The man in question is, of course, Charles Dickens; and his invention is his novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843). This must be the most famous contribution to the festive season in modern times. There are likely two dozen adaptations of the book on film plus others on television, radio and in the theatre. And its influence can be seen in many other tales rolled out every year; it has always seemed to me that It’s a Wonderful Life works by inverting the earlier story. The smart variation offered in this movie is the portrait of Dickens writing his masterwork in the last weeks of 1843.
It is a dramatisation and whilst much of it is accurate it also includes invention and embroidering; check out ‘History vs Hollywood’ which examines some of these issues. The six week time period of the film is accurate; in that year Dickens was seeking an elusive popular novel and also worrying over financial problems. Meanwhile the Victorian Christmas was emerging; the 25th became a Bank Holiday in 1834; whilst Boxing Day and Bob Cratchit had to wait until 1871. The source for the movie was US writer Les Standiford who produces historical non-fiction and had the bright idea of presenting both how Dickens produced his famous work but also its influence on the increasing importance of this festival.
The film depicts Dickens drawing on his own life experiences to dramatise a tale of ‘light’ and shadow’; incorporating already existing practices such as the large fowl for dinner and the succulent pudding. He also added family get togethers and carol singing. The film tends to emphasise the sentimentality that was part of Dickens’ writing. There is less emphasis on the darker aspects of Victorian Britain; aspects written about vividly in the same period by Frederick Engels (‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, 1845).
In the course of the film we see Dickens (Dan Stevens) tussling with the characters he develops, including Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer); receiving inspiration from those about him including an invented Irish maid Tara (Anna Murphy): and revisiting his past and family, including his father John (Jonathan Pryce). He also has to tussle with publishers, printers and illustrators as the novel takes shape and prepares for publication.
Following the film was a discussion with host Sai Murray and film director Sylvia Vollenhoven (who joined via Zoom from South Africa). Capturing the urgency of the current conversation around climate change and the deep links between UK politics, policies and institutions and the impact this has on other countries. The discussion was recorded and here we have a transcription for you to enjoy.
SM: Sylvia is not only a filmmaker, an award winning journalist, playwright, writer and knight fellow. Her book about identity, the Keeper of the Kumm won the award for literature, and her dance drama adaptation of the book was showcased on the main programme at the South African National Arts Festival, nominated for various awards – best director, best documentary, playwright, award for human rights in the arts etc.. Individual artist, activist and it’s our real pleasure to welcome you to this screening. Brilliant so we have a select audience gathered here today who I’m sure have questions and responses but I’d also like to begin by thanking you for such an inspiring film, a very provocative film and a really important film. Some really really interesting facts and also the way the film was put together and characters. I guess my first question comes from a conversation I had around the film with one of the people who invited me here today who is from South African heritage and who’s here. Our reaction I guess to knowing this film was about Johannesburg, about mining and your choice to follow this character – because we begin with the stilettos, with the very ornate dressed individual of the white woman but you being a black film director, that was not what was expected but she is such an interesting and intriguing character who has done a lot of good and her activism is having a lot of results. So could you speak about the choice to follow this individual and how you perhaps first became aware of her activism?
SV: Greetings! Thank you for screening the film and thank you for this opportunity. How I first got to hear about this is there’s a tiny magazine in South Africa that is small in numbers and audience but very very powerful. It’s an investigative journalism magazine called Noseweek and the editor of that magazine and I have worked together at different media houses and I’ve always been following his work and I’d seen so much of Mariette Liefferink’s activism in Noseweek. In fact, we feature in the film that Superwoman power image – that came out of Noseweek! The editor also has a son who is a journalist and Adam Wells had been following Mariette’s story and filming and he’s more of a print journalist rather than a filmmaker and he was following her around for 4 years. He has a friend who’s the director of a film in Norway and spoke to Stephan about finishing this film that he had been filming for four years but didn’t know how to structure and didn’t know how to put it all together. Stephan said well I have a friend in Sweden, Frederick Garrington[?] At WG Film would be very interested in the story, and Frederick said I’ll get on board if Silvia is the South African producer and my co-director because Frederick and I have been working together for many years and we also are very close friends for decades, having covered apartheid together and I used to be a correspondent for a Swedish outlet. So that’s how it came about. But I must say when Adam Wells, the South African journalist, came to see me and said Frederick said he’s on board if you become the South African director I was not agreeable! I just had not met Mariette and I thought I’m not going to sit here so many years after South African democracy and allow a white Africans woman to tell us what is wrong with South Africa. It just didn’t sit well with me. But then I went to Johannesburg and in Cape Town at the time and changed my mind completely. There were two things that changed my mind mainly, there were lots of little things, but the two main reasons were her integrity and her passion and the second reason was that being an activist myself I knew how important it was to have an image that was out of the ordinary, that would stop people in their tracks, and not only did she have this exotic image that was attention getting and we could use to our advantage for the activism that the film is hoping to elicit but also in the mining industry, dominated by men, and a certain kind of patriarchal class, they don’t see her coming, and by the time they sit up and take notice she’s already in the Supreme Court with a huge court case. So I thought well given my activism background I could really work with this woman.
