Hippfest continues to punch well above its weight
A long-forgotten Scottish actor's name will be back up in lights next month.
Slapstick master Billie Ritchie, who starred in more then 70 silent movies and even graced the front cover of Variety magazine in November 1906, will be celebrated at Scotland’s oldest-purpose built cinema.
He is just one of a host of heroes and heroines from a bygone era who will feature at this year’s HippFest.
Returning for its eighth year from Wednesday, March 21, to Sunday, March 25, we were treated to a small sample of what will be on offer as the programme was launched in the Bo’ness venue on Tuesday.
Edinburgh University academic, Dr Trevor Griffiths gave the audience a wee taste of the talk he will deliver on Billie Ritchie on Friday, March 23, at 2pm.
He said: “I hadn’t heard of Billie but came across him when I was researching something else.
“He was always in Charlie Chaplin’s shadow – they looked very similar but while The Tramp pulled at the heartstrings, most of Billie’s films were somewhat anarchic.
“My talk is an attempt to pull Ritchie out of Chaplin’s shadow – it’s a great opportunty to remember a Scottish actor who achieved worldwide fame but is now, largely, forgotten.”
Fittingly, on the 100th anniversary of women over the age of 30 securing the right to vote in the UK, the programme celebrates silent movie heroines, as well as women who are forging a name for themselves today.
But that’s nothing new for the HippFest team, who have long championed the role of women in the movies.
This year, the oldest silent screen actor alive today, Baby Peggy, will take centre stage in the Kid Reporter.
Also known as Diana Serra Cary, the 99-year-old starred in her first movie when she was just 19 months old and had appeared in 150...by the time she was six!
She was one of the first celebrities to have merchandise and commanded up to $1 million per picture – $25 million in today’s money!
Multi-talented Scottish singer-songwriter Gerda Stevenson will also be performing poetry and songs celebrating the work of Scottish film-maker, botanist and writer Isobel Wylie Hutchison.
HippFest director Alison Strauss said: “Isobel was fiercely independent, resolutely single and refused to remain demurely at home on her family estate.
“She had no need of a husband – she explored the world with a movie camera on her back!”
While these pioneering women were trailblazers for those who came after them, films from the silent era are also just as relevant today.
“People often ask me what appeal silent films have for a modern audience,” said Alison, “but these films transcend the era in which they were made.
“The heroines are feisty, the heroes are handsome and the anti-heroes are just as much fun to hate.
“And the screenwriters could teach their modern counterparts a thing or two about brevity!”
Collaboration is a major cornerstone of any festival and that’s particularly true for HippFest.
It is particularly blessed to have so many local partners and supporters but also so many fantastic collaborations with talented artists and musicians.
Alison spends a great deal of time searching archives for film gems but also organising collaborative projects for the festival.
So she’s delighted that David Allison is opening the festival this year with a new score written to accompany a rare screening of The Last of the Mohicans, the first film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel.
Alois Kott will also perform a new score to accompany The Treasure and Graeme Stephen and Peter Harvey will perform a new score for The Penalty, part of the first ever horror double bill on the Saturday.
Alison added: “Scoring silent films is a very rare art. There’s only a handful across the world who are skilled in it – and we’ll have most of them here at the festival! That’s a great honour for us.
“We’d also like to thank all our many partners and supporters locally.
“The town and our long-standing funders are backing us all the way and have been joined by new partners who appreciate the value of this great wee festival punching well above its weight.”
The festival is organised by Falkirk Community Trust, with key funding from Falkirk Council. Visit www.falkirkcommunitytrust.org to view the full programme.