The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival (HippFest, est’d 2011) – Scotland’s first and only festival of silent cinema centred in Scotland’s oldest cinema. HippFest celebrates silent film and live music with an ambitious programme of rare or unique screenings, often accompanied by new commissions by established and emerging artists, premiered during HippFest and then touring across Scotland, the UK and internationally.The 11th Hippodrome Silent Film Festival (after the cancelled 10th edition in 2020), was delivered online for the first time.
The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival (HippFest, est’d 2011) – Scotland’s first and only festival of silent cinema centred in Scotland’s oldest cinema. HippFest celebrates silent film and live music with an ambitious programme of rare or unique screenings, often accompanied by new commissions by established and emerging artists, premiered during HippFest and then touring across Scotland, the UK and internationally. The Festival features opportunities for engagement and audience development through imaginative workshops, partnerships, talks, and pop-up satellite events at partner venues across the district.
The Festival’s long-term vision is to be Scotland’s principal commissioning and showcase festival for silent film and live music – centred in Scotland’s first and oldest cinema, connected and relevant to the local Bo’ness and Falkirk community, and reaching audiences from across Scotland, the UK and beyond.
Our Ethos is informed by the following:
An inclusive and a non-hierarchical approach to silent film
Exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary cinema experiences
Accessibility and diversity in all elements of delivery
The highest standards of presentation
A programme which fosters discovery and challenge
Productive partnerships between community, artists, and audiences
The Festival Aims echo the four strategic themes of Inspiring Active Lives, the culture and sport strategy for the area:
- Engage existing and new audiences for live music and for silent film.
- Increase opportunities for a wide range of audiences to experience the work of professional artists based in Scotland, the UK and beyond.
- Encourage and support artistic response through the films and traditions of the silent moving image.
- Strengthen the Festival’s nationwide reputation in the UK arts festivals calendar for high quality, ambitious programming, performances, and presentation.
- Stimulate numbers of visitors from outwith the area and develop the Hippodrome and Bo’ness as a destination for tourism, business, and cultural sectors.
- Celebrate and engender pride in the unique identity of the Hippodrome as Scotland’s oldest cinema and a venue “where silent cinema is at home”.
- Inspire sustained audience loyalty to the Hippodrome.
- Strengthen partnerships with national and international silent film archive collections, curators, and professionals.
- Build on partnership engagement activity with local community and business groups.
- Provide learning and creative thinking opportunities in the area of silent film for young people of school age and FE and HE students.
- Develop platforms for cultural exchange with national and international festivals and cultural institutions.
Audiences for the Festival were drawn from across Scotland (56%), the rest of the UK (33%), Europe (4%), the USA (6%) and Canada (1%) with visitors spanning all generations and including first-timers alongside Hippodrome regulars and HippFest return visitors.
A total of 5,599 hours of content were streamed across the five days. All but four events had audiences which exceeded the maximum capacity of the Hippodrome, in some cases almost doubling it.
Gross box office income was £8,093, against a target of £6,000. The average ticket yield was £12.84. £349,521 (£2,395,669 2020) of media coverage was generated with a circulation figure of over 85M. This is an excellent result considering we were unable to have a traditional media launch or photo call.
Broadcast primetime news coverage of the Festival was achieved with Alison Strauss and Dr Trevor Griffiths (University of Edinburgh, Cuppa talk presenter) appearing on the 6.30pm BBC Scotland News programme on the day of launch.
32 industry professionals and musicians were involved in the presentation of the programme (not including New Found Sound young musicians from the junior and senior Falkirk Trad bands and Falkirk Youth Orchestra).
Increased year-round social media led to an average follower increase of 95% across our three most popular platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). A Facebook Hub was used to encourage audience engagement during the Festival with over 5,000 post reactions and 1,158 comments posted during March.
