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Spectacular and quirky events at Berwick's festival

Melanie Iredale and her team have made the annual Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival – this year with a Nordic theme – an excuse to get to know the place better

From left, Per Hanefjord, director of The Hidden Child, artist Cecilia Stenbom and Claudia Galli Concha, star of The Hidden Child
From left, Per Hanefjord, director of The Hidden Child, artist Cecilia Stenbom and Claudia Galli Concha, star of The Hidden Child

A festival in Berwick runs the risk of being upstaged by the town itself, with its winning blend of the quirky and the spectacular.

But Melanie Iredale and her team have cracked it, making the annual Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival – this year with a Nordic theme – an excuse to get to know the place better.

On Wednesday night I ventured along a tunnel into an ice house to see Kelly Richardson’s The Last Frontier, and up the stairs of the Town Hall to see a series of film installations projected in the town’s old prison cells, with their wooden beds still in place.

Kelly, who lives in Whitley Bay, where last summer’s Mariner 9 was a big attraction, has created a throbbing image of an eerily lit and possibly organic spherical structure.

Definitely – to my mind, anyway – it was trying to extract itself from the sand or sludge in which it was embedded. In the chill and dark of the Bankhill Ice House, it looked more malign than benign.

No consoling warmth was to be found in the Town Hall, where short films under the heading Northern Lights included one showing skiers on the starkest of mountains and another called The Arctic is Not Too Far From Her(e).

Up at the Gymnasium Gallery you can see the fruits of Norwegian artist Sidsel Christensen’s impressive agility.

In her dangling hoop she has been filmed against landscapes which face each other across the North Sea. Sometimes the footage is shown the right way up, sometimes upside down. Sometimes she’s there, other times she gives way to crashing waves.

As an invitation to scrutinise the charms of Berwick, it’s only a partial success. It’s hard to take your eyes of Sidsel in her hoop.

Installations can be found at 11 different locations, making a stroll around Berwick seem even more of an adventure. This free part of the festival adds an extra exciting dimension to the concept of the town trail.

The film programme, meanwhile, proceeds at The Maltings, whose beautiful auditorium was packed on Wednesday for the opening gala screening of The Hidden Child. Director Per Hanefjord was modestly reluctant to discuss his own film, but he graciously received a cake because it was his birthday. His star, Claudia Galli Concha, simply hoped we would enjoy the film.

It is a whodunit, a little long but well acted and directed. All loose ends were tied up, which is more than could be said of The Case, the short film made by Gateshead-based Swedish artist Cecilia Stenbom as a festival commission.

Exploring the cliches of the detective format, it was all mood and no plot. Still, the locals clearly had fun helping to make it.

The festival continues until Sunday. See www.berwickfilm-artsfest.com for details.

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