Gateshead Silent Film Festival 2019 – the low down

So now we are half way through January (how did that happen?!?), I hope you have your diaries full of events, happenings and plans for 2019…….there are so many amazing things going on in the region and my last post covered just a few of my top picks! One of my recommendations was the Gateshead Silent Film Festival – I’ve got my ticket and I’m so excited to go! It will be my third time attending and each year it just gets better and better, and as a Gateshead lass, I’m so proud that something like this happens right here, on my patch!

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This year’s Gateshead Silent Film festival, a collaboration between St Mary’s Heritage Centre & Side By Side Arts; two nights of silent movies accompanied by ‘live’ piano music.

Friday night is ‘Horror’ night showing the 1925 seminal American silent horror ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Scream for Pizza are serving a range of their ghoulishly gorgeous fresh made pizzas from 7pm, and a pay bar is available too. Tickets available here.

Saturday night is ‘Comedy’ night showing ‘Girl Shy’. The Poor Boy (Harold Lloyd) is a bashful tailor’s apprentice who longs to be a published author. Heading for the city to sell his romantic anthology, he encounters the Rich Girl (Jobyna Ralston) on a train, and he helps her hide her dog from the conductor. Excited about a budding romance, the Poor Boy goes off to a publisher and gets rejected. Disheartened, he gives up on the Rich Girl. However, when the publisher changes his mind, the Poor Boy tries to rekindle the spark of romance. Scream for Pizza will also be back serving from 6pm and bar open from 7pm. Tickets available here.

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But instead of me jabbering on about why you need to get tickets for Gateshead’s Silent Film Festival, I thought I’d catch up with Mr Gateshead Silent Film Festival, the Director of Side By Side Arts – Stuart Angus. We caught up recently (before Christmas) and bonded over Stuart’s FANTASTIC gin collection and I had the privilege of finding out all about Side by Side Arts and what is in store for this year’s Silent Film Festival!

Let’s start at the beginning for my fellow Culture Vultures – who are you?

My name Stuart Angus and I am the Director of Side By Side Arts.  I’m originally from Northern Ireland, but moved across when was 18 to study music at Newcastle University and fell in love with the North East so stayed!

The North East tends to do that, once you arrive here, people don’t want to leave/we don’t allow you to leave. So Side By Side Arts, what is it and what does it do?

Side By Side Arts is a Community Interest Company which aims to bring performing arts opportunities covering music, dance and drama to people in the North East who would not normally have the opportunity to take part. Currently we run stage schools for children, supported by partners and various funders, which enable young people from lower income backgrounds to take part. We also lead the Low Fell Community choir, have a music tuition studio, run group and individual piano lessons and even run an annual Silent Film Festival!

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Stuart leading Low Fell Community Choir at BALTIC as part of Great Exhibition of the North

You’ve just mentioned The Silent Film Festival, that’s what I want to hear more about! Tell my fellow Culture Vultures, what’s happening and what’s on across the festival?

The Silent Film Festival is now in its third year and run jointly with St Mary’s Heritage Centre. This year we are even bigger and better running three events, all celebrating the magic of silent film, over the 25th & 26th January.

Friday 25th January is horror night! Enjoy the gothic settings of St Mary’s while watching the all-time horror classic ‘Phantom of the Opera’.

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Saturday 26th sees the venue transformed into the St Mary’s Speakeasy where the hilarious Miss Dixie Swallows introduces the comedy film ‘Girl Shy’ featuring Harold Lloyd. This is a great love story about a guy who thinks he knows how to make women fall in love with men, but in reality can’t speak to a girl without stuttering!

Both evenings will be accompanied by myself live on piano, a pay bar open and the delicious Scream for Pizza will also be cooking up a storm!

This year for the first time we are also holding the family funny bones hour where we will be showing three short comedy silent films, one of which will be accompanied by myself on piano. These are three of my most favourite short films and the one I am accompanying live is my all-time favourite (Buster Keaton’s One Week). This event is especially for families to come along, be thoroughly entertained and have a great time together as a family.

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I really like your choice of films – Girl Shy is just fantastic. What made you select this year’s films?

I chose Phantom Of the Opera because most people are very familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Webber version, but the silent film is where it all began and a true class. I wanted to show the original film and surprise people with a similar story line but with music that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the film.

Last year for comedy night we showed Charlie Chaplin and the year before we showed Buster Keaton, so for 2019 following on with the theme of showcasing some of the silent film comedy greats, we thought we’d let Harold Lloyd have a turn this year! Every year, I like to show a film which people are a bit less familiar with (everyone knows the scene where Harold Lloyd is hanging from a large clock face) and ‘Girl Shy’ has all the elements to make a great comedy film from a love story, through to hilarious slap stick and even a comedy chase!

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St Mary’s is just such a perfect venue for this type of event and as always, can’t wait to see it for horror night– from your perspective why did you pick this as your Silent Film Festival home?

St Mary’s is a fantastic venue and is so versatile in its uses. Who could imagine that such a place could host a wedding one week, a conference or a workshop the next and then even a silent film festival?!?! The gothic setting of a church is amazing to show horror films while speakeasies appeared in the most unlikely of places during the 1920’s prohibition, so where more unlikely to have one than in an old church?

