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A film festival with no cinema?

A TOUCH of Cannes comes to the Borders on Friday with the opening of Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival 2007 – quite a feat for a town without a cinema.

The focus is on Berwick as it prepares to launch an international film festival. Barbara Hodgson previews the programme and finds out how the town itself takes a starring role.

A TOUCH of Cannes comes to the Borders on Friday with the opening of Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival 2007 – quite a feat for a town without a cinema.

Instead, a number of unusual venues – ranging from 18th Century prison cells, where prisoners awaited execution, through cavernous underground ice houses to a historic bridge – are being utilised as a backdrop to the festival which runs until September 29.

The second event there of its kind, it will include a range of world class contemporary film, including seven premieres, and media art, including work showing on the town’s ramparts as the whole place is transformed into a ‘moving image installation’.

One local resident who is particularly looking forward to the event is 83-year-old film fan Jack Hornsby from Tweedmouth.

Last year he managed to see every film in the festival programme.

“It was a bit of a marathon!” he says. “I was seeing two major films in one evening. They were amazing films, like one made in Afghanistan showing the impact of war on ordinary people.”

And this time round?

“I’ll certainly see most of them,” he says. “I’ve bought a festival pass.”

Originally from Heaton, Jack, whose favourite film is The Third Man, rarely had a chance to see films when he was a youngster.

He’s now a member of the film society in Berwick. And he says: “I’m enjoying the indulgence of having such a festival here in Berwick.”

And it will be showing an impressive 100-plus works in 15 elaborate locations, including Barrack’s Gymnasium.

More recent buildings are also being utilised, such as a disused car showroom and the façade of Berwick’s former cinema – used as a projection screen – and the more traditional setting of The Maltings Arts Centre.

Huw Davies, co-artistic director of the festival, explained: “We wanted to utilise the historic bits of Berwick’s architecture almost as a replacement for a conventional cinema.”

The festival theme this year is Film on Film and the work will reflect upon ways artists and filmmakers reference filmmaking in their work.

More than 20 countries will be represented, including Japan, China, Russia and Australia.

Huw added: “We are screening world class feature films, shorts and artworks, transforming the historic town into a moving image installation.

“Both in terms of what we show and the locations we show them in, there’s nothing really like it elsewhere in the UK.”

The festival launches at 7.30pm with a UK premiere: The Big Bad Swim, directed by Ishai Setton.

This will be followed by The Changing Face – a dramatic large scale projection of faces onto the Royal Tweed Bridge to welcome guests and visitors, produced in collaboration with the young people of Berwick.

Festival highlights include an Artists’ Trail – an international exhibition of 20 moving-image artworks and installations, including a new print of Andy Warhol’s famous Screen Tests – and the European premiere of My Grandmother, a surreal silent work made in the former USSR in 1929 and banned for half a century.

There will be archival screenings of rare films, from the late 20s to early 70s from Berwick Record Office and the NRFTA. They include a 1950s travelogue, presented by Richard Dimbleby, and 1970s documentary The Battered Borderer.

And Jan Gardner will reprise her appearance last year, providing a live piano soundtrack to the Buster Keaton classic Steamboat Bill Jr. Another of the classics on show will be Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Local people will have the chance to vote for their favourite love story from a list of 20 classics selected by the festival organisers. The most popular selection will be shown on the final night of the event.

It all promises to be a treat for anyone, like Jack, who loves film.

Victoria Matthews, the festival’s coordinator, agreed: “It is designed to make an impact both on Berwick, and through using Berwick itself.

“We will be on everywhere, and have an exciting outreach programme for schools. It will be an unforgettable experience.”

Events are individually priced at £4, but the festival pass, at £25, allows access to everything.

Tickets for the first night film and full details of the festival programme can be obtained from The Maltings Arts Centre in Castlegate, (01289) 330999/ 303355 or visit www.berwickfilm-artsfest.com

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