Bradford, City Of Film… Really?

I spat out my coffee when I heard Bradford had been named UNESCO’s City of Film, looking out the window to see if it had transformed overnight into a Yorkshire version of celluloid perfection – whippets with breast implants, frozen-faced farmers with flowing blonde locks, red carpets over the cobbles (not that I ever see whippets, farmers or cobbles). But no, nothing new.

Maybe they meant ‘in Yorkshire’, or even ‘in Bradford’, rather than ‘in the world’. I went down to the press conference to have a look. It was true, the mayor had his best bling on and everything.
And it turns out that if I’d been paying attention instead of throwing popcorn around, there shouldn’t have been any real surprise.

(Corporate video alert – this is the bid vid)

Like all the Bradford kids, I got blasé about the fact that we’ve got three of the best cinema screens in Europe. Once we’d been to see our first giant IMAX film on a school trip, we labelled the place ‘educational’ because it was designed – not for holding huge vats of sticky liquid and grunting Burberry throughout Jim Carey’s facial contortions – but for doing justice to decent films.

Plus there’s something about visiting a place with teachers and learning about forestry from a 50ft beaver that rules it out as a leisure activity, so we all went to Cineworld instead.

This year was the 15th annual Bradford International Film Festival. The previous 14 having bypassed me, I went along to give it a go. In 14 days I saw at least 18 films, 15 of which I’d see again. That’s pretty good considering I can barely manage ten minutes of Jim Carey’s face.

The best music-related stuff was by Peter Whitehead – the now white-haired filmmaker whose 60s gonzo efforts spawned every shakycam documentary, mockumentary and (as he reminded us a lot) MTV itself. It could have been made last week, it’s still so alive, covering music, celebrity, art, protests and fashion in a fly-on-the-wall way that was groundbreaking at the time. Particularly with a camera the size of an actual wall.

There’s a three-part interview with him here, which is good stuff:

He filmed interviews with Mick Jagger, David Hockney and Michael Caine that any publicist would have shat a brick about, as well Pink Floyd and the Stones’ first music videos, before music videos even existed. And then he disappeared to the desert for 20 years to breed falcons – as you do – leaving his daughter Robin to join the family business, filming ‘The Road To Albion’ with Pete Doherty. Dad and daughter came along to the festival to pick up an award, as did Slumdog Millionaire/Full Monty Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy.
It was much more fun, and far less beard-strokey, than expected.

We’re used to the fact that a lot of film and TV was and is shot in and around Bradford – Yanks, The Railway Children, Billy Liar, The Meaning of Life, Red Riding, Fairytale, Calendar Girls, and Rita, Sue and Bob Too (that last one is by far the best) – those are the ones I’ve actually seen, anyway.

A lot of this is logistical. Bradford is deceptive in that the city centre itself is a miniscule part of it, the rest being towns and villages with very different personalities and appearances, joined by expanses of countryside that all add up to one very versatile film location for minimal petrol (production companies like that). There’s no typical Bradford house – everything seems to have been tried here, from sixties concrete boxes to period townhouses to industrial terraces and shiny conversions – and there’s no typical person to live in them. The demographic is basically wide open.

Steve Abbott – Monty Python manager, film producer, and owner of amazing hair – said that when he worked around Bradford, he had to bring barely any crew with him from London, because there are so many here already. That was news to me, but now I think about it, there are an unusually large number of indie companies around here offering music videos.

This is a tiny part of an interview with Simon Beaufoy about Bradford that was quickly knocked together for the blog, excuse my overuse of the word ‘obviously’ (which you probably wouldn’t have noticed before I pointed it out):

Simon Beaufoy talked about it being a great place for a writer to grow up, because of all the confused cultures that were plonked together in one place a couple of generations ago, and all the pluses and problems that brings. And he’s right, whatever you think of the place, there’s rich, poor, old, new, urban, rural, beautiful, ugly, hills, valleys, black, white, and everything inbetween – it’s a world in one place.

So it’s certainly A city of film, above anything else, and far more than I realised. But THE City of Film, in the whole world? I don’t know. We’ll probably have to wait a few years to find out.

The best thing about Bradford, though, when it comes to film, is that it’s the antithesis of Hollywood, a place that makes movies, full of movie stars, and which has come to mean generic, unrealistic, shallow and impossibly beautiful. In comparison, Bradford is better for being none of these. It’s unassuming, natural and versatile, not concerned with publicity, and can do pretty much anything that’s asked of it – it’s the perfect character actor. Hopefully it won’t change too much because implants don’t suit whippets, just look at Lyndsay Lohan.