Another good year! Special thanks to the Leeds International Film Festival 2021 team for screening an impressive selection of films despite Covid and the non availability of the Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall this year.
I watched a total of 8 films
Dear Future Children (2021). Very powerful interviews with young women activists facing huge personal risks in Hong Kong, Santiago and an Ugandan village, plus Q&A with the director.
Medusa (2021). A Brazilian feminist horror film. Despite an interesting soundtrack and colour design I struggled to follow the plot in this one.
Compartment No. 6 (2021). A great film showing the common humanity shared between a female Finnish archaeology student and a male Russian mineworker on a long train journey to Murmansk.
The Hand of God (2021). The first half is the hugely entertaining story of a gathering of an extended Italian family, followed by the story of how this and other life experiences have influenced the director’s (Paolo Sorrentino’s) work.
This is but a small taste of the huge range of films on offer. Once again it shows the importance of International Film Festivals in building the global understanding that we so urgently need.
It’s that time of year again and #LIFF2021 is heading back into venues and also making lots of films available to watch online. Earlier this week committee members Bill Walton and Andy Smith attended the launch of the festival and share their first impressions.
For me one of the delights of the Leeds International Film Festival has been settling into the comfy seats of the Hyde Park Picture House, and watching several films in a row. A pleasure deferred until November next year…
This year we had the usual LIFF launch, with a breathless back to back screening of many short trailers for 55 minutes. This approach does give an impression of the variety of films on offer but is not ideal for decision-making. However I came away with a few clues:
But this is just scratching the surface. I haven’t had time yet to delve into the printed programme yet, so these impressions are very much subject to change. I suggest that you have a look for yourself!
I always look forward to the LIFF preview so after missing last year it was with a sense of anticipation that I went along to the Vue on Wednesday especially as the venue was bragging about their new seats….I could have happily watched more trailers [and you now can – see below] but was glad that the screening was only 55 minutes as I could not have slouched in those seats for any longer despite having fiddled with the adjustment throughout, there was not a comfortable setting for a back now in its 7th decade….
Lamb – looked very interesting but possibly a bit too surreal for me
Our task is now to go through the brochure and working out which films and venues align with work and other commitments with the backstop of the Leeds Film Player [the clashfinder can help with this]
The festival guides are available from Vue Leeds in The Light, Leeds Town Hall now and more sites around Leeds and Yorkshire soon. For a guide in the post, email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Censor is Prano Bailey-Bond’s spine chilling debut feature. Set in the mid 80s against the backdrop of social unrest, Thatcherism and the rise of the video nasties. We follow Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) who is a film censor. She lives a nocturnal existence watching a plethora of gore and sin in the films she is charged with watching. One day she views a film that reminds her of a tragedy from her childhood. Triggered by this, she sets out on a journey in which her fiction and reality gets blurred.
The dark and depressive world that Bailey-Bond creates is heightened by Cinematographer Annika Summerson whose hellish visuals adds an expressionistic touch. It is notable that she uses 35mm which echoes the ambience of this bygone era.
The script which Bailey-Bond co-wrote with Anthony Fletcher, is razor sharp, with one scene in particular of suitably over the top gore mirroring the video nasties themselves. However amongst the blood shed there’s occasional moments of truly dark humour. The acting is chilling with Michael Smiley delivering a cool and calculated performance as sleazy film producer Doug Smart. However, the stand out is Niamh Algar who is magnetic on screen. Enid’s character’s arch is one of the film’s takeaways and Niamh plays her unravelling superbly.
The main criticism I have of the film is it’s running time. Although admittedly most horror films tend to be under two hours, you can’t help but feel a little cheated with a running time of one hour and twenty four minutes. You are left with a sense of events being rushed over and plot points not fully explained to get to the deliciously cynical Lynchian style ending.