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I’ve heard lots of people talking about this year’s festival – like they’ve just discovered it, which is always a great sign! But this is actually its THIRD year – how did it all start?

It all started with me going to the Heaton Park Silent Film Night which used to be held in the Summer time. From here I discovered silent films and in particular Buster Keaton. This inspired me to write my final dissertation on the evolution of silent film music and from there my love for the silent film era grew! I was really sad when the Heaton Park Festival ended because of the loss of funding and really wanted to bring silent films back to the North East!

You introduced me properly to silent films and since the first festival, I’ve been keening watching them and I’ve discovered that watching silent films was (and still is) actually anything but silent! People watching giggled, socialised, drank and of course, lots of live musical accompaniment. You’ll be doing live piano along to the films to bring them to life – are you doing a special score?

Every performance that I give is a soundtrack that I have compiled especially for the showing using a massive array of music, a lot of the music you will hear is taken from original music that would have been used to accompany films.

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Why do you love Silent Films? Why is it important for people to fall in love with the genre today?

I love silent films because they don’t have any of the mod cons that you would expect to see in modern cinema. All of the actors do their own stunts, there was no CGI and most importantly the main way that they could tell a story effectively was by using music to match with what you see on the screen.

It’s really interesting that the whole perception of what you watch and experience can be altered by what you hear! That’s why the musician’s job in the silent film era was almost as important as the actors who were on screen. It also led to so much more including folly artistry to provide sound effects which ultimately developed into what we recognise now as a modern day film score.

What I find interesting is that nowadays audiences are looking for that fully immersive experience while watching a movie; from attending showings with live orchestras playing the movie’s scores through to audience participation and live actors interpreting what is shown on screen simultaneously, so of course, what better way to enjoy a film than going back to where it all began?

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For people who haven’t seen any Silent Film before but just fancy a lush different night out to get them through January (it’s a long bliddy month), what can they expect if they get a ticket? Why should they get a ticket?

For people who haven’t watched a silent film I need to ask where have you been for the past two years!?!?!?! Coming to an event like this means that you are able to appreciate a film which is very cleverly made. While you’re watching you will get so engrossed in that you almost forget about everything around you because it is so visual! You can expect to have a unique experience with what you hear as the soundtrack is compiled especially for the event and not forgetting the amazing Miss Dixie on the Saturday night adding that extra bit of comedy!

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What’s next after the Silent Film Festival – what do you have planned for 2019?

2019 looks to be a busy year so far! I have a great project coming up with Imagine Gateshead where I will be working with a group of children to write a song about what they think Gateshead will be like in 100 years’ time! The Low Fell Community Choir are working on lots of great new music and getting ready to perform it over the coming months and I will also be growing the music studio. But most excitingly, I have a couple of new tutors who will be joining me over the coming weeks to take Side by Side Arts to the next level – so singing lessons, dance etc will be added to our growing offer!

You teach the piano and run lessons for adults and children – you’ve promised to give me a lesson or too (I’m not very musical), I need to know what you are going to teach me on the piano? My musical profile consists of Little Donkey on the recorder, The Rugrats theme tune on the glockenspiel so I’m eagerly awaiting another string to this bow…

I really don’t think that it is true that people aren’t musical….. you just have never had the right teacher! I firmly do believe that if you have the willing to learn something like piano and are happy to take 10 minutes a day to do a little bit of practice that you can learn to play in no time at all! (rant over!) So having said that my aim for you is to teach you a Britney Spears song as I know how much you love her!

Proud Britney Spears super fan right here…..right now I’m excited for my lesson. You also head up Low Fell Community choir and keep trying to get me join…… right this is your chance, 30 second pitch. I can’t sing, but love to sing as it makes me feel a bit lush inside….why should I join? If I join, can we do some Tina Turner or Britney? (non-negotiables)

The Low Fell Community Choir is a really friendly and welcoming choir, just like I say anyone can be musical, we really do believe that anyone can sing! We meet every Sunday at 5:30 at the Nest in Low Fell, there is no audition to join, you just have to turn up and sing! I teach everything by singing it to you and then you have a go at singing it back!

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Last year we did some amazing music from an Abba medley through to Adel’s Make You Feel My Love and big classics like Don’t Stop Believing! This year we are working on more epic tunes from Queen’s Somebody To Love, through to songs from Greatest Showman, a few modern day hits and yes! There is even a Tina Turner song to be learnt, but I’m not going to tell you which one – you’re going to have to come along to find out!!!

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I can feel my little feet stomping a la Proud Mary, in excitement already. So Culture Vultures, 25th & 26th January is this year’s Gateshead Silent Film Festival. Tickets are flying and it’s going to be a great weekend of silent film. I will be there lurking in the shadows on horror night, hanging out with minis (more on my level) for Funny Bones hour and cackling away at the back for comedy night.

If you see me – say hiyer and use the hashtag #GatesheadSilentFilm19 on social so I can track your silent film festival shenanigans!

That’s all for now.