Yorkshire Silent Film Festival will run May 5 – 31 taking the magic of silent film with live music to cinemas, theatres and community venues around Yorkshire. With 40 screenings, ten solo musicians, two orchestras and a jazz band, Yorkshire Silent Film Festival is the UK’s biggest festival of silent film with live musical accompaniment.

The 2017 festival will visit Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Holmfirth, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, Leyburn, Ossett, Saltburn by the Sea, Scarborough, Sheffield, Settle, Thirsk and York. Some of Yorkshire’s most historic and beautiful cinemas are taking part, including Leeds’ Hyde Park Picture House, Sheffield’s Abbeydale Picture House, Thirsk’s Ritz and Hebden Bridge Picture House.

Yorkshire has a special place in the history of film so it’s fitting that the UK’s largest festival of silent film should take place here: the first moving pictures were shot in Leeds in 1888 by Louis Le Prince, and Holmfirth’s James Bamforth was one of the pioneers of filmmaking in the first few years of the twentieth century.

Yorkshire Silent Film Festival presents silent film accompanied with live music. Most screenings are accompanied by silent film pianists, and the festival also has a harpist, percussion and woodwind players, an electronic musician, two orchestras and a community jazz band. Every Yorkshire Silent Film Festival screening is also a live musical event.

The programme is full of legendary names; Buster Keaton, Greta Garbo, Cecil B. DeMille, Alfred Hitchcock, Georges Melies, Ivor Novello, There are films from the USA, UK, Denmark, Soviet Russia, Japan, Spain, France and Germany.

Neil Brand
Neil Brand

The festival opens at Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield, on Friday 5 May, with Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller, The Lodger. The screening will be accompanied by the world premiere performance of a new score by leading composer, pianist and broadcaster Neil Brand, played live by Orchestra of St Paul’s and conducted by Ben Palmer. Neil Brand is well known for his BBC4 documentaries Sound of Cinema, Sound of Song and 2017’s Sound of Musicals. Neil writes regularly for BBC Symphony Orchestra and is one of the world’s leading silent film pianists.

The opening weekend continues with a twelve hour all-day programme at Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield: seven films, including a programme of cartoons (11am), Buster Keaton in The Cameraman (12pm), fantasy films by Georges Melies and Segundo de Chomon, Ivor Novello in Man Without Desire (a costume drama/sci-fi/romantic fantasy and one of the oddest films ever made), Soviet comedy The Girl with a Hat Box, and the great Greta Garbo in MGM’s lavish drama of sex and betrayal, Flesh and the Devil. A late-night screening of one of cinema’s most shocking films, 1919’s Behind the Door, completes the day. The Saturday all-dayer is £25 for seven films.

On Sunday 7 May 3pm at Abbeydale Picture House Sheffield we present the first of three screenings of MGM’s greatest epic production, 1925’s Ben Hur. A stunning feat of filmmaking, Ben Hur was the most expensive silent film ever made and is full of remarkable sets and action sequences, most famously the incredible chariot race. Ben Hur screens three times during the festival, in Sheffield, Hull and Halifax, with live score by Jonny Best (piano) and Trevor Bartlett (percussion).

Jonny Best
Jonny Best

To celebrate 100 years since Buster Keaton made his first comedy, we’re screening two of his comedies, The Cameraman (Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield, 6 May) and Sherlock Jr (Square Chapel Halifax and Trinity Church Ossett with piano accompaniment by Jonny Best, Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough with piano accompaniment by Colin Sell).

Cecil B. DeMille’s zesty and subversive 1920s comedy Chicago gets three screenings: in Scarborough, Saltburn by the Sea and at Hyde Park Picture House Leeds. The cynical tale of notorious murderesses Roxy Hart and Velma Kelly, Chicago is based on the same true-life story that Kander and Ebb used to create their smash hit Broadway musical, filmed in 2002 with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere. Cecil B. DeMille got there first in 1927 and this promises to be one of the festival’s most popular screenings.

The Hitchcock theme of the festival’s opening night continues through the month with further screenings of The Lodger (Ritz Cinema Thirsk with live piano, National Centre for Early Music York & Hebden Bridge Picture House, both with live harp score by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry), and of Hitch’s final silent film, the sinister and chilling Blackmail (Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough, The Old School House Leyburn, Square Chapel Halifax).

Yorkshire Silent Film Festival screens films from all over the world. The 2017 festival includes a pair of visually striking Soviet comedies directed by Boris Barnet, The Girl with a Hat Box (Abbeydale Picture House Sheffield, May 6, with piano accompaniment by Meg Morley) and The House on Trubnaya Street (Showroom Cinema Sheffield & Hyde Park Picture House Leeds with piano accompaniment by Jonny Best). We’re also screening the rarely-seen Danish classic The Golden Clown (Showroom Cinema Sheffield, May 30 with piano accompaniment by Neil Brand) and the cool Japanese gangster classic Dragnet Girl (Showroom Cinema Sheffield, May 10, with live harp score by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry).

The Oscar-winning Hollywood tear-jerker 7th Heaven, starring Janet Gaynor, gets two screenings; Hebden Bridge Picture House (with live piano by Jonny Best) and The Old School House Leyburn (with new score for harp by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry).

The first war documentary, The Battle of the Somme, is screened at Holmfirth Picturedrome on May 10 with Laura Rossi’s majestic score played live by Musica Kirklees’ Youth Orchestra.

Some of the earliest animated cartoons will be screened in Sheffield, Thirsk, Leeds, Scarborough and Halifax, including Dinky Doodle, Krazy Kat, Felix the Cat and Walt Disney’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

The festival concludes with Marlene Dietrich in the sultry, erotic drama The Woman Men Desire, with live piano accompaniment by Neil Brand, one of the world’s greatest silent film pianists (St Paul’s Hall, University of Huddersfield, May 31).

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