Skipton: Dales town with just one cinema gets its own film festival

It has just one cinema and it takes only 350 people to fill it, so Skipton was never going to be anyone's first choice for a major film festival.

Dai Bradley in Kes

But for four days in May, the self-styled Gateway to the Dales, officially Britain’s happiest place, will become a mini-Hollywood.

Spaces that are usually given over to trade, livestock or even creatures of the night, will become arenas, and anyone who can turn so much as a sprocket encouraged to help out.

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The first Hinterlands festival, a celebration of films set in or concerned with the countryside, will mark the 50th anniversary of Kes, one of Yorkshire’s most beloved outdoor films.

But it will also feature lesser-known and more recent films with a connection to the area.

Screenings will be held in woodland spots, heritage sites, unused spaces and at locations around the town that have been used for filming – with the possibility of recreating sequences with a cast of locals.

Movies to have been shot in the area include Yanks, John Schlesinger’s 1979 Second World War drama about American GIs, which co-starred a young Richard Gere, and sequences for Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, in 1983.

“Some of the most exciting and provocative films of recent years have taken the countryside as both their theme and their setting,” said Geoff Bird, the festival’s artistic director, who will announce the programme of films in the New Year.

He aid the aim was to present recent independent British productions like Winter’s Bone, God’s Own Country and Dark River alongside such classics as The Railway Children and Withnail and I, as well as Kes.

The festival organiser, Rowan Hoban, said: “It will celebrate films with green spaces at their heart. We hope the festival will prove to be a catalyst for more year round film activity.”

Skipton – which was placed last year at the top of a “happiness index” by the Office for National Statistics, for showing the country’s lowest levels of stress – once boasted four cinemas, but the sole survivor is the independently-owned Plaza, built as a temperance hall in 1873 and converted into an entertainment venue shortly before the First World War. There is also a 300-seat theatre housed within the town’s Cattle Mart – the only one of its kind in the world – which is used for comedy and music.

The film festival, which begins on May 16, is being run by the Heritage Lottery-funded Great Place – Lakes and Dales project, which aims to promote the area as a centre in which to live and work, especially among 16 to 34-year-olds, who make up a smaller percentage of the rural population. The organisation says film-going is the most popular cultural activity for that age group, after listening to music and reading.

Its programme manager, Lindsey Hebden, said: “We hope to engage young film-makers and creatives and look forward to seeing Hinterlands established as an annual fixture on the Lakes and Dales calendar.”

Sarah Bird, director of the arts organisation Wild Rumpus, which will organise the festival, said: “It’s about bringing the landscape to life. This won’t be your average film festival. We want to take the films outdoors, to unusual places. There will be installations all over the town.”