For the five-day Festival we sold one pass covering all Festival content which consisted of 10 shows with musical accompaniment; 2 illustrated talks; 2 virtual tours; a cookery workshop; 10 recorded introductions by the Festival Director from sites across the Bo’ness and Falkirk area together with guest-speaker introductions; 5 live Q&As; a silent film quiz; a chess tournament; and guest-curated Spotify playlists. We ran a pilot online screening on St Andrews Day 2020 of one feature (FILIBUS: THE MYSTERIOUS AIR PIRATE (1915) and five silent film events with live music in the Hippodrome in Sep and Oct 2021.
The films in the online HippFest programme were:
BODY AND SOUL (1925)
GRASS: A NATION’S BATTLE FOR LIFE (1925)
THE EAGLE (1925)
PRIX DE BEAUTE (1930)
DIE FRAU, NACH DER MAN SICH SEHNT (1929)
National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive shorts: LOG CABIN, SCHOOLBOY HOSTELLERS, ALL ON A SUMMER'S DAY
CHESS FEVER (1925)
A KISS FROM MARY PICKFORD (1927)
• Local visitor attractions and businesses were involved as settings for filmed introductions including the town’s independent book shop, pub, town hall and heritage steam railway, The Kelpies, Falkirk Wheel and Blackness Castle.
• Linlithgow Distillery offered passholders a discount and provided Lin Gin to Silver Screen Suppers for use in the workshop (Mary Pickford cocktail). They created a ‘Fifth Mary’ cocktail video tutorial for social media.
• Cultural programme partners were the Goethe-Institut Glasgow and Mary Pickford Foundation who supported the world premiere of their new restoration of SPARROWS
• INDY Cinema Group was key as the Shift 72 platform host whilst Into Film gave in-kind support.
Budget in brief
Total budget for HippFest 2021 (including the 5 day Festival plus year-round activity) was originally projected – pre-pandemic – at £175,013 (£137,635 cash + £37,378 in-kind). The revised budget for HippFest 2021 was £129,707 (£101,657 cash + £28,050 in-kind).
Core funding to support HippFest 2021 was in place, further to a 2 year funding award from Screen Scotland Festivals Fund (2nd year @ £57k), a 3 year award from Film Hub Scotland / BFI Audiences Network (£8k per year), and a commitment from the Falkirk Community Trust Arts budget (£12k).
Several anticipated sources of match income were not available to us because of the effects of the pandemic and the period of staff furlough. Nonetheless additional funding, totalling £8,550, was secured between December 2020 and March 2021 from the Scottish Events Recovery Fund (Event Scotland), Goethe Insitut Glasgow, British Association for American Studies / US Embassy and Bells Gives Back (Diageo).
The cash subsidy per head including 5-day Festival, pilot in Nov 2020 and live events in Autumn 2021 was £52.35
The HippFest programme and overall online execution of the Festival was exceptionally well-received with overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences, stakeholders and partners. Customers consistently noted the quality of the content, the wealth of extras provided (e.g. programme notes and Q&As) and particularly emphasised the genuine ‘festival’ feel, the friendliness and inclusivity of the Festival in a digital world.
The viewing experience seems to have been positive overall, with the majority of people finding the streaming straightforward, uninterrupted, and of a high quality. Those who did mention having any issues said that they were dealt with quickly and to their satisfaction.
Moving online allowed us to include participants from the United States including Cari Beauchamp and the Mary Pickford Foundation (California/SPARROWS), The Graves Brothers (California/SPARROWS), Prof Wycliffe Gordon (Georgia/BODY & SOUL), and Prof Charles Musser (Yale/BODY & SOUL).
The online delivery also allowed us to build on the D/deaf accessibility provision of previous years, with all pre-recorded content being captioned and the live aspects (apart from the quiz) having BSL interpretation and live subtitling.
The Festival achieved wide-spread media coverage including BBC TV Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland Afternoon Show with Grant Stott, Classic FM, Sight and Sound International Film Magazine, The Times, The Scotsman, The Sunday Post plus local press and radio. Several of the events were reviewed in on-line blogs.
