Whitley Bay Film Festival. 19th-28th August 2011


Now the dust has settled, and I’ve cleared my desk of that annoying work thing, that we have to do, in order to put food on the table, I thought it would be a good time to write up a little résumé of the recent Whitley Bay Film Festival. You may recall we attended last year’s “Jaws On The Beach” event, which was not only a fantastic cinematic experience, for the 200 or so, people lucky enough to get tickets, but also a remarkable logistical exercise, organising a one show, marquee’d event on the beach between tides.  We genuinely hoped the organisers, Primate Productions, hadn’t peaked too early. I mean, surely…that was gonna take some beating!

But… you know what? I think they just might of topped it!

An ambitious 10 day programme lay ahead of us, from the festival newcomers , heavily reliant  on volunteers and infectious nervous energy. And like most festivals, it was  impossible to attend everything.  Actually a lot of the events were sold out, so actually, some were impossible to attend. Let me just mention too, 90 percent of the films screened are readily available at your local Blockbuster. In fact you’ve probably got some of them in your personal DVD collections. But that is not the point my friends. These Films, were all meant to be shown, in a dark room, on a big screen to an audience. (Preferably gorging their faces with popcorn,) Just as the Director intended. Not on a laptop or the back of a car headrest or a smartphone. Nope. A big F. Off screen, that dominates your senses and where you can lose yourself for a couple of hours in the magic of cinema.

We started out with Quadrophenia, accompanied by a Scooter Rally, in the saving grace of South Parade, The Trojan Rooms. A choice of two simultaneous screens too, with either formal or informal (cabaret style, they call it!) seating arrangements. We went posh, mostly cos we had pints. Audience participation was great. A lot of people love this film and obviously know it word for word. “Bell Boyyyy!!!”

Just down the street  “Arthouses” also kicked off. A community art project, covering a number of properties within a three street radius, screening short, artist made films, shown in a variety of obscure locations. Gardens, sheds, windows, bird boxes even a caravan and an ice cream truck!

Over the next few days the main film festival screened an eclectic mix of Community and Independent  Short films, as well as archive home movie footage of the town and a Super Eight cine night.  There was also a “secret cinema”, which we couldn’t get to, that turned out to be the Kubrick classic “The Shining”, screened in The Rex Hotel.

Monday though, and we were off to the lighthouse, which was decked out in blue flags, especially for the occasion, to watch “The Goonies” a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, stuffing our faces with Delaval Ices’ ice cream and freshly made Popcorn, in a great location. We even went rock-pooling afterwards. No wonder it sold out so quickly. Now later that same day… well… night, they screened “The Fog”… this was apparently the fastest selling event at this year’s festival. We couldn’t get anywhere near tickets, but this review here … makes it sound brilliant.

We picked up another couple of films at the Trojan Rooms, the fabulous “ET”, (complete with some woman bawling her eyes out.) and “Flushed Away.” However the highlight for me was the transformation of the Spanish City Dome into probably the best cinema I’ve ever been to.  This building means so much to people, remember last year’s “Heritage Open Days?”… 12000 people queuing, round the block, to get into the Dome, for the first time in 10 years. It’s still a building site of course. The outside had a lick of white paint, (and some hideous false windows) and some areas were made safe enough for limited public access, but in essence, it’s still a derelict building full of dead pigeons. However… for four magical days, it was transformed. Congratulations to the team that managed to pull this off, because it truly was a glimpse of what could be done with a bit of hardwork and imagination. And people flooded in too. For four nights the Dome came alive again, being put to the use it was always intended for; entertaining people. Flags adorned the roof, the ground floor milled with people stocking up on popcorn or sweets, or just relaxing with a drink while they waited for their movie. We went upstairs, past back lit yellow screens, into the magnificent hundred year old dome, and… a fitting, hundred seaside deckchairs fanned out in front of, what must have been a 40 foot screen, complete with a bank of speakers. The walls were backlit red, blue and yellow and the place was full of giant plants and flowers. We saw two films in the Dome “An American Werewolf in London” and the 1933 treat that is “King Kong.” Kong on the big screen, in the Dome. God knows what the combination of private developer and a Christian charity will do with this magnificent building, but it surely can’t be better than King Kong.

Other sell out shows, at the Dome were Dirty Dancing and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, (review here) as well as The Ladykillers, Dracula and a Sci-Fi double header, featuring our old friends Coastadelic.

There’s something about the WBFF that makes me think it can do anything. It’s truly heart warming to see a group of friends, fighting against the odds and trying to put something positive back into this crumbling seaside town, who’s main attraction appears to be a 200 yard,  vomit strewn strip, of bars.

For a few weeks we got a glimpse of what this town could be, if it pulled in the same direction, and I for one, was genuinely saddened when it was all over.




By Dave on September 12, 2011

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