“We really want to make it a destination festival.”

Evangeline Spachis speaks to Louise Wadley, director of Hebden Bridge Film Festival (HBFF) about the inaugural festival, Hebden Bridge, creating a diverse film programme and Maxine Peake (obviously).

How are preparations going so far?

Good! We’re just organising the last few things to get Sheila Munyiva [lead actor in Rafiki (2018)] over from Kenya, so it’s a little bit stressful, so it’s a case of trying to do too many things at once! It’s very exciting that she’s coming of course. The BFI and the British Council are supporting us in bringing her to Hebden Bridge, and it’s exciting that a festival in Yorkshire can bring someone over of her stature.

You’ve recently released the full programme. What are some of the festival highlights we should look out for?

On the Friday night at the premiere of Wild Rose (2019), we have the writer of the film Nicole Taylor being a guest at the Q&A with Maxine Peake, who also wrote Three Girls (2017) miniseries about the Rochdale child abuse scandal, in which Maxine also played Sara Rowbotham who blew the whole story open. I saw it at the BFI London Film Festival and I knew what was my opening night film the minute I saw it. It’s such an interesting twist on the normal tale of triumph over adversity. The performances are unbelievable from Jessie Buckley and Julie Walters in particular, the direction is great, and the writing is so skilled – it will appeal to lots of people.

Eighth Grade (2018) is an extraordinary film and to me it is one of the most interesting films out there at the moment about someone under the age of 15 living in the digital world. It’s so beautifully written and filmed, and Bo Burnham has done a brilliant job of giving this character a voice and really letting the lead actor lead him when making the film.

The other really fantastic film is Carmen and Lola (2018).  Arantxa Echevarría is a Basque and Spanish filmmaker and Carmen and Lola and won some Goyas (the Spanish ‘Oscar’) and was selected for Cannes last year and did brilliantly. Arantxa spent two years with the Romani community in Madrid, making sure that they were happy for her to tell this story as it’s about two women in a relationship. It was fascinating to find out more about that and how authentic the whole process was.

The festival has also put together a selection of documentaries. Tell us about them.

It’s very exciting, in the programme we have an international premiere of Seats at the Table (2018) which is a fantastic documentary from the US about a maximum-security facility that does Russian literature classes every Tuesday, combined with university students. It’s quite a surprising documentary and really wonderful.

One that is close to my heart is a documentary called Lane 0 (2017) and is a film by Spanish director Manuel Tera. It will be its UK premiere and it’s a wonderful story about athletes from developing countries who to get into Olympic swimming. Alice Steering (World Junior Open Water Champion and POC) will be in attendance and is really excited about this film too. We are also getting in touch with swimming clubs and schools to bring young people into a cinema and a festival environment, see this film and to hear Alice talk.

The Last Goldfish (2017) on the Saturday, for which I was actually a script editor, is a terribly pertinent film for today. It’s about Su Goldfish who discovers that her father is Jewish and escaped the Nazis, and it goes into the whole history of how he missed being taken to a camp by only 12 days. It’s just a really tangible reminder of what we’re doing when we say things like ‘turn back the boats’ and that people are ‘jumping the queue’. It’s a beautiful documentary with lots of archive footage.

The other film session that I am also passionate about is also on the Saturday, with Naila and the Uprising (2017) and Shireen of Al-Walaja (2015). Daz Chandler [director of Shireen of Al-Walaja) is coming all the way from Australia to talk about that film and both are really vital, concerning Palestinian issues at the moment. Naila and the Uprising is really worth seeing, particularly because those women in the First Intifada in the late 1980s are interviewed and they are now leaders in Palestine. Shireen on the other hand is actually a young activist today and left her job at the UN to work in Palestine.  

How was the festival founded?