Our Social Media Campaign also succeeded in widening the reach of the Festival and boosting engagement with HippFest across all platforms. Facebook followers in April 2021 were up by 12% from April 2020. Twitter followers were at 1,349 with 140 new followers in the two months following the Festival, and during March alone HippFest was mentioned in posts 283 times - an average of 9 times a day. Instagram followers are at834, gaining 120 followers since March 2021.
A significant part of social media activity was the creation and management of the virtual ‘HippFest Hub’, a closed Facebook group only for passholders. HippFest attendees were invited to join this Group as a space to discuss the programme and mingle. This group attracted 230 members, providing a space for participants to share their festival experiences, and also provided an overflow space for Q&A guests to engage directly with audiences. One of the most-engaged-with audience member posts accumulated 111 comments in one thread. Within this group there were in total over 5,000 post reactions and 1,145 posted comments during the 5 days.
Thanks to negotiating to licence films for viewing in the UK, Europe and North America (including USA and Canada) we were able to reach significant numbers of new international audiences.
The move online has entailed accumulation of HippFest digital content that has been uploaded to the Festival web pages (programme notes, recorded Q&As, playlists) providing a year-round resource and further enhancing the Festival’s legacy.
What has been difficult
Passes were sold directly through INDY On Demand, not through the FCT Box Office. This streamlined the process for the customer but meant we were not able to capture anything other than headline data (location and number of views). Ideally we would not bypass our in-house box office as we want to avoid having two box office systems and to retain direct communications with the audience.
An issue with the Shift 72 platform design / interface meant that all films in the HippFest line-up showed as ‘Sold Out’ until they went live, as we were selling a pass and not individual tickets. This caused some confusion to customers and extra work for our team to communicate the messaging.
Several anticipated sources of match income were not available to us because of the effects of the pandemic and the period of staff furlough.
The Shift 72 platform was unable to host the live content we wanted to present to replicate the in-person HippFest atmosphere. To address this we used Zoom for our Q&As, the most familiar platform for the majority of our audience, with the webinar add-on affording the events an extra professional layer and facilitating the use of integrated live captioning and BSL interpretation. We used Facebook as the space where we could gather everyone together in a virtual ‘Hub’. Despite some drawbacks (a small minority who prefer not to use it and others who aren’t signed up at all) this was the most widely-recognised platform available for our purposes and one that we had trialled successfully with our pilot online screening events. Having to use multiple sites risked resulting in confusion for Festival-goers, so comprehensive How-To Guides were created and sign-posting from the Social Media Coordinator was effective.
A very, very small minority were frustrated by the 48 hour window but we found that this contributed significantly to the communal festival viewing atmosphere.
The platform required sales prices to be quoted in the currency of the purchaser so we had to guesstimate in advance what the rate of exchange would be.
What you would do differently if you did it again
Offer the option to purchase individual tickets as well as passes to avoid the ‘sold out’ message. The pricing model we used succeeded in widening our reach but is not sustainable as the box office yield was relatively low. However the pricing of the pass should remain keen to encourage ‘exploration’ of the programme beyond individuals’ comfort zone. We will need to carefully consider our pricing in the context of whatever venue capacity is imposed in 2022, with reference to the different value placed on the live versus the online experience, and on the market example of other similar festivals.
Package the introductions along with the films, instead of having them as separate options to watch. This would evidence our confidence in the quality of the offer and simplify the programme.
One of the licensors required that we set a ceiling on the number of views. In order to avoid people being taken unawares, logging on and finding the screening ‘full’, we asked people to request access to the film by a deadline 2 days prior to the streaming going live, keeping a guest list of people who could have the title added to ‘their bundle’. This caused a lot of extra work, responding to emails and managing the tech at the back end. Ultimately the ceiling was not reached but some people were disappointed having failed to sign up before the deadline. We had to rely on INDY to do the necessary bundle additions. They were very flexible but it was frustrating not being able to action this directly. Now that we have a better idea of likely take up we could have more confidence negotiating the ceiling number of views to a figure that would obviate having to keep a guest list.
