The History of
Cambridge Film Festival
Just a few of the many highlights from the past couple of decades!
In 1977 the first Festival set the pattern for innovation, diversity and the emphasis on world cinema, with screenings of Kurosawa's DODESKA-DEN, Visconti's CONVERSATION PIECE and Rosi's ILLUSTRIOUS CORPSES.
Originally based at the much loved single-screen Arts Cinema in Cambridge city centre's Market Passage, the Festival quickly developed from modest beginnings to become an important date in the international film festival calendar which would draw broad audiences from across the region and beyond. The Festival was originally conceived with a two-fold purpose: as a means of screening the very best of current international cinema; and to rediscover important but neglected film-makers and their films, which were either out of distribution or unseen for many years.
In 2010, Take One journalist David Perilli, interviewed original programmer David Jakes about what the very first festival was like.
David Perilli: "How did you make the festival happen?"
David Jakes: "Obviously there was a market for arthouse films and of course you had lots of French, German and Spanish students. They had that culture of cinema, particularly in France, so there was an audience there. The Union Society itself was a meeting place for foreign students from all over the world. I could see that if I showed a film I could get an audience.
At the time the Arts Cinema was being run by a man named Eddie Block, and a girl whose name was Clare Holtham. She was the person who did all the background stuff in the cinema and I mentioned to her this idea and she said go and have a word with Eddie Block. He seemed interested but he wasn’t going to do it himself. So he said ‘you’ do it and start booking it, which is what I did.
I started booking the films and he gave us a few weeks. Obviously I didn’t have the experience of the distributors and all that stuff. So between us we got that first film festival put together."
The second Cambridge Film Festival in 1978 hosted the UK Premiere of THE CHESS PLAYERS. It was the centrepiece of a Satyajit Ray retrospective and marks the establishment of the Retrospective Strand.
The Retrospective strand is one of the most popular strands that is still used in the Festival programme to this day and has since highlighted and celebrated the work of filmmakers such as: Ingrid Bergman, Buster Keaton, Richard Linklater and many, many, more!
The programme also included Rudolph's WELCOME TO LA, Jarman's JUBILEE and HARLAN COUNTY, USA.
The third Cambridge Film Festival in 1979 included the premieres of Ingmar Bergman's AUTUMN SONATA, Herzog's NOSFERATU and Altman's A WEDDING.
1979 also featured a Retrospective on the Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda.
At the fourth Festival in 1980, audiences saw the UK Premieres of Petit's RADIO ON, Roeg's BAD TIMING and Loach's BLACK JACK.
1981 marked the 5th Festival, and the first Festival with current Festival Director, Tony Jones, at the helm.
Tony first became involved in cinema programming in 1968 when he founded the Arts Lab, an independent venue in Birmingham. Twelve years later he became programming manager for the Arts Cinema in Market Passage, which he built up to become the UK's highest-grossing single-screen venue outside of London. Alongside this, Tony co-founded City Screen Limited (Picturehouse Cinemas) in 1989 with Lyn Goleby. They went on to open the current Festival main venue, Arts Picture House, in St Andrews Street. In December 2012, Cineworld purchased the Picturehouse chain, a fitting point for Tony to retire, but he has remained the driving force behind Cambridge Film Festival ever since his initial involvement in 1981.
The Festival in 1981 screened a newly restored version of Gance’s NAPOLEON, alongside a Bertrand Tavernier retrospective. It was also the first year to have 'away' screenings at the Arts Theatre in St Edward's Passage.
1982 saw a general widening of the Festival programme and hosted the UK Premiere of another Werner Herzog film, FITZCARRALDO.
In 1983, the 7th Festival hosted the Premiere Sayles' LIANNA.
The Retrospective Strand was focused on Indian filmmaker Mrinal Sen.
In 1984, at the 8th Festival, Wim Wenders was in attendance to present his film PARIS, TEXAS.
This year had support from the Eastern Arts Association for the first time, allowing for more films to be programmed.
For the Retrospective Strand, the work of Volker Schlondorff was highlighted.
At the 9th Cambridge Film Festival Francesco Rosi introduced CARMEN to audiences as part of his retrospective.
A second retrospective strand on Percy Adlon was also featured that year.
At the 10th Festival in 1986 we screened a new print of Powell and Pressburger's GONE TO EARTH.
Other screenings that year included Mona Lisa, directed by Neil Jordan, and the film and TV work of David Hare.
