Friday 22 April 2011

The Skylon and the Festival of Britain in Hereford

We decided to include a Festival of Britain programme at Borderlines this year for several reasons:
  • The Festival of Britain took place in 1951 so this is the 60th anniversary
  • Connotations with austerity, a time for defining what British values represent, a Festival FOR the people
  • Film connections
  • the Skylon, the most memorable symbol of the Festival, soaring into the sky with gravity-defying modernity, was actually manufactured in Hereford, a city associated with traditional, rural values
Bill Tanner of the Hereford Times has written several articles over the years about the Skylon and the people connected with it, including Joseph Hanks, a welding specialist who built a miniature Skylon for his daughters Judith and Pat to enter in the 1951 Hereford Carnival.

Via In Our Age I met Rosemary Lillico whose grandfather, father and aunt (who carried on with her knitting during the slack periods of crane driving) all worked for Painter Brothers. The following material is written by her:

Rosemary Lillico
After the lean war years of 1939-1945 it was decided to hold an exhibition in the summer of 1951 to promote British Industry.

One of the many exhibitors was Painter Brothers Steelworks of Mortimer Road, Hereford. Their contribution was a huge silver 'apparition' likened to a spacecraft that towered above everything else at the exhibition and known as Skylon.

Although I was just 13 years old at that time I took a great interest in the manufacture of the Skylon as my Granddad, Joe Cotterell, and my Dad, John 'Taffy' Harris both worked at Painter Brothers in the Galvanizing Dept. or the 'Dipping Shop' as it was known to the workers and helped in the manufacture of Skylon.

At the same time my Aunt, Rose Cotterell, was a crane driver there. Taking components along an overhead rail to be lowered into the huge galvanizing tanks to be 'dipped' or 'galvanized'.

When Skylon was completed it brought Hereford traffic to a standstill as it was slowly taken by road on two huge articulated transporters. People lined the streets to watch.

When the exhibition opened my Dad decided to take us to London for a weekend to see it and visit my sister who lived there.

Well, the day came when we set off in our little Austin 7. It seemed like the middle of the night to me when we left our little cottage over the fields and made for London. Dad had pages and pages of directions but that didn't prevent us getting lost many times and when our little car often "broke down" out would come Dad's toolbox and overalls put on, when he usually managed to find the problem and fix it.
Me and our Austin 7 outside our cottage at Preston Wynne in 1951
The journey seemed to take ages as it probably did. There were few if any motorways or good roads. I can remember going up the narrow Birdlip, over Northleach Common, Oxford, Wantage, Whitney and along the Great North Road towards London from Preston Wynne, Hereford.

How we arrived at our destination I will never know, but we did and stayed at my sister's home in Highbury. Where Dad scrapped up the money for petrol I will never know either.

Next day, Sunday, my sister and her husband who was a Londoner took us to the Festival Site.

Long before we reached there the Skylon was visible and stood above everything else, I remember looking up at it in wonder, so proud to think it had been made at Hereford and my Grand Dad and Dad had helped to make it. I believe it was billed as the main attraction.
Also on display were several fountains, the Royal Festival Hall, the Dome of Discovery, which promoted lots of scientific 'models' for the future. My Dad bought me a gyroscope from there which I had for many years and never ceased to wonder how it balanced and what it was used for.

After we had seen everything at the Festival my sister and brother-in-law took us to see some of the sights of London. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey took my breath away. All seen from the top of a bus. It must have cost my brother-in-law a fortune. He paid for everything as Dad and Mam had very little money.

We were also taken on the Underground and when I saw I had to step on this moving staircase or escalator  I was absolutely petrified to step on and step off at the other end. My Mam must have felt the same too.

Monday morning saw us make the long journey back to Hereford. Getting lost and breaking down several times along the way but our little Austin 7 got us home eventually.

Mam, Dad, Leslie and I at the fountains in the Festival of Britain
I often look back and think of theat wonderful weekend when my Dad, my Mam, Brother Leslie and I, real "Country Bumpkins", went all the way to London to see the Festival of Britain  and Skylon.

After the exhibition closed Skylon was dismantled and sold off as scrap, I wonder if anyone has a part of Skylon as a memento.
 Black and white photographs courtesy of Rosemary Lillico

Monday 18 April 2011

Reflections on Borderlines Film Festival 2011

While suffering severe Borderlines withdrawal symptoms, many memories of this year's film festival are still floating about in my mind. The films I saw and the films I missed, (but have made a note to see on DVD) and the comments made by the people I met.

Waiting for My afternoons with Margueritte to begin, I asked my immediate neighbour which films she and her husband had seen. She told me that they had been to six or seven and that they had all been fairly gruelling. Among these were Of Gods and Men and True Grit. She and her partner had also seen Into Eternity and Circo. They had had a very different Borderlines experience from my own and it was interesting that the only film we both had in common was the life affirming and sublime My Afternoons with Margueritte.