Mark Kermode isn’t the only person to suggest this is one of the best concert films ever made and it’s hard to disagree with such claims. The music from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and more really is fantastic, not to mention incredibly moving at several points.
The film is more than just footage from 1969’s The Harlem Cultural Festival. The full title of the film is “Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” because, although everybody involved knew how important it was to film these concerts, the footage was never seen and largely forgotten about. Unfortunately we can guess at some of the reasons why it never made it to TV but it’s great that we now get to see it. It was surprising to me how much more contemporary it seems compared to the more widely seen coverage of Woodstock that also took place that summer. The film captures the time and place to great effect, highlighting how much had happened leading up to the end of the decade and how much there was a need, and drive, for change.
It’s another music documentary (see also The Sparks Brothers) that will really benefit from the cinema experience. Not only will it look and sound great but this is a film to be enjoyed and experienced with other people. If you can’t make it to City Varieties it is also available to watch at home on Disney+.
At a party have you ever deliberately tried to knock back enough glasses of wine to bring you to the exact point of being neither drunk nor sober?
Have you taken part in the “Otley Run”, lurching from one Headingley pub to another? (Another Round features the “Lake Run”, a Danish counterpart)
Are you living through a mid-life crisis? Do you long to recover your zest for life?
Have you ever drunk so much that you pissed the bed?
Or do you despair of people who use alcohol to try and fill their inner emptiness?
Are you a Danish student of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who asked “What is youth? A dream. What is love? The content of the dream”.
However you answered any of these questions, this film is sure to give you additional insights.
Another Round is an entertaining buddy movie about four teachers undertaking some pseudoscientific research. But it is a lot more than that. We learn some key things about their families and their emotional lives and maybe why they behave as they do. We see them drunk and sober (admittedly often quite drunk). We share their joys, grief and reckless abandon. The film does not glorify alcohol, but it does recognise its place in European culture.
Another Round won an Oscar for best international feature. Director Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) has brought together a great cast in this anarchic and life affirming film. Brilliant storytelling, excellent acting (a special shout out to Mads Mikkelsen) and engaging camerawork. The film is dedicated to Thomas Vinterberg’s daughter Ida whose 19 year old daughter died in a road accident just as production began.
I watched Another Round at the City Varieties as part of Hyde Park Picture House On the Road. The staff there were very helpful and have taken great care with social distancing arrangements. I’m sure that they will give us a warm welcome at our Yorkshire Day screening. Hope to see you there!
This surviving independent cinema in the Calder Valley opened its doors on July 12th 1921. A year of celebration starts this Saturday, July 10th, with an evening event this Saturday, starting at 7.30 p.m. and including a screening [digital] of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921). The Picture House has many affinities with our own Hyde Park Picture House. Both are supported by the local council: both have an active support of a society of Friends: both have histories written and published by the said Friends: both can screen 35mm and digital, even 16mm: both have traditional auditoriums with proper masking and a low level of illumination during screenings: and both have a varied programme including mainstream titles, art and foreign language titles and early films with live music accompaniment.
Hebden Bridge’s first cinema was a wooden structure which opened in 1911. In 1913 the nearby Co-op Hall also started screening the new ‘moving pictures’. Following World War 1 a purpose built cinema was proposed and approved. The rather large building for a small town had a classical exterior and the auditorium boasted a balcony. The opening ceremony included travel and topical pictures and musical quartet. The first features at the new Picture House were two British dramas of the period. Torn Sails (1920) was a tragic romance set in Wales. The Iron Stair (1920) was a crime drama. They were followed by a film directed by Cecil Hepworth, Anna, The Adventuress, a drama of changed identity set in Paris. Hepworth also directed a film using locations around Hebden Bridge, Helen of Four Gates (1920), though that film was screened at the Co-op Hall.
The Picture House flourished through the 1930s to 1950s. There was a period closure in the 1960s and again in the 1970s. But then it came under the control first of the local council, then the Metropolitan Council and finally Hebden Royd Town Council.. It continues furnishing theatrical entertainment for the area though it has suffered in local flooding, most recently in 2016. In the year of celebration there will be screenings of titles from its history, 35mm prints and ‘silents’ with live music..
