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Holy Island hotspot for film-makers

WHEN you think of Holy Island, horror, gore and sinister goings-on aren’t usually what spring to mind.

A scene from the film Unhappy Birthday

WHEN you think of Holy Island, horror, gore and sinister goings-on aren’t usually what spring to mind.

But for two different sets of filmmakers, the tranquil environment of Lindisfarne was considered a perfect setting for tales of bloody death and murky mystery.

And, by seemingly spooky coincidence, their resulting films will premiere within days of each other at Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle.

First up tonight is a horror thriller called Unhappy Birthday – said to be the first feature film shot on the Northumberland island since Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac in 1966.

If that’s the case then Rising Tide must have been hot on its heels because that ghostly coming-of-age story is also set there and will have its premiere at the cinema on August 17.

Alongside the welcome news of further growth in the local film industry comes an insight into it for regional movie buffs, as filmmakers are due to attend both screenings to give first-hand accounts of filming at a location more geared up to tourists visiting its Priory than to film crews setting up scenes of mayhem.

Whitley Bay-born and bred director Mark Harriott chose the seat of Christian learning, renamed Amen, as the backdrop to Unhappy Birthday which is described as having “a healthy disrespect for religion and a deliciously deviant heart”.

It stars David Paisley, who’s appeared in Holby City, and Jill Riddiford, of Our Friends in the North, in a story about friends who make a trip to a secluded island for a birthday treat.

Inspired by classic British fare such as The Wicker Man and Hammer Horror, it’s more a black comedy with gay and gore themes and marks the end of the Tyneside’s screenings of films from the POUT London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

Written and co-directed by Harriott, a former Channel 4 presenter, it’s his first mainstream feature and was shot in just six days on the island – despite restrictions imposed by incoming tides – and at Belford in Northumberland where his sister has a B&B which doubled as another location and as a base for the crew.

Harriott says: “We were inspired to make Unhappy Birthday after getting caught by the tides on Lindisfarne so we’re thrilled that the film is getting its regional premiere in the North East.

“Also, as I’m from Whitley Bay myself, I’m pleased that people will have the opportunity to see the film on the big screen where the cinematography really does justice to the stunning scenery around this area – even if it makes people think twice about visiting a tidal island!”

Harriott will be taking part in a Q&A session at tonight’s screening of the film, an 18 certificate, at 8.15pm.

On August 17, it’ll be the turn of Rising Tide, an innovative and ghostly independent film made entirely with a local cast and crew and directed and produced by Dawn Furness and Philip Shotton.

Screening the day before A-level results come out, it’s a timely look at college leavers as, with exams over, friends set off on a camping trip – a last jaunt together before they go their separate ways.

And Holy Island is again where it all goes horribly wrong, with the group trapped by the rising tide (also timely given a recent real-life repeat story of visitors caught by the encroaching tide).

But don’t expect rescue at hand here as it’s a sinister tale of loss, revenge and spectres from the past.

Funded and produced by Northern Film & Media, it features 10 actors, atmospheric music by Kathryn Tickell and a fair amount of improvisation to give a realistic feel.

Co-director Philip Shotton explained: “The whole film was work-shopped with the young cast using improvisational acting techniques to create believable characters and naturalistic performances.

“It was a ‘guerilla’ film shoot, filming from dawn to darkness in a challenging location under extreme weather conditions, using two cameras to capture the spontaneity of the performances.

“Despite the hardships it was a fantastic experience.”

It’s a 15 certificate and its August 17 showing at 6pm, will also include a Q&A with key cast and crew.

Tickets to the screenings are available from www.tynesidecinema.co.uk, the box office or by calling 0845 217 9909


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