The online edition enabled HippFest to extend its reach to a wider geographical area and the move online succeeded in attracting a high number of new audience members. However there is still an appetite for us to get ‘back to normal’ as, although we delivered the best online experience we could, the majority felt it was not a substitute for the live version. Moreover an online Festival involves as much work as a live Festival, but in different ways and needing different skills. A larger team and more resources would be required for a hybrid Festival as it wouldn’t be possible for one team to do everything successfully.
Awareness / Attitudes
The programme curation, programme notes, Q&As and post-screening discussions amongst audiences online explored issues of race, violence against women, cruelty to children and the way of life of life of the migrating Bakhtiari tribe.
- “The talk about the Spanish Flu Pandemic, the social conscience and sheer emotional impact of Sparrows, the meditation on Silents and the nature of beauty and gender in Prix de Beaute, the human relationship with nature in Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life were all enlightening, enjoyable and incredibly hopeful experiences.
- “I was particularly hit by the spectacle of Grass – it made me think of Sulla watching the Cimbri and Teutones on the move – and seeing Valentino in the Eagle at leats made me appreciate what a great actor of the face he was. I am still in a swisher about Paul Robeson and the portrayal of Black Americans in Body and Soul.”
- “By far, the documentary Grass was my favourite of all the films watched- what a unique insight to such an historic event. “
- “And ‘Sparrows’ got me reading more about Mary Pickford on social reform.”
- “Grass was a fantastic discovery, and I loved sharing information and experiences on the Facebook hub page”
We built on the work done in previous Festivals to ensure that online content was as accessible as possible to those who are D/deaf or hard-of-hearing. Matchbox Cineclub were engaged to caption all of the pre-recorded material (talks, introductions, workshop) with titles embedded into the films. The live Q&As were subtitled through the backend of Zoom by AI Media and a BSL interpreter from Just Sign was visible on screen. We ensured clear communication of this provision and advertised this to the D/deaf community.
- “Fully accessible and brilliant fun”
- “It makes such a difference to make something accessible with captions and BSL interpreter on a subject I’ve always avoided as I thought I wouldn’t understand what was going on because of my hearing, so it was great to learn about and be part of something new.”
- “I liked the inclusive nature of Hippfest, the welcome to each new day of the programme was conveyed with warmth and during each Q&A session the host carefully invited each of the speakers onto the discussion and gave equal opportunity for contributions as well as integrating questions from the audience as well as her own topic ideas.”
- “I thought the films were well chosen and q&as were the right length and very inclusive.”
Young People were reached as active participants (composer, conductor, performer) in New Found Sound. Only 2% of survey respondents were under 30 years so we don’t have much data or qualitative for this focus area.
Knowledge & Experience
The new work created for HippFest added to the cultural menu of activity to be accessed by other exhibitors, venues and festivals. The Q&As, introduction, tours, talks and programme notes enhanced audience understanding and developed knowledge. The discussions with musicians and archivists increased audience understanding and appreciation of music for silent film and film preservation/restoration.
- “It was great to experience new cinema, the q&a’s/intros were very important to me as a silent cinema novice. The films were wonderfully varied, and I watched some big name actors for the first time and loved the chance to do that. It felt a very special and exciting experience.”
- “The right scale, not too many films to fit into the day, with good information on the films in the introductions or the programme notes. Thank you!”
- “Programme notes were very informative. I learnt a lot about the early Hollywood period and the life of Mary Pickford. Well done!”
- “Underground was terrific, and the introduction was informative, well-researched for the specific audience, and really whetted one’s appetite for the film. The Q&A was really interesting and enjoyable as well.”
The programme celebrated and elicited pride in cultural heritage of the local area and Scotland. Content included: Behind the Scenes Tour of the Hippodrome, Architect Matthew Steele Tour of Bo’ness, Talk on Scottish silent screen star Billie Ritchie in Hollywood and shorts from the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive. Audiences who engaged fully with the programme experienced reduced feelings of isolation during the pandemic and meaningful, rewarding experiences.