In 1987 at the 11th CFF, Peter Greenaway presented THE BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT.
This was part of a 'Made in Britain' programme which also includes a John McGrath retrospective.
The 12th Festival in 1988 had Jean-Claude Carriere as a Festival guest.
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING was the centrepiece of a Philip Kaufman retrospective.
In 1989 there were retrospectives on Robert Bresson and Working Title.
There was also a tribute to John Cassavetes and a series of films to investigate the influence of Cahiers du Cinema, and Buster Keaton's SHERLOCK JNR.
At the 14th Festival, we screened a Woody Allen film for the 5th time. In 1990 it was the premiere of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANOURS.
The programme included a Pedro Almodovar Retrospective, and screenings of Malle’s MILOU IN MAY alongside Stillman’s METROPOLITAN.
At the 15th Festival, we screened Premieres of Scott's THELMA AND LOUISE and the Coen Brothers' BARTON FINK.
The retrospective in 1991 was of Monika Treut, a filmmaker who we've been lucky enough to have as our guest multiple times.
At the 16th Festival, there were the UK premieres of RESERVOIR DOGS and August's THE BEST INTENTIONS.
Bruce Beresford and Agnieszka Holland attended retrospectives of their work, and there was a tribute to BFI film production.
At the 17th Festival, Peter Greenaway attended the UK Premiere of THE BABY OF MACON.
Other titles included Sayles' PASSION FISH and Haas' THE MUSIC OF CHANCE.
At the 18th Cambridge Film Festival we hosted the premiere of the THREE COLOURS trilogy as part of the first ever full Kieslowski retrospective.
In 1995 at the 19th Festival, Jeunet and Caro attended the Premiere of THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN.
The Festival's centennial tribute to Buster Keaton contained his rarely seen final masterpieces THE CAMERMAN and SPITE MARRIAGE. Two other retrospectives celebrated Patricia Rozema and Lars von Trier.
At the 20th Festival, French critic Michel Ciment introduced a French programme which includes Audiard's A SELF-MADE HERO and Breillat's PARFAIT AMOUR.
Greenaway's THE PILLOW BOOK Premiered and retrospectives featured Jack Cardiff and Jan Jakub Kolski.
After the 20th Festival in 1996, the Festival took a few years off.
The first Cambridge Film Festival after the break and the 21st Festival featured free outdoor screenings on Parker's Piece of Toy Story 2 and Chicken Run.
2001 featured the premieres of SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, OTESANEK, BEIJING BICYCLE, BETELNUT BEAUTY, SWORDFISH, SCRATCH, THE ISLE & SW9.
Claude Lansmann attended the Premiere of SOBIBOR, & the Premiere of INTIMACY is the centrepiece of a Patrice Chereau retrospective.
Tribute was paid to the work of Timothy Spall & Ray Harryhausen, & the Children's Film Festival (now known as The Cambridge Family Film Festival) is launched with Premieres of CATS AND DOGS & FINAL FANTASY.
As part of 70mm Widescreen Weekends we screened 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE KING AND I, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, PATHFINDER, MY FAIR LADY, and VERTIGO.
The Festival launched with the UK Premiere of TALK TO HER and closed with the UK Premiere of David Cronenberg's SPIDER.
Other Premieres included BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, LOST IN LA MANCHA, GERRY, HEAVEN, and INTACTO. Alex Cox attended the Premiere of his REVENGERS TRAGEDY and Richard Harris makes one of his last public appearances at the UK Premiere of MY KINGDOM. Peter Wintonick attended a season of his work, and we hosted tributes to Milos Forman, Tod Browning and Lon Chaney, and Darius Mehrjui.
Amongst 50 UK Premieres we screened SPIRITED AWAY, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GOODBYE, LENIN!, TIME OF THE WOLF, ALL THE REAL GIRLS, BELLEVILLE RENDEZVOUS, WHALE RIDER and SPELLBOUND; Cate Blanchett and Joel Schumacher attended a special screening of VERONICA GUERIN, Jane Birkin presented MERCI DR REY, and Peter Greenaway attended the Premiere of his TULSE LUPER SUITCASES PART ONE: THE MOAB STORY. We hosted the first UK Film Parliament, and held an Alexander Dovzhenko retrospective.
2004 Highlights amongst the Festival's 47 UK premieres included STAGE BEAUTY, BEFORE SUNSET, SUPER SIZE ME, CLEAN, COMME UNE IMAGE, COFFEE AND CIGARETTES, RIDING GIANTS, Spike Lee's SHE HATE ME, and Robert Lepage's THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON.
