Black knights, carnivorous rabbits, sharks, the knights who say ‘Ni!’ and hot tubs… Film Critic Tony Earnshaw looks forward to the Sneaky Film Experience.
Americans of a certain age who lament the death of the drive-in might enjoy the phenomenon of pop-up cinema that has swept the UK in recent years.
And it doesn’t have to be just crowd-pleasers like Mamma Mia! and Bullitt on massive outdoor screens or sing-a-long versions of Grease, The Sound of Music or The Wicker Man.
For just as the drive-in lives on in scattered locations across the British Isles so the concept of the pop-up film event has been growing in scope and appeal.
This month Bruce the shark (the star of Jaws) will rub fins with King Arthur and his men (in the guise of the Monty Python gang) as Leeds hosts the Sneaky Film Experience at venues across the city.
The mini season launches tonight at Kirkstall Abbey with a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail – an event endorsed by Michael Palin (aka Sir Galahad) who sent a message of support to the organisers.
“This is the Holy Grail of all Holy Grail screenings,” he wrote. “A big ‘Ni!’ from all the knights.”
Naturally such enthusiasm has been embraced by Julia Benfield, who set up Sneaky Experience in 2011 with the notion of combining movies and offbeat venues to give audiences a taste of classic films from across the years.
“There isn’t a typical way of marrying films and venues,” says Benfield. “Sometimes I come across an amazing venue that I just have to have, in which case I will endeavour to find an appropriately themed film to compliment the space. Other times, I feel strongly about sharing a particular film so will go to great lengths to find a suitable venue.”
The experience offered by the Sneaky Film team is not necessarily new. Fifteen years back Stella Screen was playing classic titles in odd locations, such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind in Leeds’s Roundhay Park – punters were handed foil blankets to go with the complimentary tins of lager – and such grand locales as Harewood House have hosted drive-ins.
And pop-up cinema has grown as a magnet for film aficionados who know the film but look for something a little more unusual when it comes to actually watching it. Bad weather and freezing temperatures are often seen as a benefit rather than a detriment…
Benfield and her team have drawn inspiration from London’s cultural scene, in which ‘live’ cinema has become an embedded part of the offer.
She was keen to offer similar large-scale, once-in-a-lifetime experiences to northern audiences but without the sometimes-punitive expense of travelling south.
“Our experiences aim to give audiences a chance to actually become part of the films they know and love, ‘living’ the film rather than just watching it,” she explains.
“Sneaky is somewhere between a theatre performance, a film screening, a musical and a party.
“It’s several big nights out in one, and our laid-back party atmosphere creates the best environment for you to throw caution to the wind and really get into the world of the film: fancy dress is actively encouraged.”
The arrangement with Kirkstall Abbey came about after the site hosted the Gothic Film Festival over last Halloween weekend. Kirkstall Festival was receptive to the notion of a themed movie within the abbey walls to kick off the event. It didn’t take long to come up with what Benfield considers is the perfect film.
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the ideal choice. Not only has it proven to be one of the most popular films, standing the test of time, but with the recent reunion of the Pythons and their subsequent live shows the film couldn’t be more topical.
“We are so proud to have the support of the Pythons. Michael Palin has always been a big supporter of film and culture in his home county, and provided us with a brilliant tagline for the event. It’s something that we hope we do justice to.”
Another unusual site on Benfield’s wish list was Leeds Dock, formerly Clarence Dock. That will host a themed double-bill (on separate days) of Steven Spielberg’s timeless Jaws and Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou over the weekend of July 26 and 27.
“The great thing about Leeds Dock is that it’s part inside, partly outside and close to the water – perfect for the unpredictability of our Yorkshire weather.
“It had to be themed around the water.With the release of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel recently Life Aquatic seemed an obvious choice.
“Wes Anderson films are so quirky and have a huge cult following. The eccentricity of this film means we can really go to town with theatrical scenes and added entertainment.”
Punters can expect beaches, deckchairs, sea-faring fashion, orange bobble hats, themed bars with food and drink and Zissou-inspired walkie-talkie hats.
The second film of the weekend Benfield describes as “an absolute must”: the story of three men, a boat and a man-eating Great White Shark.
“Jaws is as entertaining now as it was on release nearly 40 years ago.
“We have some great treats for guests including hot tubs in which to view the film. We do however advise guests to check the hot tub before they get in…”
• Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Kirkstall Abbey, July 11, 6.30-10.30pm.
• The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Leeds Dock, July 26, 6-11pm.
• Jaws, Leeds Dock, July 27, 5-10pm.