Of the films I saw: Animal Kingdom, Chico and Rita, Rabbit Hole and Blue Valentine stand out in my mind. Being able to write about them for the blog also served to crystallise the impressions they made on me. What a wonderful way to celebrate an early Spring - feasting our eyes and feeding our souls.
Looking back on the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the Borderlines Film Festival, I am left with a picture of the Courtyard theatre filled with sunshine and enthusiastic cinema goers - queuing for drinks, comparing notes with one another, searching the programme and then booking to see yet more films.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Visitors from Salisbury

Pam and Phil from Salisbury, subscribers to our e-newsletter, timed their visit to Herefordshire especially to coincide with Borderlines. They sent us this account of how they got on:

We only know about Borderlines because we were in Herefordshire 3-4 years ago in late March and discovered it was on.  
We went to 4 Festival events during our 3 night visit to Herefordshire, which is pretty good going! Would like to have attended more. These were:
Of Gods and Men at The Courtyard;
The Moviebus at Bodenham;
Neil Brand at Cawley Hall;
Another Year at Goodrich Village Hall.
All 4 venues are very different and all brilliant in their own ways. We thought The Courtyard is an excellent facility for the area. It was great to see the Moviebus; we had quite a chat with the owners and they seem to have a good little business going there (obviously rather specialist).
©Luke Doran
Cawley Hall is really good - was this a Millenium Project? It must have cost rather a lot to build, but hopefully it is well used - certainly the programme that we could see looks like they have plenty of events there. And Goodrich Hall is also excellent - originally a nineteenth-century Reading Room. They've recently installed all sorts of environmental improvements for which they must have worked incredibly hard to get all the grants. The sound and visual system used there is very good.
In terms of the events themselves, they were all great:
Of Gods and Men was very moving - I hadn't realised beforehand that it's based on real events. I like the feedback forms that The Courtyard used - no pen required! 
Another Year was very enjoyable - we like Mike Leigh, and had missed the film when it was doing the rounds here so it was good to have a second chance to catch it. We hadn't realised it was going to be subtitled, which was a little distracting but we learned to ignore it, and it must have been helpful for those hard of hearing. 
The selection of shorts shown on the Moviebus were great - educational and/or amusing, and just the right length. Again, the projection system was very good. Nice that this event was free.
Neil Brand, as you know, was just such a good presenter. I really liked the way he combined his own presentation with audience participation.
©Michelle Gerrard
We did a circular walk from Goodrich to Welsh Bicknor, then by the river to the foot of Symonds Yat rock and back over Cobbetts Hill (2-3 hours); next day we went out to Golden Valley and walked in a circuit from Ewyas Harold up to Riverdale and back via Dore Abbey (4 hours). Both lovely walks despite rain on the first one. We got them from the AA 1001 walks in Britain folder which I can thoroughly recommend!
Finally, what really put the icing on the cake for us was how friendly and welcoming people were. We chatted to people at every venue and it was good to see how well the local amenities are supported. Long may it last.
Best of luck  for the rest of the Festival, and for next year which I daresay you'll be  planning soon! I have raved about it to many friends and relatives since our  return, so you might find a few more tourists coming to you next  year.
Phil and Pam

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Audience favourite: My Afternoons with Margueritte

On the last afternoon of the Borderlines Film Festival we were treated to the Best of Festival Screenings. In other words, the films which the Borderlines audience had voted as their favourites and which could be shown again for the benefit of those who did not have the opportunity to see them earlier in the Festival. The two films voted favourites were Of Gods and Men and My Afternoons with Margueritte.

In the queue at the Courtyard bar,waiting to order a cup of coffee and a slice of Bakewell tart before My Afternoons with Margueritte, I bumped into Barbara to whom I had last spoken after Just War. She looked very thoughtful and told me she had just seen Of Gods and Men and commented that it had "beautiful photography and was very moving, but it had not been easy to watch".

By contrast, My Afternoons with Margueritte was endlessly delightful. Gerard Depardieu's Germain, though poorly educated and regarded as "thick" by his friends, responds to the bookish 95-year old Margueritte. The affection that they feel for one another helps to change both of their lives and culminates in an almost fairytale ending.

While their unlikely friendship forms the central core of this film there is a cast of other characters who provide a colourful backdrop of village life in the Charente-Maritime. Germain's girlfriend Annette who drives the local bus, Francine who runs the bar and is infatuated with the much younger Youssef and Germain's cruel and unhinged mother.

Leaving the Studio cinema we all agreed that My Afternoons with Margueritte was the perfect way to end our Borderlines fortnight - as we walked into the sun-filled lobby with smiles on our faces and lightness in our steps.

