The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival, AKA HippFest, is going online for its rearranged 10th edition with screenings running 17 – 21 March. Launched in 2011, HippFest has become a key annual event in the cultural calendar, drawing audiences from across Scotland and beyond to enjoy the stars and stories of the silent era. The Fountain caught up with Festival Director Alison Strauss about her programme highlights, and taking the festival online for the first time.

TF: HippFest is moving online, that must have been a difficult decision for a festival that centres around a venue?

It was devastating back in March last year when, just days ahead of our 10th edition, we realised that we had to cancel. At that time we fondly imagined that we could go ahead with a reduced version of the Festival in October but that too proved to be impossible as the Hippodrome remained closed right up until Christmas. In some ways it has been a relief to settle on an online edition because it removes the uncertainty that continues to hover over any ‘in real life’ events.

Although the Hippodrome, as Scotland’s first purpose-built cinema, is the inspiration for our Festival celebrating the origins of the film medium itself, we have always sought to bring elements of HippFest outside the venue – with our pop-up screenings at the Bo’ness and Kinneil Steam Railway, our touring programme bringing silent film with new music commissions to venues the length and breadth of the UK, our local community touring, and the additional supporting programme of exhibitions, schools activities, walking tours, trips, fun workshops and more.

Over the last ten years HippFest has succeeded in raising awareness for this unique and precious cinema and I am confident that going online will mean more people will come to hear of the Hippodrome and want to visit for themselves when they can. We have devised a programme that seeks to replicate as far as possible those things that make HippFest such a well-loved festival… So although we can’t be together in the auditorium we can still provide the best silent film musical accompaniment, the friendly atmosphere, the opportunities to interact with other festival attendees, to hear at first-hand from musicians and special guests, the chance to take part in the interactive workshops and of course the chance to dress up!

TF: Obviously it is great that is moving forward and continuing this year, what are you finding are the perks of taking it to the digital stage?

A big perk is that we can extend our capacity. The Hippodrome is quite ‘bijou’ and only seats around 200 people. Going online means that we’re not tied to the modest size of the cinema – not only in terms of the number of people we can accommodate but also the size of the orchestras who will be accompanying the films. We’ve been proud of building up an international audience over the years with visitors travelling from all over the UK and overseas including China and the US to attend. Now, thanks to the licences secured to stream across the UK, Europe and N. America, we’re anticipating attracting even larger numbers of far-flung festival goers.

A digital delivery also means we can involve more international guests and speakers in the line-up. Digital delivery will also enhance our accessibility for D/deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences as all the spoken content will be captioned. We are mindful that not everyone can access online events however so we are working with partners to find ways to share some of the festival programme via discs and supporting, tangible objects.

TF: What are some of your own personal highlights from the programme?

I’m proud and excited about every last bit of the programme but if I have to single some out I would have to say the Opening and Closing nights. The Opening night will feature African American silent Body and Soul with a glorious jazz orchestral accompaniment, an introduction from Charles Musser at Yale University especially for HippFest and an exclusive live Q&A with the composer Wycliffe Gordon is going to be very special indeed. The Closing Night will celebrate the extraordinary career of Mary Pickford – global superstar and co-founder of United Artists – with the premiere of a new restoration of Sparrows and new score, in partnership with the Mary Pickford Foundation. It is a great honour to be working with the Foundation and the Graves Brothers who have composed the new score.

TF: I am personally looking forward to the Cookalong, what can we expect with this one?

Me too! Jenny Hammerton at Silver Screen Suppers is a wonder. She ran a cocktails and canapés workshop with us back in 2015 which everyone loved. This time we have asked Jenny to prepare something inspired by recipes devised by silver screen icon Mary Pickford (Mary’s enchiladas anyone?!). Jenny will take you through the process of making the dish step-by-step just as Mary instructed readers of fan magazines back in the 1920s and I’m sure there will be some celebrity gossip to impart along the way. A gin crafted by our sponsors the Linlithgow Distillery will provide the base for a suitably starry Mary Pickford cocktail.

Mary Pickford in Sparrows (1926) photo courtesy Mary Pickford Foundation.

For the full HippFest programme and ticketing information visit the website.