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By Roger Highfield on

Celebrating a record-breaking Widescreen Weekend

This year’s celebration of the most sensual cinema offered more immersive experiences to more people than ever before, reports Roger Highfield, Science Director.

The world’s greatest celebration of the world’s most sensual cinema—Widescreen Weekend—proved more successful than ever, breaking attendance records for the second year in a row and growing the audience by 15 per cent to around 5,000 attendees.

Among the film aficionados who praised the festival (see below), popular culture commentator Sir Christopher Frayling told me: “I love it… the bigness of it and the boldness of it and the collective cinema experience—it is wonderful.”

Festival attendees in Pictureville theatre

Many might think that digital immersive experiences represent a new way to excite, intrigue and amuse audiences.

But each year, the National Science and Media Museum builds a festival around the long history of innovations designed to overwhelm the senses with the biggest, boldest movies, which stretch back many decades, from digital to analogue.

Widescreen Weekend celebrates the past, present and future of film with a showcase of large-screen formats and cinema technologies that the museum is uniquely equipped to show to their best effect.

In Bradford, audiences can experience immersive cinema, from the latest releases to classics from Hollywood’s golden era, with the museum’s three cinema screens—the Pictureville theatre, Cubby Broccoli Cinema, and IMAX, the first in Europe. About to return to independent operation next month, they will be collectively known as Pictureville Cinema.

As in previous years, formats included the epically wide developed in the 1950s and 1960s—for example Cinerama (where three 35mm films are blended to produce a sweeping vista), CinemaScope and Todd-AO.

The museum’s Pictureville screen is the only public venue in the UK and one of only three on the planet that can still show 3-strip Cinerama to the public, and was famously described by film producer Lord David Puttnam as ‘the best cinema in the world’.

Renault Dauphine advertisement in 3-strip Cinerama
Renault Dauphine advertisement in 3-strip Cinerama

This year a 1959 Renault Dauphine advert was shown on the curved Cinerama screen—the system that kickstarted the Hollywood studios’ battle for widescreen supremacy. The ad is one of only two short films made using this process.

For the first time, the festival also introduced the Immersive Encounters Dome Cinema, which welcomed 650 visitors over four days to experience 360-degree film screenings, including a recreation of astronaut Tim Peake’s journey back to Earth from the International Space Station, narrated by Tim himself.

But, fear not, the museum also remains committed to analogue film that the tradition of the classic celluloid cinema experience will live on.

Immersive Encounters Dome Cinema
Immersive Encounters Dome Cinema
Pictureville theatre
Pictureville theatre

This year saw the return of Women in Widescreen, a celebration of female-driven narratives and the work of women in front of and behind the camera.

Notable female protagonists ranged from General Okoye and princess/innovator/engineering whizz Shuri of Black Panther to Rita Moreno (Anita in West Side Story), the first Hispanic actress to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and the late great Doris Day.

At the screening of Love Me or Leave Me, broadcaster Samira Ahmed remarked how Doris Day took on the patriarchy, and won, ‘with a smile and a song’.

To celebrate the future of filmmaking, on the final day a ‘Brafta’ award was presented to Clio Barnard, director of The Selfish Giant, by Bradford UNESCO City of Film.

Clio Barnard
Clio Barnard

Festival photographs by Andy Garbutt

Student Widescreen Films of the Year

Widescreen filmmakers of the future were also celebrated in the annual Student Widescreen Film of the Year Competition, in partnership with the International Moving Image Society (IMIS).

The films that scooped the awards were Noa in the international category, made by the Maaleh School of Film and Television in Jerusalem; and A Renaissance in the UK category, submitted by a team from the University of Roehampton.

International: Noa

Noa

From the Maaleh School of Film and Television, Jerusalem

Director/Producer: Shulamit lifshit

Writer: Shachar Auman

Cast: Adi Riessman, Neta Shpigelman, Doron Rechlis, Ayelet Fridlender

UK: A Renaissance

A Renaissance

From the University of Roehampton

Directors/Writers: Prach Rojanasinwilai and Noah Ottersen Parker

Producer: Adam Rush

Cast: Louis Hall, Alice Renouf, Simon Bass, Edward Barrows

What they said about Widescreen Weekend 2019

Samira Ahmed, journalist, writer and broadcaster: “I’ve come up to introduce some of my favourite films. And every year I am always stunned by the immersive theatrical experience of the big screens and formats. But also one of the biggest joys for me about Widescreen Weekend is the audience. I love hearing their stories. There are so many film lovers who have amazing memories of cinema going back to the 1940s and 50s and that sense of oral history and time travel being shared is incredibly valuable.”

Professor Sir Christopher Frayling: “Isn’t it great to see movies projected as they were supposed to be, on the equipment they were supposed to be projected on, as a collective viewing experience in a large cinema, not on a smartphone, not on a television screen, not in multiplex, where you can hear the film next door because the walls are so thin. It is great they still do it, it really is. Those big cinemas are now an endangered species. I have been involved six or seven years and I love it… the bigness of it and the boldness of it and the collective cinema experience—it is wonderful.”

VFX Editor Carin-Anne Strohmaier: “The National Science and Media Museum’s Widescreen Weekend in Bradford is an amazing festival especially with the enthusiasm shown by the attendees coming from the UK and all over the world. Unfortunately we really have nothing like this in the whole of the USA so I hope that it continues for many years to come as it is a real asset and a treasure, inspiring those who create the stories and those who enjoy them. And I am so grateful for the hard working and caring festival staff and volunteers—they themselves are amazing to make everything run so smoothly and to take care of the presenters and the delegates.”

Stephen Slater, archive producer for feature-length documentary Apollo 11: “I love this festival. I love this museum—it is actually the first place where I ever saw an IMAX film, when I was ten. I love the history of film so it is always great to get an excuse to come back here, particularly to introduce a film you have been such a big part of. That IMAX screen is probably the best I’ve seen.”

Dave Strohmaier, Cinerama Inc: “This was my 12th time speaking, presenting and enjoying classic widescreen films shown the way they were meant to be shown at the museum’s Widescreen Weekend event. The attendees, the staff and the expert projectionist always make it even more memorable each year.”

Chella Ramanan, writer and journalist: “Widescreen Weekend is a fantastic festival that I was honoured to be a part of. It curates an incredible programme celebrating all aspects of cinema, but most importantly it champions the magic and importance of celluloid and the widescreen format. A hidden gem on the film festival circuit with an incredible community of film buffs supporting it.”

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