It was a tough decision to have to make, especially as the inaugural festival in 2019 had been such a huge success and, as founder and director Louise Wadley explains, the team were keen to build on the positive feedback they had received.
“Our research showed that 66 percent of the people who came had never been to a film festival before. We were really excited by that and we saw that there was a real appetite for people to come to films they would never otherwise come to see.”
Although they weren’t able to go ahead last Spring, in November they ran a free online short film festival as a fundraiser for the Hebden Bridge Picturehouse, the town’s superb 500-seater independent cinema which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and is the venue for the festival’s screenings.
“We managed to raise around £1,400 which is great – the cinema has only been able to open for around six days in the past year so we were very happy to have been able to make that happen,” says Wadley.
Later this month the festival returns virtually with a full wide-ranging digital programme of world cinema plus UK and US independents. “It features quite a few films that will bring smiles to people’s faces, which we all need at the moment, I think,” says Wadley.
The impressive line-up includes feature-length and short films, documentaries and dramas as well as Q&A’s and panel discussions with filmmakers. “Our ongoing theme at the festival is ‘the Other’ which amplifies issues outside the mainstream and showcases stories that maybe don’t get heard,” says Wadley.
“One of the things that makes us feel different as a festival is the welcoming nature of the community – the films are fantastic but you can see them in an environment that isn’t intimidating.” On the schedule are a number of firsts – two UK premieres and a world premiere.
Harami, presented in partnership with Bradford Literature Festival, will receive its UK premiere. “It is a modern-day Oliver Twist story set in contemporary India – it is just beautiful and will speak to everyone,” says Wadley. “The director Shyam Madiraju is based in LA now but this is his love letter to the city of Mumbai.”
The festival will take audiences to all corners of the globe including Venice, Beirut, Iran and Northern Ireland. “We know we are all feeling a bit cooped up in our living rooms, so we want to bring the world into your house,” says Wadley.
“We can all travel vicariously through these films.” One of the highlights for Wadley is Lunana. “It is about a young teacher who is sent to a remote school in Bhutan – it is full of music and joy, I’ve never seen a film that makes people smile so much.”
Going digital means the festival has a further reach this year but Wadley is also keeping the future in mind. “We are delighted that more people will be able to see these wonderful films,” she says. “But we are looking forward to being back in 2022, in person.”
Hebden Bridge Film Festival takes place online, March 19-21. hebdenbridgefilmfestival.org