If you know absolutely anything about Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, you might wonder why the Hebden Bridge Film Festival hasn’t been established in this small valley town’s yearly events calendar for years and years. Alas, Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019 is the very first edition in what is hopefully an annual celebration of cinema for local film lovers.
With a population under 5,000 (just over 12,000 in the Calder Valley region), Hebden Bridge is a surprisingly prominent artistic hub. The town already holds Hebden Bridge Arts Festival every July and boasts a cinema, little theatre and an arts centre. But once you visit Hebden Bridge, you’ll understand why it’s such a special place. Big Northern cities like Leeds and Manchester are only half an hour’s train ride away, making Hebden Bridge a welcome respite from the noise. And it’s about 500 years old with canals running through it, making Hebden a bloody gorgeous place.
And for the weekend of Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th March? The Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019 made Hebden Bridge the place to be for any film fan residing in West Yorkshire. Or the likes of me, someone who doesn’t reside in West Yorkshire but does love film and picturesque, canal-dwelling villages. Win-win!
Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019
Travel to Hebden Bridge
I just wanted to make it clear I didn’t stay in Hebden Bridge for the three-day festival, and I obviously don’t live there. Hebden Bridge is popular with visitors and is quite small, so accommodation options are few and very expensive. I was looking at £100 a night easy. It was far cheaper (£12.50 for a day return) to take the train to Hebden Bridge every day from my base just outside Manchester. But I do love train journeys.
Even though I had two changes and a two-hour journey there and back, I didn’t mind it. Yeah, it was frustrating having to leave a screening before the Q&A and the first train on a Sunday arrived in Hebden Bridge a mere 5 minutes after Eighth Grade (2018) had already begun, but what can you do. I was worried I’d get to Sunday and be like “urgh, I really can’t be bothered going back.” But luckily, Hebden Bridge is such a beautiful place that I really looked forward to heading back.
So, if don’t live in/near Hebden Bridge, definitely check out other options.
Cinemas in Hebden Bridge
Hebden Bridge Picture House
The Hebden Bridge Picture House is the town’s only cinema and is one of the only single-screen cinemas left in the country. Another, of course, is the beautiful Roxy Cinema in Ulverston, Cumbria which is very near my hometown.
Floods in 2015 left the Hebden Bridge Picture House in a huge state of disrepair. The water gushed through the front doors and all the way through the seating to the screen at the back. The way the community came together to offer assistance and support to the restoration of the cinema is truly representative of the local people in this region. Everyone seems to be fully aware of what a beautiful place Hebden Bridge is and how lucky they are to live there.
Now, the cinema has a wonderful mix of classic 1930s features with comfy seating, amenities and updated cinematic facilities. Perfect local cinema!
Hebden Bridge Town Hall
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to catch any of the sessions or screenings at the Hebden Bridge Town Hall, which also acted as a Box Office. I wanted to try out both venues used in the Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019, but I prioritised watching as many films as possible.
Obviously, Hebden Bridge is still a small place so I completely understand there isn’t an abundance of cinemas/screens. But isn’t that the best thing about small film festivals? Less choice means less stress and you end up watching amazing films you wouldn’t have seen otherwise!
Tickets & Film Festival Passes
The range of festival passes available at the Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019 was absolutely spot on, particularly for me. I loved that the film festival included a pass for £100 so big-spenders could choose to support the film festival by giving more if they wished.
But, as an under-26-year-old (just about, only a couple of weeks left as a 25-year-old!) I could take advantage of their 18-26 young people pass costing £27. Considering individual films cost about £8 and I saw five films, the festival pass was definitely worth it for me. However, the regular festival pass was £37. This means if I watched just one less film, buying a festival pass wouldn’t have been worth it cost-wise. And I watched as many films as I possibly could!
However, the festival pass allowed me first dibs into all of the film screenings (even opening/closing night films), events and parties so I didn’t have to worry about tickets selling out. I didn’t have to collect any tickets at the box office, I could just walk straight in any screening with my pass, but I actually love keeping film festival tickets as mementoes.
So… Pros and cons to both! Something to keep in mind if you want to attend the Hebden Bridge Film Festival next year.
Events & Special Guests
This year, the Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019’s theme was ‘The Other’ and had a tagline of ‘Dare to be Different.’ Naturally, you can imagine that the films focused on marginalised voices, World Cinema and the stories of people who are so rarely allowed to share them.
They also hosted opening and closing night parties at the Hebden Bridge Town Hall which I sadly couldn’t attend. But not because I wasn’t able to (I think any pass holders or general festival attendees could go) but just because I’d chosen to travel by train. But I’m sure they were a lot of fun!
Ambassador Maxine Peake
The film festival’s ambassador was none other than the Northwest’s most beloved actress, Maxine Peake. As someone who used to live in Manchester, she’s everywhere. She performed the title role in Hamlet in a production at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester so that gives you some kind of insight into the kind of badass performer she is. Most international audiences will know her from the ‘Metalhead’ episode of Black Mirror and receiving she played the character Nellie in Mike Leigh’s Peterloo (2018).