There is a programme with The Adventures of Prince Achmed / Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed, a dazzling animation by Lotte Reiniger from 1926 using silhouette techniques. In December there is a screening of Pandora’s Box / Die Büchse der Pandora; G. W. Pabst’s film version of Franz Wedekind’s famous or infamous play. The film is illuminated by the luminous Louise Brooks in the main role. And the year ends with a screening of Helen of Four Gates; a print of what was though a ‘lost film’ was discovered in Canada in 207 and has now been fully restored.
The cinema is only ten minutes from Hebden Bridge railway station on the line with regular services between Leeds and Manchester. The balcony is rather cramped with wooden seats; however, the ground floor of the auditorium spacious and comfortable with a commendable low level of illumination during screenings. And the foyer offers real cups of tea with homemade cakes. So a trip to see ‘reel’ film in a real cinema should help assuage the absence until 2022 of our own Picture House.
With regret the Committee has accepted the resignation of Ian Sanderson, first as Secretary and then as a Committee Member and Trustee. Ian has had health problems and a long programme of treatment. This seems to be coming to a conclusion and we hope Ian will continue healthy and we shall see him at Picture House events and at the Picture House itself when it reopens.
Since the sad death of Peter Chandley Ian has been the longest serving member of the Committee of the Friends. He joined in 1996 when the Friends was relaunched with a Constitution and an elected Committee. Ian was soon elected Chairman and he continued in that post until 2008 when Peter became Chairman and Ian became Secretary.
1996 was the year when the Friends were campaigning for the support of the Council for the Picture House to be extended; a campaign that led to the incorporation of the Picture House in the Grand Theatre & Opera House Trust, [now Leeds Theatres Heritage Trust]. It is that support that has been crucial in the continuing survival of the Picture House up until the current development programme.
Ian was one of the active Committee members in the 1990s when the Friends had a regular Film Club at the Picture House. And he also chaired or supervised meetings and events organised by the Friends: for a time Committee Meetings were held in the basement of the Picture House: a setting suitable for a noir drama. The Annual General Meetings in the mid-1990s were held at the nearby Cardigan Centre. And there were social activities at local public houses; such as The Cardigan Arms. There was also the regular ‘Hyde & Seek’; the then version of a newsletter for the members of the Friends. In a late issue 1997 Ian was writing to Friends, then 200 members.
“Firstly, many thanks to all of you who took the time and trouble to return your completed questionnaires which have been read by the Friends and the cinema management.”
There were comments on the Newsletter; the Picture House programming: and technical issues. This was the point at which the Picture House was able to install Dolby Stereo sound system and [happily] just about all the screenings were in 35mm.
Since the turn of the century Annual General Meetings have been held at the Picture House. And Ian, first as Chairperson then as Secretary, had an important role in these. Along with the Committee Members and the Cinema Manager he organised the three annual Friends’ screening events at the Picture House. And, among other responsibilities, he had to maintain the relations with the Charity Commission.
So Ian has made an important and long-time commitment to the Friends and to the Hyde Park Picture House. The Committee wishes to record on behalf of the membership our appreciation of all his work.
Film has power, film can put you in the shoes of someone else and will make you see the world through their eyes. Florian Zeller’s The Father is an excellent example of this. The film centres on Anthony, played by Anthony Hopkins, who is dealing with his ever deteriorating mind and his descent into dementia. We see the strain it puts on his relationships, particularly the relationship with his daughter Anne, played by Olivia Colman.
Florian Zeller who adapted it from his own play Le Père, beautifully walks the line between both the tragedy and heartbreak that comes with dementia, and the rare comedy that also can be found in those sad situations. If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can?
The story is told almost entirely from Anthony’s perspective, meaning that the audience is confused nearly as much as him for the majority of the film. Although it is intentional and gives a glimpse into his world, at points the non-linear approach can feel overly abstract and detracts from the overall message.
The acting is superb with Anthony Hopkins deservingly walking away with the Oscar, making him the oldest winner for best leading actor. However, it is worth mentioning Olivia Colman who delivers a measured and understated performance as the loyal and grief-stricken Anne who we see trying to balance her own needs and her father’s. The supporting cast members such as Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots and Rufus Sewell also give equally rich performances.
The artificial style does betray its conception in the theatre which sometimes makes it feel quite unapproachable, and unreal. However, it does at other points add an operatic nature and poignancy which you won’t necessarily get if it was more true to life.
Quite rarely do you see a film that deals with subject matter such as this, that takes such an experimental approach. However, what’s noteworthy is the incredible insight into what dementia patients must be going through. It is something quite unique and will make you think twice.