Though my partner and I had lived near Hebden Bridge for many years, I had been away in Australia for 16 years and lived on and off in London. When I came back with my feature film All About E (2015), we released it in England and showed it at the Hebden Bridge Picture House and I asked them “When do you have your film festival?” and they replied “We don’t have one, we’d like to have one but we’ve never actually managed to.” I was completely shocked and I told them that if nothing has happened by the time we get back to Todmorden, that we’d set one up. So we came back in 2018 and no one had set up a festival yet, so I approached the picture house to see if they would be a partner in a festival.

Louise Wadley with partner and HBFF’s festival general manager, Jay Rutovitz.

What will make HBFF different to other film festivals?

As a filmmaker, the best festivals I’ve been to are the ones that treat the filmmakers really well and where the filmmakers and the audiences have a really nice, intimate way of mixing. In Hebden we have a lot of stuff about kindness and community, and sometimes the film community is not very good about that and can be quite exclusive. My mantra and our mission is that we want to bring the best films to Hebden Bridge in a film festival environment but with a special community feel.

Having the festival based at the wonderful historic fully restored 500-seat cinema, but also at the Hebden Bridge Town Hall will emphasise this. The hall is a really great venue and it’s fully accessible, which is really important to us. It’s got a lovely cafe and courtyard and it just means that if filmmakers come the festival, there’s a place where they can always get a cup of tea or a drink and hang out with each other and with the audience.

We don’t have a lot of money as it’s our first year and we’re very much a kitchen table operation with volunteers, but we don’t want that to limit us. That’s why we only have previews if possible. The only film that is not a preview is The Fight (2019) on the Sunday night, which has been brought forward for release the week before us, but we’re still very happy as the film wouldn’t be normally be coming to Hebden Bridge. Jessica Hynes is coming along too for a Q&A – she’s fantastic and a real force of nature.

How did Maxine Peake become a patron of HBFF?

Maxine has lots of connections to Hebden Bridge and has played here a number of times at The Trades Club. Just about everybody in the UK who has done anything major in film, television or on stage has worked with Maxine. She’s so beloved by everybody that I honestly would be a rich person for every time some told me that they loved her!

Does HBFF have a commitment to championing women working in film?

As you will know only too well, 4.5% of films produced are being directed by women, that’s just crazy and the figures only get worse for other roles. Our programme is a statement and is without apology. To me it was extremely important that we curated the festival carefully and that 70% or more of the content has an F-rating [films which are directed by women and/or written by women] and that we are more diverse.

I am very influenced by Gina Duncan at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) who turned around the programme to be more diverse, and my overall mission is to have a nimble response to socially engaged film programmes and she is has really influenced me as a programmer. Another programmer who has influenced me is Paul Struthers at Frameline, who is the director of programming and used to be the director of the Sydney Mardi Gras film festival and transformed it to be one of the biggest film festivals in the southern hemisphere as well as being an LGBTQ+ festival and he has been really helpful to me.

Apart from buying a film pass or tickets to a screening, how can people support HBFF?

Because we are run by volunteers and a community operation, the biggest thing that can help is to tweet about the festival, share a trailer, pick up the programme and try and spread the word. We don’t have a publicity budget that other festivals will have.

What are the founding principles of the festival?

Our mission is to celebrate the vision of ‘The Other’ – people’s stories and voices that are not heard. Hebden Bridge has a great history of nonconformism and fighting back against the status quo, so we wanted to put on a celebration of voices that we don’t really get to see or hear very much.

The manifesto for the festival is to be committed to diversity, a programme of excellence and to bring in as many international and national films that are high in quality but will not necessarily be films that will get released. There are so many films that only make it to the festival circuit and though we have a challenge that we only have one weekend, I am very excited.

We really want to make it a destination festival, we’re people want to come for the weekend, and if we expand, come for the week. We want people to think that it’s worth going to Hebden Bridge for to explore the cafes, doing walks in the country and immersing themselves in a wonderful world of films. So far, I know of people coming from as far as Cornwall, London, Dorset and Barrow-in-Furness and choosing to be in Hebden for the whole weekend.

To book tickets, see the festival programme or to get involved, visit hebdenbridgefilmfestival.org.

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