Monday 11 April 2011

Blue Valentine

Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine offered me another study of a rocky marriage. The previous day I had seen Rabbit Hole which gave us a vivid and very believable portrayal of a marriage threatened by the loss of a beloved child.

Nothing tragic or dramatic has happened in Dean and Cindy's marriage in Blue Valentine but instead something has died between them. Jumping back from the bleak present to the romantic past, we see how they met, the fun they had together and their decision to have Cindy's baby and to be a family. In the present, however, Dean cannot grow up and Cindy no longer finds this endearing. Exhausting arguments and misunderstandings wear them both down until they have nothing left to give one another.
This film does not try to pose or to answer any questions about marriage - instead we see a carefully drawn portrait of a relationship which has no future. The dialogue is so accurate that many people may experience a shudder of recognition. Cindy and Dean are not romanticised - their faults are very apparent, but their wish to preserve their little family adds pathos to their inevitable parting.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Rabbit Hole

This film while exploring the relationship of parents who have lost a very young child, avoids all the cliches and the usual emotional manipulation. Instead, we are given a very tender, compassionate insight into Becca and Howie's attempts to live with their pain. Both are locked into their own experience of loss and they are unable to communicate about or to share their grief or to comfort one another. Some friends try to show support - others run for cover.

Grief is shown here as messy and unpredictable. Becca turns her anger on her mother and hits out at a stranger in the supermarket. Her husband, Howie, feels attracted to a woman he meets at "group". They argue about whether to keep Danny's clothes, toys and drawings - whether to stay in a house full of memories or to sell up and start again.

This is a gentle film about a desperately painful subject. It does not flinch from its honest portrayal of grief, but nor does it wallow and become mawkish. Grief is shown as a very personal response - different for every individual - where no rules apply and no time-frame makes sense. Becca asks her mother, who has lost an adult son, "how long does this go on, does it ever go away?" and her mother replies "No, it never goes away, but it does change"

Thursday 7 April 2011

An Australian Allegory

Leaving the main theatre at Hereford's Courtyard after the showing of Animal Kingdom last night, the atmosphere among the audience was muted. Animal Kingdom was not a comfortable film to watch and the world it depicts is one devoid of hope.
Based in the suburbs of Melbourne the film describes the violent unravelling of an entire family as seen through the eyes of a 17 year old boy. Suddenly orphaned and with no home other than that of his maternal grandmother and her gangster sons, Josh finds himself at the centre of that family's destruction.
The impression I took away with me was one of claustrophobia mingled with menace. Most of the scenes were shot indoors with the camera lingering on close-up shots of Josh and his uncles where affectionate family feeling could turn into betrayal at any moment.
Jackie Weaver's portrayal of an apparently loving grandmother who lives for her "boys" was chilling while Guy Pearse's police inspector Leckie shone through the murky police culture of cruelty and corruption and provided a rare example of integrity.
As Josh, James Frecheville shows a profound stillness. Josh's family attempt to use him and to manipulate him. He is told that he is weak because he is young and that he needs to be protected, both by his uncles and by the police. He manages, however, to keep his emotions well hidden in order to survive and to carry out his revenge.

Herefordshire, a place of the Odd

Borderlines approaches its final weekend now and whilst many have flocked for the big Hollywood hitters, some of the smaller events and screenings have captured audiences in the true rural spirit of the festival.

Last week on Tuesday and Wednesday the beautiful Moviebus (or vintage mobile cinema, as I prefer) in its gleaming ice-cream-esque colours parked up in High Town and Bodenham for two days of archive films.

Commissioned back in the day by Tony Benn, according to legend this is the last bus alive from the original fleet of seven created to show off projection technology.

Although Tuesday was a fairly murky day in High Town, over 100 passers-by had their day illuminated by a step into what’s surely Britain’s smallest cinema. Climbing up the tinny staircase, despite the setting of a bus you suddenly found yourself in a corridor of a cinema, complete with red velvet seating and some art deco lamp shades. I sat down and was soon melting into the chair in utter, relaxed bliss. Such tranquillity may have a lot to do with the calming archive films, which featured black and white documentaries on hops, a visit to Henry Weston's farm in Much Marcle and a sight at the now decommissioned Rosie press roller, responsible for the infamous Old Rosie Cider. However the highlight was a true dose of Herefordshire batty magic. My first commentary on Borderlines used this adjective, 'batty', in describing Leominster's Morrisers following their Friday performance, Coming Out of the Woodshed. I admit I used the word with a degree of hesitation and trepidation. However batty, meaning insane, crazy, eccentric, remains the most succinct word.

