Horror line-up for a monster festival

Ben Affleck's acclaimed thriller Argo
Ben Affleck's acclaimed thriller Argo
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The nights are drawing in, which means one thing – movie festival season. Film critic Tony Earnshaw takes a look at the region’s offerings.

Now in its 26th year, Leeds International Film Festival – since 2011 extended to an awe-inspiring 18 days at nine venues across the city – can justifiably lay claim to be the biggest event of its type in the North.

Opening next Thursday, November 1, with actor-turned-director Ben Affleck’s acclaimed thriller Argo (CIA spooks hatch outlandish plan to rescue hostages from Iran in 1979) with the closing gala on Thursday, November 15, featuring Michael Haneke’s Amour (octogenarian couple face up to the end of their life together), LIFF26 boasts 300 short and feature-length films and a smattering of guests that includes Nick Broomfield via Skype and both author Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) and director Andrei Konchalovsky (Runaway Train) in person on November 17.

One of Leeds’s unique selling points is the all-nighter that is Night of the Dead – five films, mainly UK premieres, with titles like A Little Bit Zombie and Meteletsa: Winter of the Dead and the phenomenon that is V/H/S. This one tends to sell out fast and LIFF staff are bracing themselves for an invasion.

Other titles that spring out of a packed programme include Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, with Mads Mikkelsen as the small-town teacher accused of abuse; Persistence of Vision, the story of animator Richard Williams’ decades-long battle to finish his masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler; Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet starring the power quintet of Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly; and a restored extended cut of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Leeds’s festival is the monster of the season but also starting today is Celluloid Screams, Sheffield’s horror film festival whilst York’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival runs from November 8-11 and Bradford Animation Festival takes place from November 13-17.

Rob Nevitt, director of Celluloid Screams since 2009, has put together another skin-crawling selection that includes opening gala Sightseers from Ben (Kill List) Wheatley, the reconstructed director’s cut of Nightbreed and the “amazing” Excision which closes the festival on Sunday.

“One of the highlights this year for me is our UK premiere of Resolution,” says Nevitt. “It’s an astonishing US indie debut that has the same sort of creeping dread as David Lynch’s early films.

“We also have the UK premiere of The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, a beautifully-crafted slow burner directed by the founder of Rue Morgue magazine and starring Vanessa Redgrave.”

Nevitt is pleased with how the event is growing and reports “a significant upsurge in sales this year; weekend pass sales are at a record high. We’re expecting a sell-out for most screenings this year.”

One film playing at several festivals including LIFF26, Celluloid Screams and Whitby’s Bram Stoker International Film Festival is Before Dawn, an intense shocker shot in the valleys around Hebden Bridge by Dominic Brunt, best known as Paddy the vet from Emmerdale. A fresh take on the zombie movie, Before Dawn plays Celluloid Screams on October 28 and LIFF26 on November 7 with the cast in attendance. It screens at Whitby tonight. With such a proliferation of horror festivals in Yorkshire, as well as rivals in Manchester and Nottingham, it would be easy to assume Nevitt is nervous.

“What does the future hold?” he asks. “Next year is our fifth anniversary, so we’re already thinking of ways to celebrate that milestone in horrifying fashion. Building on this year’s success, we’ll keep seeking out the finest new horror cinema and if we keep the audience at the heart of what we do, we hopefully won’t go far wrong…”

Forthcoming attractions

Leeds International Film Festival has been running since 1988.

This year its programme will include a free screening of The Golem with live cinema organ accompaniment.

To commemorate the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death in 1912, the Bram Stoker International Film Festival in Whitby will present two very different versions of his timeless tale: the 1931 Spanish Dracula and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation starring Gary Oldman.

Among the focuses at the 19th Bradford Animation Festival is pioneering British animator John Halas, the man behind Animal Farm.