The Festival brought scores of international film-makers to Cambridge: Sir Richard Eyre launched the Festival at our opening night presentation of STAGE BEAUTY; Julie Delpy presented the closing night screening of BEFORE SUNSET; and Robert Carradine introduced the UK premiere of Sam Fuller's THE BIG RED ONE: THE RECONSTRUCTION (and was so entranced by the Digital projection of the new version that he watched it twice!) Michael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton presented a special preview of CODE 46, author Jonathan Coe introduced a tribute to little-known British talent BS Johnson, and Jeremy Irons charmed the audience at the UK premiere of Zeffirelli's CALLAS FOREVER. Our special event A CRITICAL CONDITION: THE STATE OF FILM JOURNALISM IN THE UK stimulated a broad-ranging debate from an auspicious group of the UK's leading film critics and broadcasters including Mark Kermode, Jonathan Romney, Nick James, Charles Gant, Damon Wise, Nigel Floyd, and Karen Krizanovich.
A packed silver jubilee programme included UK Premieres of THE LAST MITTERAND; CRASH; BROKEN FLOWERS; Hayao Miyazaki's HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, introduced by the author of the film's source novel, Diana Wynne Jones; KING'S GAME; NIGHTWATCH; SARABAND; SILVER CITY (attended by director John Sayles); WITH BLOOD ON MY HANDS - PUSHER 2 introduced by director Nicolas Winding Refn, who also curated a season of film's that have influenced his work; GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE; ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM; ROCK SCHOOL; and FOREST FOR THE TREES, alongside a Studio Ghibli season and a retrospective for the Russian silent director Dziga Vertov.
Michael Winterbottom and producer Andrew Eaton attended for a surprise screening of their latest collaboration, and other Festival regulars Monika Treut and Peter Greenaway brought new work to the screen.
Sir Christopher Frayling was in town to talk about his book 'Once Upon a Time in Italy', while a one-day forum on the cultural overload brought some of the country's top film writers to the city. Speakers included: Jonathan Romney (The Independent on Sunday), Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian), Tim Robey (The Daily Telegraph), Nick James (Sight and Sound), Charles Gant (Heat), Peter Preston (The Guardian), Damon Wise (Empire), and Gareth Evans (Vertigo and Time Out).
The 26th Cambridge Film Festival was an incredible success with admissions higher than 17,000 and a record number of voters registered their reviews and ratings of Festival films online, producing a Top 20 list that included titles as diverse as SILENTIUM, GYPO and A SCANNER DARKLY and was topped by Audience Award Winner VOLVER. Two major additions to the Festival proved highly popular; an ambitious programme of free screenings introduced Artist’s Moving Image work to new viewers, and the daily Festival Podcasts were a huge hit. Featuring interviews with Festival guests, audience members and programmers the podcasts made high-quality film journalism available to anyone with Internet access, developing the Festival audience and demonstrating the CFF’s ongoing commitment to technological innovation.
Other Festival highlights included Luc Besson presenting ANGEL-A; Terry Gilliam discussing TIDELAND; Neil Brand and Gunther Buchwald accompanying THE OPEN ROAD; Mike Figgis discussing erotic cinema with Rowan Pelling (former editor of The Erotic Review); Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Stephen Fry mingling with guests at the open air screening of A COCK AND BULL STORY at one of the film’s principal locations, Felbrigg Hall near Cromer; Graham Fellows (aka John Shuttleworth) and photographer Martin Parr discussing IT’S NICE UP NORTH; Fred Kelemen with KRISANA; Damian Lewis with KEANE; a filmed introduction from Eric Khoo to BE WITH ME; and UK Premieres of A SCANNER DARKLY, ATOMISED, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, LEONARD COHEN: I’M YOUR MAN, THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, RENAISSANCE and 4.30.
The New German Cinema season and UK Focus brought many young film-makers to Cambridge and the Festival’s special seasons were strongly appreciated by both audiences and national press: PROJECTING BRITAIN: GOVERNMENT INFORMATION FILMS AND THE PIONEERS OF THE BRITISH DOCUMENTARY MOVEMENT celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Central Office of Information with a series of five programmes tracing the British documentary from the 1930′s to the present day, culminating with a discussion comparing this cinematic heritage with prospects for the future, led by Professor Ian Christie.
