Hippodrome Silent Film Festival Announces Digital Programme for 2021

Falkirk Community Trust have announced the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival’s 10th festival programme, Wed 17 – Sat 21 March 2021. The festival, which is affectionately known as HippFest, is usually housed in Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema The Hippodrome in Bo’ness. This year however, the full programme will go online for the first time, after being cancelled in the wake of the pandemic last year.

The 10th programme is as varied as ever, featuring fan favourites and lesser-known classics from the silent era. Thanks to the new online format, audiences can enjoy music from across the globe, including accompaniment from acclaimed international jazz musician Wycliffe Gordon and the Graves Brothers from the USA.

And, as in previous years, the women of Hollywood are front and centre with Marlene Dietrich, Louise Brooks and Mary Pickford all featuring in the star-studded programme.

The festival kicks off on Wednesday 17 March with Body and Soul (1925) a film by Oscar Micheaux – one of the most successful African-American film makers of the early 20th Century. Introduced by film historian and documentary film maker Professor Charles Musser, and accompanied by an 18-piece orchestral score written by American jazz musician Wycliffe Gordon. Post screening, viewers can learn more about the history of jazz and its role in American film with a live Q&A, and listen to Wycliffe’s playlist at the end of the night.

Thursday’s line-up is filled with a sense of adventure, kicking off with a Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Hippodrome Cinema in the morning, and in the evening, a rare screening of thrilling documentary Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life(1925). This feature by the dynamic directing duo behind ‘King Kong’, tells the jaw-dropping story of a tribe of nomads in Iran and their epic trek with half-a-million animals across impossible terrain to reach summer pasture.

On Friday, Festival favourite Neil Brand illuminates HippFest’s programme, with his orchestral score written for British drama Underground (1928), performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and introduced by the BFI’s silent film curator Bryony Dixon. Neil will also provide piano accompaniment for the Friday Night Gala presentation of The Eagle (1925), a sweeping historical romance starring Hollywood’s original sex symbol: Rudolph Valentino as a dashing Russian lieutenant who catches the lustful eye of Catherine the Great. 

On Saturday afternoon silent film historian and writer Pamela Hutchison introduces the French Prix de Beauté (1930), starring iconic star of the silent era Louise Brooks, with a brilliant score written and performed by multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne. Saturday evening is a glamorous affair, with the much-anticipated presentation of the German silent The Woman Men Yearn For (or Die Frau, Nach der Man Sich Sehnt) (1929) from the 2020 programme, starring the incomparable Marlene Dietrich and accompanied by Frame Ensemble, Irine Røsnes (violin), Liz Hanks (cello), Trevor Bartlett (percussion), and Jonny Best (piano), in a new musical collaboration with the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival.

The final day of the online festival kicks off with a Russian silent comedy accompanied by John Sweeney. Queen’s Gambit fans will enjoy Chess Fever (or ShakhmatnayaGoryachka), a comedy about the 1925 Moscow Chess Tournament which includes footage from the tournament itself.

And finally, the festival will close with a new restoration Sparrows (1926) starring the ‘Queen of the Movies’ – Mary Pickford, and introduced by the Mary Pickford Foundation’s resident scholar Cari Beauchamp.

In addition to these screenings, pass holders will be able to take part in a host of interactive activities, including a Silent Film Quiz and a Chess Contest, as well as talks on the history of Scottish cinema during the 1918 Flu epidemic with Dr Trevor Griffiths, and a virtual tour of early Hollywood following in the footsteps of Scotland’s little known slapstick comic superstar Billie Ritchie, whose centenary it is this year.

Festival Passes to this year’s HippFest are available £20 Adult/£5 conc. from the festival website.

The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival is organised by Falkirk Community Trust with key funding from 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.

David White, Chair at Falkirk Community Trust said: “With so many of the Trust’s venues currently closed and our events programme on hold, it is great to see our flagship festival HippFest going ahead online. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Festival’s funders, local businesses, and all the film archivists, artists and musicians who are working with the teams at Falkirk Community Trust to make this happen.”

Elaina Friedrichsen, Mary Pickford Foundation said: “The Mary Pickford Foundation is pleased to have HippFest 2021 premiere the newly restored and digitally mastered film, Sparrows. Sparrows was restored on film by the Library of Congress with all digital work completed by the Mary Pickford Foundation. Since Sparrows is known for its stunning visuals, the Foundation worked hard to ensure that audiences today can enjoy it in all its splendor. The Mary Pickford Company commissioned an original, orchestral score by the Graves Brothers, which was produced and recorded at the Savannah Studios in Los Angeles.”

Jim Welsh

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