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As he recalls his visit in 2010, actor John Hurt reflects on Bradford’s cinematic heritage and the British voice in the film industry.

During my visit I was fascinated by the fact that Bradford and Yorkshire were at the centre of the British film industry before the 1914–18 war (the first moving images were filmed in Leeds in 1888, leading to early film-making taking place around the region).

Films reflect the voice of the people and had it not been for the outbreak of war, Yorkshire could have been the centre for the voice of our people for many years.

It’s interesting to consider whether we would have preserved that voice in much the same way French cinema has, rather than taking the ‘American voice’ as we did after the war, which is in fact very different from ours, despite the similar language.

Yorkshire’s heritage and legacy is part of the reason I think it’s so fitting that Bradford is the first UNESCO City of Film, and so wonderful that it is the 20th Bradford International Film Festival this year.

I always felt during my visit that there was a very strong reason for having this event and its celebration of cinema. Festivals are the best way for us to advertise our wares, particularly in the independent film sector, which of course is where the British film industry lies.

The importance of festivals is captured by the word of mouth they generate. Independent films rely on word of mouth as they don’t have the budgets that big studios have to market them. Word of mouth is different to ‘hype’ which immediately raises suspicion.

The cinematographer Freddie Francis told me that many years ago good films would “make their name in the laboratories”, meaning the studio technicians would know they had a great film on their hands as they worked on it. They’d tell their families and friends, who would tell their families and friends. It wasn’t hype.

Freddie lit The Elephant Man, a film that Paramount didn’t know what to do with at the time. It was initially only released in Los Angeles and New York. When it opened in LA there were lines of people around the cinema queuing to see the film. I asked “How did that happen, how did anyone know it was on?” It was word of mouth that had started in the laboratories. I expect there have been many similar experiences at Bradford.

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