The first complete retrospective of BRUCE WEBER’S work in film included a short film made specially for the Festival as well as a live internet broadcast Q&A, using a high speed broadband link, projected on screen, in which Bruce Weber answered audience questions about his work, from his home in Long Island. THE BEST OF BAGHDAD showcased the re-emergence of Iraqi cinema with screenings and discussions featuring Iraqi film- makers and cultural commentators and received substantial coverage by The Times, The Independent, BBC4, Radio 4, Al-Jazeerah International and Sky News.
Launching the festival with style (with the kind support of the Austrian Film Museum) audiences enjoyed the rare opportunity to see Michael Nyman accompanying a programme of films including Dziga Vertov’s KINO PRAVDA 21 and Vigo’s A PROPOS DE NICE.
The festival in 2007 was strongly influenced by the unprecendented number of submissions which were received (over 800) including a spectacular range of UK and International shorts, features and documentaries, from which 8 programmes of the best in short film-making were compiled and 7 new features and 3 documentaries were added to theprogramme. Many of the film-makers travelled from as far afield as South Africa and Canada to present their UK premieres and Cambridge audiences took these films to their hearts, voting not only Seth Grossman’s THE ELEPHANT KING and Nino Leitner’s EVERY STEP YOU TAKE into the Audience Top Ten but also ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS: THE WAY OF THE TOSSER to the coveted People’s Favourite Film Award, following in the footsteps of previous winners, VOLVER (2006), BROKEN FLOWERS (2005) and STAGE BEAUTY (2004).
UK premieres included the opening night film LADY CHATTERLEY, ANNA M, THE WALKER and the latest film from Studio Ghibli, TALES FROM EARTHSEA. The festival closed with UK premieres of THE HOAX and THE 11TH HOUR. A season celebrating the best in New German cinema was once again curated by Monika Treut and eclectic shorts and documentaries including THE MAN WHO SHOT CHINATOWN and DELIVER US FROM EVIL contributed to the programme.
A particularly strong element of this year’s festival was our Cinecology season, highlighting the most interesting work inspired by all things eco. Also well received were classic revivals including Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL and THIEF OF BAGHDAD and the ever-popular MICROCINEMA strand featuring the UK premiere of acclaimed filmmaker Sarah Turner’s ECOLOGY. The History of Children’s Film and Television strand brought nostalgia and rediscovery with our festival Dalek thrown in for good measure. Adding charm to the corridors of the Arts, a very special exhibition of Harold Lloyd prints made the journey from LA, courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to compliment a revival of films fondly selected and introduced by Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd.
Highlights at partner venues included a performance by magnificent band Youth Movies at the Junction which had us all watching our favourite big screen kisses to a very contemporary live soundtrack. For the first time ever we also screened a selection of features and short films at the Curzon Soho in London during the festival.
The festival welcomed a whole host of filmmakers and acting talent to Cambridge from Croatia, Poland, Germany, France, Austria, Canada and the US and of course, the UK – Kenneth Branagh and Brian Blessed were here to charm audiences following AS YOU LIKE IT. Plus visits from French director Bruno Dumont (FLANDERS) and UK actor Ben Chaplin (CHROMOPHOBIA).
The response from the wider media was strong. With coverage and acclaim in, amongst others Time Out, The Independent, The Guardian and Empire who remarked that ‘the Cambridge Film Festival is one of the key screen events in the UK calendar’. In addition our local media partners were equally as enthusiastic with key coverage from The Cambridge Evening News (‘one of the premier events of the summer calendar’), Q103 Radio, BBC Cambridgeshire and the East Anglian Times (‘A film festival with something for everyone’).
Our brand new website, designed by local web company Studio24, was a big hit and 11,209 unique users made a total of 18,700 visits during the festival period and viewed 98,283 pages between them. 191 keen reviewers submitted 437 reviews of 126 festival films. Cambridge Film Festival also embraced Web 2.0 with RSS feeds for festival news and reviews, a Facebook group and even a YouTube channel for the festival, building on the podcasts and MySpace presence introduced in 2006.
In 2008 we opened with Walter Salles' Linha De Passe, and Tilda Swinton was one of our guests for the UK Premiere of Julia.
The Retrospective this year was on Derek Jarman: Remembered season, and we had Hey Negrita play a live set in Screen 1 after a screening of the documentary We Dreamed America. Peter Greenaway is shown at a Q&A for his film NIGHTWATCHING.