- “We loved the festival – brilliantly executed – the Q&A sessions were particularly good. It was so nice to engage with members of the audience on Facebook because it made us feel part of the community, so important in these unusual times we are experiencing. The music was sensational throughout.”
- “The hub I loved – made me feel like I was at an actual festival, in fact I interacted more with others than I do face to face at my local annual film festival!”
- “Very well organised, the festival retained as much of the friendly community feeling of the in-person festival as was possible under the circumstances.”
Audiences reported how high levels of enjoyment from watching the programme, participating in the online activity and being part of the online community. Freelance musicians were relieved to be contracted to perform after months of financial insecurity without work and felt fulfilled by the opportunity to perform for audiences again.
- “A silver lining during the pandemic.”
- “Most enriching 5 days since Covid started.”
- “so uplifting and hopeful”
- “Just wanted so say thanks for a lovely experience tonight. I am blown away by the possibility that 600 people might have seen the film tonight. This film gave Frame an opportunity to really develop our work together and I’m so happy that what we aimed for seems to have come through to the audience.”
- “I am feeling truly grateful and moved by the Zoom conversation yesterday evening, and the wonderful opportunity to play for so many people! It felt truly special and personal despite the virtuality of the event.”
- “We shared with another household online simultaneously watching some of the films and meeting in the virtual bar beforehand and this along with the introductions organised by HippFest gave a genuine Festival feel.”
- “Having access to the best musicians and silent films in lockdown is such a blessing and more than entertainment- hugely thankful to everyone involved and for the consistently excellent curation.”
The introductions filmed at local visitor attractions enhanced appreciation of the area for both those living further afield and more locally, and fostered an appetite to visit for the first time or to explore the district more thoroughly. The partnership with local small business: Linlithgow Distillery, boosted sales to new customers.
- “I got a real sense of the town and the people involved. I live overseas so attending in person every year is not likely. However, the online fest made me extra determined to attend in the future.”
- “Wonderful intro also to Scotland’s tourist attractions”
- “I thought that the introductions to the features, from the director and her special guests, were excellent and, given the locations chosen, a great introduction to some of the other cultural and historical reasons for making a ‘real’ visit in future!”
- “Intros were very helpful in providing context for films I knew nothing about and were short enough not to get in the way of the films. Also enjoyed the general intro for all films, good to get some tourist information info as Bo’ness is a wee bit of a trek for us so now we know how to make a day of it.”
What audiences said
“This was the absolute best experience from beginning to end. I loved the film introductions: they were warm, and personal, gave me a real sense of what it might be like to attend in person there in Bo'ness. The Facebook group created a real sense of community. I've attended several other online film festivals, including Pordenone, and this was by far my favourite.”
“Fun, innovative, totally different to other festivals.”
“I did Pordenone online recently. Both great festivals. If forced to rate then Hippfest had the edge!”
“Best online event of the year, no contest.”
“This year allowed a greater access to the programme as well as more insight into the films, the local area and the work by the composers. It was also loads of fun with Facebook proving a great way of connecting the audience.”
“I've viewed a number of online events in the past year and this was the best in terms of quality of content, organisation and value for money.”
“Loved it! Hippfest is one of the most important and vital festivals in the country.”
“Attending the online HippFest was the cultural highlight of my year. It engaged me deeply over several days. The films were a revelation, the music wonderful, and the talks and Q & A sessions were accessible, entertaining, and deepened my understanding. The host from the Hippodrome was charming and facilitated discussions so well. All the technical aspects were very straightforward. I live a long way from Bo'ness so I have not had the opportunity before but this festival was an absolute delight and worth every penny.”
What professionals, press and partners said
“And huge congrats on such a beautifully assembled festival. You’ve done so much to make the online experience special. There’s so much care - for the films and the audience - in the way you’ve approached this.”
Jonny Best/Frame Ensemble musician
“I thought it went brilliantly… I guess the silver lining from the festival being online is that it raises the profile of the festival with people from overseas - I noticed a number of international visitors who had watched online this year… Thanks so much for putting on the festival, certainly for me and I imagine a lot of people it meant a lot to us.”
