Keswick Film Festival

Festival History

Whether you're new to the event or want to revel in remembrance of films past, former Keswick Film Club Chairman Rod Evans takes you on a journey through the past.

KFF3 February 2002

Ian (who had become Chairman following Founder/Chairman Tony Martin's departure in March 2000) and Rod undertook to do most of the work for KFF3, with help from other members of the Film Club committee. As our experience with 'strands' had so far been quite positive, some individuals' enthusiasms were translated into the decision to go with the following themes and films: 'Best of the Fests' had seemed unfailingly popular, so we selected Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me, Lucrecia Martel's La Cienaga (The Swamp), David Gordon Green's George Washington, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie and Oscar Rohler's No Place to Go (Die Unberuhrbare). Unsurprisingly, Amélie swept the board in this (non) competition.

There was strong committee support for German Cinema - after all, Wenders and Fassbinder had been making great films for years. Unfortunately it transpired that the rights to all the films by those gentlemen had reverted to Germany and they were unobtainable! Never mind, we found two great classics in Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Pabst's Pandora's Box - the latter with an excellent accompaniment by Neil Brand's piano: an unforgettable experience. Add to those Volker Schlondorff's The Tin Drum, and Werner Herzog's Mein Liebster Feind (My Best Fiend) featuring the astonishing Klaus Kinski. Rohler's No Place To Go qualified here too, of course.

More committee input persuaded us to try animation ('Drawn to be Wild') - either a notable lack hitherto, or a pleasing absence, depending on your taste - so we opted for Katsushiro Otomo's Akira, Jan Svankmajer's Faust, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Akira in particular proved very popular, converting some of the most unlikely punters.

But the really good idea seemed to be a strand called 'Painting With Light' - Great British Cinematographers. The Chosen Few were Jack Cardiff (The African Queen), Roger Deakins (The Hudsucker Proxy), Chris Menges (The Killing Fields) and Geoffrey Unsworth (2001 - A Space Odyssey). Good films all, but they didn't pull in the crowds. Mind you, nor did anything else this year, except for Amélie, riding the crest of her wave of popularity. However, it proved a good idea because Jack Cardiff agreed to come to Keswick (fairly late in the day, as he was still working, aged 88) although he couldn't tell us before mid-January so we lost much of the chance to use him as a draw for aficionados of his work. There's a story to illustrate this...

Jack Cardiff
Jack Cardiff

Jack Cardiff was and still is regarded as a hugely influential figure in the world of cinematography because of his extraordinarily long career and quantity of highly successful films, his inventiveness and painterly comprehension of his director's intentions. He's still giving talks and making public appearances today, I believe Our choice for Jack's film was The African Queen which he lit for John Huston in 1951. So, it being my turn to look after him on that Sunday morning at the Keswick Alhambra, there we were sitting in the stalls ready to see the movie. Our timing of the programme must have been as bad as the promotion of the film, for there we were surrounded by an audience of...27 people. Sitting there with perhaps the world's greatest cinematographer watching a re-run of his own creation. Jack was entirely unperturbed by this - we had already been down to the lake for a TV crew to film us pretending to pull one of the launches ashore at the end of a rope, just like Humphrey Bogart in the film, and he took it all in his stride - but when the film started, the image on screen was a kind of pinkish-grey hue. Jack just turned to me and said: 'this is the kind of rubbishy print we used to send to Africa!' But he sat uncomplainingly through it, and we went off afterwards for a good lunch. A most charming man, who is able to recount fascinating stories and experiences at the drop of a hat: it was a great pleasure to host Jack and his wife Niki in Keswick.

All good fun, but it has to be admitted that the films didn't pull in big enough audiences (averaging about 40 - thank goodness for Amélie!), even though they could be stoutly defended for their quality: a rethink would be needed if Keswick Film Festival wasn't to run into trouble ahead.

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