Basically, she’s the perfect ambassador for a film festival like this and she ain’t no small fry in the British film industry, so Hebden Bridge is lucky to have her!
Recently, she directed her first short film called Time Away (2018) which screened just before the festival’s opening film. It’s a really gorgeous, cinematic period piece and I’m sure it only spells big things for Maxine Peake as a filmmaker in the next few years.
The ‘F’ Rating
Hebden Bridge Film Festival adopted the F rating and Triple F rating in their programme. If a film is F rated, it means it features a woman in a prominent filmmaking role (producing, directing or screenwriting) or had women’s issues/strong female characters at the forefront. And Triple F rated means it had at least three of these roles fulfilled by women. This rating was developed by Bath Film Festival in 2014 and even IMDB has started using it!
I’m all for anything that makes it easier for cinema-goers to choose more diverse film. I don’t like putting all the emphasis on women because there are so many marginalised groups that need better representation in the film industry, but every little helps. Plus, it’s super-easy to understand how many women need to make up the film industry considering we make up half of the population.
Filmmaking Masterclasses & Industry Panels
As well as screening several films, Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019 also managed to squeeze some seminars into the timetable. To be perfectly honest, I was quite surprised to see filmmaking masterclasses as part of the programme as I knew the film festival would mainly be attended by regular folk, like me. Hebden Bridge isn’t known for its opportunities into the film industry so I wonder exactly how many attended.
Production Design Masterclass
Those wishing to learn more about Production Design could sign up for a masterclass with artist and designer Jane Morton, who has worked with Lynne Ramsay, amongst many other credits.
Script to Screen Industry Panel
Featuring screenwriting Nicole Taylor (who wrote Wild Rose), Gaby Chiappe (screenplay for Their Finest (2016) and amongst many others) and Sheila Munyiva (actress from Rafiki (2018) who has lots of screenwriting experience).
I can’t comment on the contents of either of the industry sessions as I didn’t attend any. The masterclasses seemed to be run by highly experienced women which is awesome! I just wonder if more general sessions on the state of the film industry and what we, as viewers, could proactively do to help might’ve been interesting to a wider group of festival attendees.
Films I watched in the Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019
I am genuinely thrilled with all the films I saw. The programme featured exactly the kind of films you would expect at a small film festival like this.
Friday Night Opening Film
Wild Rose (2018) dir. Tom Harper – Absolutely cracking film about a young mother from Glasgow who’s just got out of prison and is desperate to follow her dreams of becoming a country singer in Nashville. Only trouble is, she has two young children and no money. A truly brilliant British independent film, original storyline and fantastic acting from leads Jessie Buckley as the young singer and Julie Walters as her mum. Favourite film of the festival.
Screenwriter Nicole Taylor and festival ambassador Maxine Peake alongside festival director Louise Wadley joined the post-screening Q&A but unfortunately I had to rush off and catch my train!
Lane 0: The Lane of Dreams (2017) dir. Manuel Tera – I don’t think this documentary has a proper release date in the UK, but to be honest with a 1hr 10m run time it’s more likely to end up on TV. This doc follows young swimmers training in a programme that helps athletes from disadvantaged countries have a shot at the Olympics. Two young hopefuls from the Maldives don’t even have an actual swimming pool in their country, they just had to train in the sea. Really interesting film about how largely rich, white countries dominate the world of swimming.
Birds of Passage (2018) dir. Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra – What a complex film. It was like a cross between Daughters of the Dust (1991) and City of God (2002). Yes, that is a weird combination. This film opened the Director’s Fortnight programme at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and documents a the 1970s Colombian drug trade from the perspective of Wayuu families, a native ethnic group with their own cultures and traditions. Very interesting film.
Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story (2018) dir. Steve Sullivan – My second documentary of the Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019, and what a film! Director Steve Sullivan takes hundreds of home videos as well as archival footage and interviews with family members to try and paint a picture of Chris Sievey, the man behind the infamous Frank Sidebottom character. It’s quite a tragic story but it asks a lot of questions about mental health and the grey areas concerning life imitating art.
Rafiki (2018) dir. Wanuri Kahiu – Described simply as a lesbian Romeo & Juliet in Kenya, Rafiki is thankfully much more than the tagline it’s reduced to. Though not the strongest film towards the end, modern day Kenyan culture and life as a queer person in such strong Christian communities make for such a fascinating watch. I flipping love film festivals for opening my eyes just that little bit wider with every new type of film.
Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2020??
There is definitely going to be (at least) one other Hebden Bridge Film Festival! Woo-hoo!
It’s been announced that a second Hebden Bridge film festival will take place the weekend of Friday 27th – Sunday 29th March 2020. So, they’re sticking with just the weekend which I think makes total sense for this type of film festival.
I’m not 100% convinced I’ll be back next year as there are so many other small film festivals in the UK I’d like to attend but I know I’ll be back to Hebden Bridge! There’s something about that place I can’t shake off, and I’m not sure I’d want to either.