picture House. There was a |Shakespearean them with The Dresser (UK) and Romeo and Juliet (UK/Italy 1968) Then the drama constructed around John Reed, Reds (USA 1981). Trevor Griffith [who also scripted Fatherland) came along after the screening to talk about his work on the film’s screenplay and answer questions. He clearly had a feeling of déjà vu after his meticulous writing was reworked by the star and director Warren Beatty.
There were two television events including ‘Witness to the Times’, about the output of BBC Leeds provision. And also films from ITV’s First Tuesday current affairs series: One film was on the then moribund ‘peace progress ‘ in the northern counties of Eire [currently occupied] and a second on homeless people in New York City.
A rather distinctive evening was available taking a barge trip along the Leeds – Liverpool canal to the Armley Mill Industrial Museum. There one could see the exhibition on the Leeds-based film pioneer Louis Le Prince and enjoy a Lantern-slide presentation. And the Museum also hosted several film screenings in its bijou cinema. The trip passed the Leeds bridge where Louis Le Prince shot his pioneer film in 1888. This is one option that has resurfaced in 2016.
The Festival ended with The Hollywood Ball, at the now-vanished ‘Mister Craig’s’ night-club. Hollwyood was a continuing theme through the Festival The Festival Catalogue included the films with nominations for Academy Awards, the annual bonanza held shortly after the Festival ended. Children of a Lesser God missed out on Best Picture but Marlee Matlin won as already noted. Paul Newman won Best Actor for Color of Money and Herbie Hancock’s score for Round Midnight won the Best Original. That remains, with the original Festival Catalogue, an item to treasure.
Note, there is an overview of the Leeds International Film Festival over the years at https://friendsofhpph.org/2016/10/28/a-history-of-leeds-international-film-festival/