At the 29th Festival our surprise film was UP!
A collaboration with the Festival and BAFTA brought us: Michael Palin: A Life In Pictures where Mark Kermode interviewed Michael Palin in front of an audience of 900 people at Ely Cathedral.
David Mitchell and Robert Webb were joined by writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, previewing an episode from the new series of PEEP SHOW, showing clips of their favourite moments and taking the audience's questions.
In 2010 the closing night film was MADE IN DAGENHAM.
Festival regular and film music master Neil Brand stayed in Cambridge for an intimate workshop about creating music for film, and director Stephen Frears took part in a career retrospective, as well as discussing his latest film, Tamara Drew.
Also, The Dodge Brothers accompanied Neil Brand in soundtracking BEGGARS OF LIFE.
Paddy Considine visited Cambridge to present his directorial debut, Tyrannosaur and we opened in style with a special preview of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. In attendance were the director, Tomas Alfredson, screenwriter Peter Straughan, and two of the film's lead actors - Gary Oldman and John Hurt.
The centrepiece this year was season of a dozen Hitchcock films, stretching from his early silents to his peak period in the 50s and early 60s. Five of the most well-known titles – NORTH BY NORTHWEST, VERTIGO, PSYCHO, THE BIRDS and MARNIE – were shown in brand new digital prints.
As the great Italian director Francesco Rosi celebrated his 90th birthday, we presented a short review of a remarkable career.
The 33rd Festival hosted the UK Premier of Woody Allen's 'Blue Jasmine' and also screened Deadcat directed by Stefan Georgiou. Alongside his filmmaking, Stefan is currently one of the judges for Short Reel, the Student Filmmaker Award which has the winning film screen as part of the Festival each year.
A highlight of the 2014 programme was the Retro-3D strand.
Many people unfairly portray the 3-D from the ‘50s as being of inferior quality to the current systems. Actually, those films were released in polarised systems with two 35mm prints running simultaneously on interlocked projectors. The system was more complex than flat projection and if there were errors then headaches were sure to follow, but when properly done the resulting images were amazing. The fact that it was rather expensive and technically complex, coupled with the arrival of Cinemascope, meant that its lifespan was short. We were left with some interesting films that showed the thrill that directors and producers experienced when having a new format for their films and so in 2014 we screened digital restorations of some classic 3D including HOUSE OF WAX, and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.
2014 also saw the launch of Short Reel an award for student filmmakers in eastern and central England, launched by the Arts Film Club in association with the Cambridge Film Festival.
The Arts Film Club was formed in 2010 by a group of Cambridge film enthusiasts, to encourage an informal, friendly community of film lovers, who could socialise regularly while also exploring together some of the cinematic gems on offer at the Arts Picturehouse.
A highlight of 2015 was a very special programme created for Cambridge. We celebrated 40 years of BBC's Arena - the highly influential and respected arts programme - with a 24 hour continuous programme.
What really happened during Shakespeare’s ‘Lost Years’? Could it be that after over 400 years the team behind the hit CBBC show Horrible Histories have the answer? A story of murderous kings, spies, lost loves, and a plot to blow up Queen Elizabeth I was apparently keeping Bill Shakespeare busy in the years before he became Britain’s best known playwright. Family drama of the best kind - one that can genuinely be enjoyed by all the family. At the 35th Festival we had the World Premiere of BILL with the cast in attendance!
At the 36th Festival we opened with I, DANIEL BLAKE with a Q&A with the lead actor Dave Johns.
We teamed up with Cambridge Live to present a specially curated film night celebrating Syd Barrett including archival music promos and documentaries featuring classic sixties performances as well as the UK premiere of Get All That Ant?, a free form documentary made by Barrett’s former school friend and fellow art student, Anthony Stern, featuring unique documentary footage and images of the 60s that have never been seen before.
We struck a new programming strand with the Korean Cultural Centre and screened THE HANDMAIDEN, TRAIN TO BUSAN, and THE BACCHUS LADY.
At the 37th Festival we opened with BATTLE OF THE SEXES.
At the 38th Cambridge Film Festival we opened with THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE and director Terry Gilliam surprised audiences with a Q&A. A new daytime price of £6 for everyone was introduced as another step towards making the Festival more accessible to everyone, giving people the opportunity to watch and enjoy more.
What are your favourite memories from the last 40 years? Get in touch and let us know!
If you have any memories, photos or stories of your own that you would like to share, then we'd love for you to get in touch!