The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival (HippFest) is Scotland’s first and only commissioning and showcase festival for silent film and live music – centred in Scotland’s first and oldest cinema, connected and relevant to the local Bo’ness and Falkirk community, and reaching audiences from across Scotland, the UK and beyond. The 10th edition was set to take place in March 2020 but, coinciding with the first national lockdown, the difficult decision was made to cancel the festival. In March 2021, however, HippFest rose again to present their very first online edition of the festival.
Formerly a centre for industry, Bo’ness is now a commuter town. Key buildings in the centre have lain derelict for over 30 yrs including, until 2009, the Hippodrome: Scotland’s oldest cinema. HippFest aims to put the Hippodrome on the map, boost audiences, support local tourism, contribute to the distinctiveness of the town, provide learning, engagement & volunteering opportunities & thus contribute to self-esteem, local pride & the local economy.
Key partnerships were formed to enhance the breadth of HippFest’s offering: the Goethe-Institut Galsgow supported a new musical accompaniment for the German film ‘The Woman Men Yearn For (1929) starring Marlene Dietrich; Into Film – the UK’s leading charity for film in education – gave in-kind support to deliver our school age film education programme; the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive worked with HippFest to create a selection of silent cinema related activities for learners.
The 2021 HippFest online included: 10 shows with music accompaniment; 2 illustrated talks; 2 virtual tours; cookery workshop; 10 introductions recorded at multiple locations and guest-speaker intros; 5 live Q&As; a silent film quiz; a chess tournament; and many guest-curated Spotify playlists.
A variety of online spaces were used to facilitate a wide range of interactions: the streaming platform itself (Shift72), Zoom, Spotify, Facebook, YouTube, chess.com, HippFest’s website. HippFest worked hard to create ways for the audience to feel involved and immersed for the festival period with games, curated social media chat, playlists, programme notes, invitations to share images of their viewing set up, and goody bags sent in the post. The idea was to retain the elements that make the in-person festival so successful, while using the online format to push the limits of what had been achieved previously.
Moving online built on the accessibility provision of previous years ensuring online content was accessible to the D/deaf or hard-of-hearing, with all pre-recorded content being captioned & the live aspects having BSL interpretation & live subtitling. Matchbox Cineclub were engaged to caption all of the pre-recorded material (talks, introductions, workshop) with titles embedded into films. The live Q&As were subtitled by AI Media & a BSL interpreter was visible on screen.
Audiences experienced reduced feelings of isolation pandemic and reported on the meaningful, rewarding experiences of the festival. Freelance musicians were relieved to be contracted after months without work and felt fulfilled by the opportunity to perform for audiences again. The success of the online edition of HippFest contributes further to the recovery of the Hippodrome in this challenging time for cinemas everywhere.