Bo'ness online silent film festival a roaring success

The first ever online edition of the annual Hippodrome Silent Film Festival has been a resounding success.

By James Trimble
Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 5:19 pm

HippFest, as the festival has become known, has been running for 10 years now, but due to COVID-19, 2021 was the first year it has played out over the web.

Usually based in the historic Bo’ness Hippodrome, the popular festival has showcased over 220 films, and welcomed over 80 musicians to participate in events which celebrate silent film.

Alison Strauss, festival director, said: “HippFest 2021 has been an absolute triumph, exceeding our targets and garnering a deluge of appreciation and praise from our audiences and partners.

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Early Hollywood icons Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks would have logged online to see this year's HippFest if they could

"The team did a phenomenal job in a very short time of learning an entirely new way to present film virtually and in such a way as to capture the most treasured elements of our ‘in real life’ festival – the warm welcome, the diverse programme with its emphasis on exceptional musical accompaniment, and the accessible approach.

"I could never have imagined how many positives we would find in going online and am confident that we have won multitudes of new fans who will join us in the Hippodrome next year.”

This year, from March 17 to March 21, HippFest went online, working in partnership with film industry partner INDY on Demand, it presented nine silent film titles.

These included the world premiere of the Mary Pickford Foundation’s new restoration of Sparrows (1926) accompanied by jazz, hip-hop artists Taylor and Cameron Graves aka The Graves Brothers based in Los Angeles and the premiere of a new score by Frame Ensemble to accompany The Woman Men Yearn For (1929) starring Marlene Dietrich.

Over the weekend there were also opportunities for audiences to gather online for various activities themed to tie in with the film programme – a chess tournament inspired by the Soviet silent comedy Chess Fever (1925) , a silent film quiz, a challenge to recreate a favourite silent film still, and the chance to stream specially created playlists put together by jazz musician Wycliffe Gordon, silent film pianist Mike Nolan and other participants in this year’s festival.

Audiences also enjoyed introductions from festival director Alison filmed in Falkirk and Bo’ness, and talks on the Flu Pandemic of 1918 and its impact on Scottish Cinema, Matthew Steele the architect behind the Bo’ness Cinema and Scottish slapstick star Billie Ritchie in Hollywood.

Over 600 audience members watched from across the UK, Europe, and North America.

Usually restricted to the modest capacity of the Hippodrome, the festival programme attracted over five and a half thousand views, with more than double the seating capacity tuning in for the opening night film Body and Soul (1925).

David White, chair at Falkirk Community Trust, said: “We are delighted so many people took the opportunity to enjoy HippFest’s silent film programme online. After last year’s cancellation, we were very keen for the Festival to go ahead and we are very grateful to all the Festival’s funders, local businesses, and all the film archivists, artists and musicians for working with the teams at Falkirk Community Trust who pulled out all the stops to make this happen.”

HippFest will return in 2022 with provisional dates set for March 16 to March 20.

Visit for more information.