Yorkshire Silent Film Festival celebrating best of the early days of cinema

The early days of cinema were a time without rules, when anyone could make movies and the slapstick greats came to fame.

Saturday, 2nd October 2021, 7:00 pm
Yorkshire Silent Film Festival celebrating best of the early days of cinema
Yorkshire Silent Film Festival celebrating best of the early days of cinema

Now with the return of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival (YSFF) comes a celebration of the best of this era, both in comedic genius and the little-known first documentaries ever made.

To add to the atmosphere these classics are to be accompanied by grand live performances in settings across Yorkshire, from talented musicians improvising at a great pace.

"Silent films reached a peak with slapstick comedy, a real art form that you don't find anywhere else," said festival director Jonny Best. "But there are also films that you don't find anywhere else.

"It's really exciting. It's a smaller festival than we've had in the past, but it's just so good to be getting back to audiences, and for musicians to be playing again."

The silent film era, which reached a heyday in the early 20th century from 1900 to 1930, portrays the early days of cinema when moving pictures first came to the big screen.

Among the stars of this time were the comedy greats Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd and Alfred Hitchcock, with some of their best-known films to feature in the upcoming festival.

But this was also a time before the film industry became organised, with some of the earliest silent movies capturing a unique - and at times chaotically real - insight.

One of the movies to feature in the festival, Nanook of the North, is a "trailblazing" 1922 documentary of Inuit life, brought to life in both Halifax and York by the Frame Ensemble.

Another, Back to God's Country to be shown in Sheffield, details adventures in the Canadian wilderness with animal wrangler Nell Shipman's menagerie of trained bison and bear.

"It's very rare you get to see these films on the big screen, and even rarer to live music," said Mr Best. "Silent films are full of these unusual characters.

"It didn't have rules, in the beginning, there wasn't a professional 'ladder' to climb. It was a much more open, chaotic space, in which all kinds of people came to do things. It was a real art form."

The festival, which first launched in 2016, is to return to Yorkshire with screenings from October 12.

Some are in grand settings, such as Sheffield's Abbeydale Picture House or Leeds' Library or Carriageworks, while others are in smaller halls such as Leyburn's Art Centre.

All are to be accompanied by live music from Northern performers, improvising as they go.

"They're not playing a written score, they are making things up in the moment from thin air, and there's a real excitement to that," said Mr Best. "You can't take anything back, you can't edit it.

"A film composer might write 40 minutes of music over six weeks, but a silent film pianist makes two hours of music, in two hours. That creates an energy and an excitement.

"Getting back, to making music together and being with audiences, something we have really missed. We are already planning a big festival for 2022."

The Yorkshire Silent Film Festival will run from October 12 to 17, with screenings in Halifax, Leyburn, York, Saltburn, Sheffield and Leeds.

Among the silent movies to feature are Hitchcock classics such as The Farmer's Wife, Laurel and Hardy's Funny Business, Japanese gangster film Dragnet Girl and Drifters, showcasing the work of the North Sea herring fleet in John Grierson’s silent documentary.

* Support your Halifax Courier by becoming a digital subscriber. You will see 70 per cent fewer ads on stories, meaning faster load times and an overall enhanced user experience. Click here to subscribe