Lights, camera…Yorkshire

Where would you say film was invented? I will give you a clue; forget about the French and Hollywood. The answer is much closer to home. The French inventor Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince shot the first moving picture on paper film at Oakwood Grange, in Roundhay, Leeds, in October 1888.


2010_02_20_Lights, camera...Yorkshire_Placa Leeds Louis Le Prince

With such a cinematographic background, Leeds is a fitting place to hold its 23rd International Film Festival, from 4 to 22 November. The event was conceived to showcase independent filmmakers’ work. It is a wonderful opportunity for Yorkshire audiences – fed up with Hollywood blockbusters and starved of variety – to enjoy an alternative cinema, the foreign films with little chance of getting distributed beyond their national frontiers, British films that do not get general released and a selection of short films from promising film-makers.

Yorkshire and the north of England feature prominently in the history of British cinema. The first remarkable examples that come to my mind are Kes and Billy Elliot. The former filmed in 1970 in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and the latter in 2000, in Easington, Durham. The story of two working-class boys plunged into an unhappy existence. Adolescence is a universal theme for films but focusing on the social context of both productions there are remarkable similarities. The hard economic situation, disorganised and poor families and the drama of the coal mines as a backdrop. Whereas in Kes, Billy’s greatest fear is ending up working down the pit as a coal miner – he has no apparent escape from what is the commonest fate for young boys – Billy Elliot is understood in the context of the 1984-1985 UK miners’ strike, which destroyed trade union power in British coal mining industry.

Brassed-off, filmed in Grimthorpe, South Yorkshire in the mid-1990 is another example of social cinema in Yorkshire. The film is set 10 years after the strike, and reflects miners’ spirit of hopelessness and the suffering they faced due to the decline of their industry during the years of the Thatcher and Major governments. The film is a piece of symbolism that refers partly to the increase in suicides that resulted from the end of the coal industry in the north of England and the struggle to be hopeful despite the circumstances.

The Full Monty is probably the most acclaimed British comedy of the 1990s. The setting is Sheffield, South Yorkshire in the early-1970s. Once the symbol of highly successful steel industry, the city has fallen into ruin after the steelworks closed down and thousands of men lose their jobs. Six unemployed men, four of them steel workers, are trying to gather enough money to keep their chin up. Despite being a comedy, the film touches on social serious issues such as unemployment, economic depression, working class culture and suicide.

Tony Earnshaw, the Yorkshire Post’s film critic and author of the book Made in Yorkshire – which chronicles all the feature films shot in Yorkshire from the inception of film to the present day – refers to the success of these films, “The themes of these films are universal. Kes is about isolation and a broken family who doesn’t understand the boy. Brassed-off means social depravation. Full Monty, desperate men that all they want to do is to find a job. Yorkshire is just the historical backdrop. In the late 20th century; poor families struggling, and of course, the drama of the coal mines. But it’s not necessarily Yorkshire. Let’s think about cities like London, Liverpool or Manchester, these movies could have been made in there.”

Leeds is not the only location in Yorkshire with a commitment to its cinema heritage. Other organisations like ‘Otley Film Society’ and ‘Yorkshire Film Archive’ are involved in cinema events in the area. Josine Opmeer from ‘Otley Film Society’ says, “We are planning a little festival in Otley entitled ‘in god’s own county: films made in Yorkshire’ next year. The Otley Film Society has also been chosen as a satellite venue for the Bradford International Festival which is due to take place in March. We’re not sure how this is going to work yet, but have a meeting about this tonight. I gather that we may show up to 6 feature films during the week. Tony runs the Bradford festival.”

‘Yorkshire Film Archive’ based in York is the public access film archive for Yorkshire and the Humber. Binny Baker, Head of Access, explains its involvement in local cinema festivals, “YFA has contributed to the Leeds International Film Festival for many years. This contribution takes the form of public presentations which introduce the work of archive, and also show rare footage of Leeds City itself. Interestingly this year the presentation is including at the launch of the short film festival. The Director, Chris Fell was looking to use the opportunity to introduce traditional archive audiences to new experimental short films and film makers and viceversa.

Presentations have also been given in alternative venues in Leeds such as Boar Lane Church. Countywide the Yorkshire Film Archive has screened films at many festivals over the last 15 years including Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, Bradford’s, ‘Bite the Mango’, touring presentations by Rural Arts in North Yorkshire and Sheffield Children’s Film festival ‘showcommotion’.”

YFA holds over 14,000 items of film and video tape, dating from the earliest days of film making in the 1880s to the present day. Its role on the preservation of Yorkshire cinema heritage is vital, as Baker explains: “Trough its relationship with Screen Yorkshire, The Yorkshire Film Archive is part of the regional ‘package’ to promote Yorkshire as a film location. Film researches and directors use the collections to investigate many themes including; architecture, fashion and transport therefore ensuring that filmed historical detail and design are accurate. YFA works regularly for regional, national and international broadcasters where the demand for archive footage, to be included in documentary programmes for the small screen, is high.”

Not only audiences going to cinema festivals across Yorkshire will be delighted with an original and authentic film offer, but, furthermore, they will be supporting and preserving the cinema heritage of the county.


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