Sometimes, no words are needed. And the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema proves that stories can be funny, touching, scary and exciting, without a single one being spoken.
The Bo’ness festival, now in its seventh year, launched its packed programme with rarely seen gems that include artist Eduardo Paolozzi in a rare film role and a focus on some of the female pioneers who played a huge role in cinema’s development.
Since it started, HippFest, as it has become known, has brought more than 10,000 visitors to the district.
The wide and varied programme not only has rare prints that will please afficionados – there’s something for everyone, from belly laughs with Laurel and Hardy to the stylish schemes of the original Chicago, made in 1927.
Ian Scott, chairman of Falkirk Community Trust, said: “It is little wonder that the festival has become a fixture on Scotland’s cultural calendar, drawing visitors from all over the country to Scotland’s first purpose built cinema with its unique atmosphere unmatched by anywhere in the land.”
As ever, the festival’s trump card is its venue.
The festival director, Alison Strauss, said at the launch: “Since we established the festival in 2011, more and more people are finding out that early cinema is not clunky and out-dated but rather is fresh and relevant, sometimes even colourful and never actually ‘silent’.”
HippFest prides itself on commissioning original scores for many of the films it is helping to rediscover.
This year, Scottish Album of the Year winner RM Hubbard is among those taking on a commission, his first ever silent film score.
He will provide the soundtrack for the 1926 Soviet film By the Law.
Another innovative soundtrack comes from saxophonists Raymond MacDonald and Christian Ferlaino, who provide the soundtrack for Together, the film in which Eduardo Paolozzi plays a deaf-mute dock worker.
Also returning to the Hippodrome for her fifth commision is Jane Gardner who, along with her friends, will provide the score for the festival’s gala opening, The Grub Stake.
The rarely shown film, made in 1923, was created by a remarkable woman called Nell Shipman, who turned down a studio career to work entirely outside of the Hollywood system.
She ran her own production company, directing, writing and starring in her own films and doing all her own stunts.
Jane Gardner said: “There’s some really stunning scenes, and quite long scenes that are visually beautiful, so you can really indulge in the music.”
Having loved silent films from an early age, Jane enjoys creating scores that reflect what’s happening on screen.
“You’re trying to help the audience into the film,” she said. “This one is amazing – it takes you into the Alaskan wilderness.
“She’s not like the usual silent film actress – she’s not a stunning blonde bimbo or a waif-type – she’s feisty and adventurous.”
Jane finds a melody and she will improvise round it to suit the film.
Sometimes, as for this film, she will work with other musicians and they will improvise together.
She said: “I might write a tune that lasts a minute, but then you play with it and you can make it last ten minutes.
“You can bring it back in different ways, so a happy tune might become sad.
“It’s quite a long time when you’re composing for a film, maybe an hour and 40 minutes, so it’s a different approach when you’re composing.
“You don’t worry about every moment – it’s more the overall resonance.”
A classically trained composer, Jane said she fell into composing for films but having played around 15 festivals over the years, she’s enjoying it as much as ever.
“The film tells you what to play, so in some senses it’s very quick,” she said. The instant ideas you come up with are usually the best!”
The Hippdrome Festival of Silent Cinema runs from Wednesday, March 22- Sunday, March 26. Tickets are on sale now.
As well as the films and live music, there are talks and community events including pupils from Larbert High School composing a score for this year’s New Found Sound.
Tickets do sell out, so do book in plenty of time.
To see the full listings and to book tickets, visit hippfest.co.uk or call the box office on 01324 506850.