The Moviebus reinforced this idea of Herefordshire being a place with its fair share of batty people, ideas, customs and traditions. This was fully evident during my final 10 minutes with the Moviebus as we took a trip to Leominster and Bodenham with a posh yet likeable BBC presenter. Our first experience was in England's Gate pub in Bodenham, the destination where the bus would coincidently park up at the following day. Despite the gorgeous June weather the presenter set foot inside the pub to be confronted by a mass of Christmas decorations, festive greetings and an obligatory glass of mulled wine. The raucous bunch of locals amused themselves considerably as they roared over enthusiastic Christmas greetings with strawberries, cream and the English summer only a window away. After a hard financial year sometime in the seventies the landlord had decided to celebrate Christmas everyday and insisted his regulars followed suit. Judging from this scene they took little persuasion.

It got even odder. Our second encounter took us up the A49 where we arrived in a council house in Leominster, but by now it was dusk and the moon was full. Our nameless presenter continued his chatty charm and greeted the mother of the house. ''We've come to meet your family,'' beamed the BBCite as her first son ran out the door. Having memorised their names he pronounced each one, with 6 sons and 2 daughters running out one by one....... all clad tip to toe in Planet of the Apes garb. And we're talking the full hog. The masks, the hair, the armour, the weapons; everything. Pointing at the full moon, she explained they always do this at this time of the month. This was interrupted by the realisation of a missing chimp, her other son. With some dodgy acting as those on camera scoured adjacent gardens the camera panned up to reveal the final ape scrambling on the roof and eating the television aerial. We stayed with the apes who then took us to the pub, each ordering a pint and remaining in full character and costume until it was time to drink their ale.

I left the bus happy as Larry and arriving in Bodenham the following day I even had to peer through the window to check if the Christmas decorations were still up. They'd long gone.

Luke Owen

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Benda Bilili!

The audience in the Courtyard's studio theatre was enthralled by the sheer courage and tenacity of the musicians featured in the French documentary Benda Bilili. The film crew followed Staff Benda Bilili over a period of years - helping them to record an album and eventually filming them on their European tour. Most of the musicians were disabled - several as a result of childhood polio - all were living either in a housing shelter or on sheets of cardboard on the street. The music they wrote and performed had us all tapping our feet and smiling - from their early rehearsals in the sparsely populated Zoological gardens to the music festivals on their European tour.

The lyrics of their songs were based on the reality of their lives. A plea for mothers to have their babies vaccinated against polio, a hope that one day the singer's luck will change and he will be able to buy a mattress.

The French documentary focussed on two interesting characters. Papa Ricky is the leader and protector of the group. He is lead singer and philosopher commenting when there is a devastating fire in the housing shelter "c'est la vie". Roger is an adolescent when he is introduced into the band. He produces beautiful sounds from a homemade instrument made from an empty tin, a piece of curved wood and a taut wire. At the start of the documentary the younger Roger has a hauntingly tragic expression in his eyes, but by the time he returns to the band as a young man he has the confidence of a true musician.

The film showed a way of life about which most of us in the West are entirely ignorant. Kinshasa a chaotic city peopled by numbers of people who scrape a living and exist on the edge of starvation, but who exhibit such joy and such wisdom. "Why does everybody want to go to Europe" wonders a ten year old boy to his friend "People risk death to go there".

The Borderlines audience, including my immediate neighbours, responded to the life enhancing qualities of Benda Belili and I believe we all came out feeling a little humbled in the face of such extraordinary courage.

Help with Uncle Boonmee

People have come out of the Tuesday afternoon screening perplexed and mystified by this strange film.

I don't know if it's any help but when I went to see it at Ludlow Assembly Rooms the friend I was with quoted the following lines from  the beginning of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land (The Burial of the Dead):
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),   
And I will show you something different from either 
Your shadow at morning striding behind you  
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

Sunday 3 April 2011

Under Open Skies finalists' films screening this week


Some fabulous films, amateur and professional, compete for our awards for documentaries on Britain's natural world and Saturday

Friday 1 April 2011

Bucolic joys of Borderlines

Apart from the nine films showing at the Courtyard today - filling both the studio theatre and the main theatre from 11a.m. - there are ten films being shown outside Hereford in towns such as Leominster, Ludlow and Presteigne and Village Halls in Bodenham, Bosbury, Dilwyn and Lingen. The geographical scope of the Borderlines FilmFest and the quality of the films on offer serve to make it a gift for all of us living in a beautiful, but remote part of the country. Children are not being neglected either. U rated films pop up on the Festival Diary schedule on most days - notably Despicable Me at Moccas Village Hall tomorrow evening at 6.30 and Ponyo on Sunday afternoon at Bedstone and Hopton Castle Village Hall. With so much film available on DVD it is heart-warming to see how many of us are joining the ranks of the Borderlines and showing up in person to experience cinema as an "audience" and as part of a community.