John Sweeney, musician
“Congrats to all. Just watched the Q and A after Sparrows and have to tip my hat to you… I know people here were excited to tune in – even with time difference – and friends in Toronto too”
Cari Beauchamp, author, historian, journalist, and documentary filmmaker.
“You and your staff put this together seamlessly, with so much original and high-end programming and beautiful marketing materials, all leading to an exciting and surprising festival!”
Elaina Friedrichsen, Director, Archive & Legacy, Mary Pickford Foundation
“I wanted to send huge congratulations to you and your team for a fantastic and enthralling event. … The introductions to the features keyed them in beautifully and we loved seeing you popping up in different locations! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of the FB group, and we also greatly enjoyed the Spotify playlists…. This has been a wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves in the event.... Best £20 I’ve spent in a very long time!”
Robert Livingston, Director Regional Screen Scotland
“We were delighted to provide the film for the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival… I very much enjoyed all the films I saw and think that Bo’ness Tourism needs to contract with you for more promotional videos because those were outstanding… Congrats to the whole team, even as we look forward to in-person events in our future!”
Mike Mashon, Head of Moving Image, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
“As we (hopefully) begin to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we’ll be returning to live performances with joy and relief – but we might also hope that the richness and effectiveness of all that’s been achieved online in the past year won’t be entirely left behind.”
- David Kettle, The Scotsman
“The screening is followed by a live Q&A session with Bryony and composer Neil Brand, whose masterful score, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, forms the musical accompaniment, which follows the action perfectly, rising and falling as the drama unfolds.”
- David White on Underground, ArtMag
“The impact of the 1918-1919 pandemic on cinemas in Scotland has been researched by Dr Trevor Griffiths, reader in economics and social history at Edinburgh University, who will share his findings at this month’s Hippodrome Silent Movie Festival, which will move online this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
- Alison Campsie, The Scotsman
“2021 sees HippFest make a triumphant return for its 10th anniversary celebration, with events going online for the first time. Running from Wednesday 17th till Sunday 21st March, the programme features a cocktail of curated favourites alongside obscure gems from the silent era of cinema, accompanied by music from stellar international talents. The new virtual format could attract a larger audience than those usually able to attend Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema in person, and should entice those curious about silent film to take a punt.”
- Lindsay Corr, Snack Mag
“This time last year, the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival (aka HippFest) was gearing up to celebrate its tenth edition but of course, that could not happen thanks to… well, you know why. Twelve months later the festival is having another crack at celebrating this milestone with a refreshed programme that will take this celebration of silent cinema online.”
- Jamie Dunn, The Skinny
“Scheduled for what now feel like the notorious dates of 18 to 22 March 2020, last year’s outing of Bo’ness’s Hippodrome Silent Film Festival – or HippFest, as it’s affectionately known – was one of the first artistic casualties of Covid-19. […] All the more heartbreaking, in fact, because 2020 would have been the festival’s tenth anniversary. Inspired by its home venue – Bo’ness’s elegant 1912 Hippodrome cinema – HippFest has been bringing together little-known silent movies with some of the world’s top live accompanists – as well as commissioning new scores from others fresh to the genre – to increasingly large and enthusiastic audiences.”
- David Kettle, The Scotsman
“Since it was refurbished and reopened in 2009, architect Matthew Steele’s 1912 cinema – the country’s oldest purpose-built picture house – has found a new life showing new and classic films. It has also established itself as a key venue for early cinema with its annual Silent Film Festival. Like so many arts venues, it had a difficult year in 2020, but hopefully 2021 will see it return to normality. When it reopens and we can all travel again, it’s really well worth a visit. To be fair, leg room is a bit tight, but the welcome will be warm. Sight and Sound magazine, no less, said of the Hippodrome, “if a cinema could give you a hug this is what it would feel like.””
- Teddy Jamieson, The Herald