Review: Holmfirth Film Festival 2014

Two weeks after the end of this year’s Holmfirth Film Festival, I found myself cycling through the serene valleys of the Pyreenes, just near the border to France and Andorra. Between staggered breathing and shaded-tree hoping, I thought back to just days before as I sat in a darkened Picturedrome, watching a cycling movie called Breaking Away (1979). Never did I expect these two disparate experiences to intertwine, but just as a jersey-clad, bare-legged mob of cyclists zoomed on ahead of me, I was reminded of the dynamic and exciting attractions I enjoyed in a small, rain-sodden village in West Yorkshire.

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Having finally arrived to Holmfirth (not the easiest of tasks for a Bradfordian resident who must rely on public transport), I made my way to the Holmfirth Picturedrome rightly assuming it was the place to start my cinematic journey across the Holme Valley. Reassured that I had not indeed missed the start of the next attraction, I settled down in a seat to enjoy a double bill of the classic French animation The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and the aforementioned Breaking Away (1979). The programme promised free entry to those who braved the beating rain to arrive on their bicycles and I was surprised to see that many actually did. The film itself is a feel-good, coming-of-age ride which tells the story of four high-school graduates leading working-class lives in a growing college town. One character in particular played by Dennis Christopher is obsessed with cycling and worships the Italian cycling team- so much so that he learns Italian by listening to operas and shaves his legs in his parent’s bathroom, much to the chagrin of his blue-collar father. What eventually follows is a bike race between the rich college-attending elite and this inexperienced, restless band of young friends who call themselves ‘The Cutters’ after the former stone-cutting workforce who dominated the region of Bloomington, Indiana. With fantastic sweeping shots of the area; the blissful open roads and the final race itself, Breaking Away is a simple story with a good heart which could turn any cycling un-enthusiast into a gear-changing fanatic by its end. A career-starting performance by Dennis Quaid as a troublesome, chain-smoking lamenting teen was also a joy to watch, especially considering the Hollywood heartthrob persona he went on to embody.

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A wonderful time was also to be had that very night in the Picturedrome for ‘A Night at the Movies…’ by the Holme Valley Orchestra. Many gathered to hear James Morgan conduct well-known and much-loved film scores and songs with dazzling film clips to distract you from staring too intently at the talented musicians who were seated at quite close proximity to an eager audience. Cinema screen by day, auditorium by night, the first weekend alone demonstrated just how versatile the Picturedrome can be, as well as highlighting the efforts of a dedicated team of volunteers and workers who helped to make the festival possible.

After securing a drink at the fabulous Gonzo bar and catching a few local musicians making good advantage of the festival guests in town in need of a quick refreshment (try anything by the Summer Wine brewery, good local tipple!), I travelled to the Southgate Theatre in Honley, a nearby village. Initially perturbed by the distance between locations (thankfully, on this particularly day, I was not dashing about on foot), the festival proved to be a wonderful opportunity to discover the local neighbourhoods not usually explored by those speeding through the valley to visit the famous village of Holmfirth. The Southgate Theatre is a delightful venue, home to many an amateur production and local meeting and quite clearly the heart of the Honley community. After being helpfully directed to the exits in case of a fire by a friendly lady, I enjoyed the Oscar-winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013). An addition to the programme which further highlighted the superb range of films offered during this week of cinema, this poignant account of the backup singers of some of the best singers and bands of the last fifty years was a joyous romp. Revealing everything from iconic musical clips to amazing on-stage performances as well as some shocking and heart-rending stories, the film gives a voice to those always just beyond the glare of the limelight.

Fast-forward a fortnight, and I have unwisely stopped cycling halfway up a hill in the Spanish mid-morning heat. A man pedals by in a Tour de France yellow t-shirt, and I quietly blame the Holmfirth Film Festival for whipping me up into Le Tour Yorkshire fever. I think next time I’ll just stock-up on popcorn instead of razors and bike pumps…

All photos taken by Evangeline Spachis.