The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival

Enjoy our Q&A with Festival Director, Alison Strauss, of The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival in Bo’ness…



Why is it important to keep the art of silent film alive?

I believe passionately that films should not be treated as disposable… to be discarded after a single viewing, like cheap, badly made clothes. Not all old films are haute couture masterpieces of course but there are great riches to be discovered. We have been habituated by the studio advertising machine and some cinema chains to consume whatever is new on release but we all know in our hearts that if a film was made a year ago, or ten years ago, it isn’t thereby any less worthy, and the same is true when a film is a hundred years old.

You wouldn’t say oh, that book by Jane Austen or James Joyce is so old, it can’t be worthwhile anymore. Watching silent films opens up a world of wonderful storytelling with moving pictures and live music – there you will find all the things people look for in films today including entertainment, spectacle, beauty, thrills and laughs. You just need to be open to the discovery.


What should people expect from this year’s festival? 

Highlights include: the dreamlike fantasy The Blue Bird, accompanied by the world premiere of a new commission by Glasgow-based inclusive ensemble Sonic Bothy; In Spring, a moving portrait of life in Kyiv 100 years ago; and the behind-the-scenes, film-biz satire Shooting Stars. Particularly recommend the event which reveals the previously untold story of one of the industry’s first women animators: Bessie Mae Kelley, whose animated mouse couple Roderick and Gladys, predates the birth of animation royalty: Mickey and Minnie! This will feature a bounty of rare films from the Disney archive and is guaranteed to give you a new appreciation for the hidden heroes of film history.



Watching silent films opens up a world of wonderful storytelling with moving pictures and live music!



Hippodrome, Bo’ness. Credit: Tom Duffin of HippFest.



Is there ever any modern silent film included?

All being well, we will premiere a new silent animation made in one of our youth engagement projects this spring.


Tell us a bit about why the festival takes place in The Hippodrome?

The Festival brings together the heritage of the cinema building with the heritage of the moving image itself. The Hippodrome is Scotland’s first purpose-built cinema, first opened in 1912. It was in full swing during the silent era and would have likely shown many of our Festival films the first time around. The original proprietor Louis Dickson was a big fan of Westerns and I bet he would have made sure to show all the Rin Tin Tin movies like Where the North Begins (showing on March 25), as well as the film we are screening on March 23 about Native Americans: The Silent Enemy.

And the steady stream of comedy gems from Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, Harold Lloyd and the like would have filled the house several times a day. It’s truly magical to see the cinema filled with audiences, relishing the glamour and excitement of a trip to the pictures that can sometimes be lost these days. The building seems to come alive and it’s striking how well the design of the interior seems to enhance the acoustics of the musicians’ performances.


The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival runs March 22-26.

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