Ready to roll out red carpet

Founder of the inaugural Ilkley Film Festival Martin Pilkington pictured in one of the Ilkley venues, The King's Hall
Founder of the inaugural Ilkley Film Festival Martin Pilkington pictured in one of the Ilkley venues, The King's Hall
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A new film festival debuts over the Valentine’s Day weekend – in a town without a cinema. The man behind it talks to Andrew Vine.

IT ALL started for Martin Pilkington when his father took him to the cinema to see a rerun of Star Wars. Film claimed him then, and possesses him still. It’s a big part of his day job, and for the past year it has occupied most of his evenings as well, as he’s brought an idea hatched over coffee to life virtually single-handedly.

At 29, Martin has bags of energy and boundless enthusiasm, and he’s needed both to bring the first Ilkley Film Festival from concept to the lights dimming for a weekend of cinema and guest appearances from February 14 to 16.

There have been a lot of doors to knock on, a lot of persuading to do, and a lot of emails to send. And he sailed past the obvious drawback to running a film festival in Ilkley – it doesn’t have a cinema.

The effort he has put in to it has paid off, not least in securing Dame Judi Dench as patron. The great Yorkshire-born actress cannot attend the festival as she is filming in India, but her support has given the fledgling festival a big boost. In Dame Judi’s honour, it will open with a screening of her new film, Philomena, for which she is Oscar-nominated as best actress, playing the role of a mother attempting to track down her long-lost child.

Other big names appearing include comedian Paul Merton, paying tribute to his silent film heroes, the acclaimed Bridlington-born writer and director Mark Herman, the man behind Little Voice and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and the band British Sea Power, who will perform a live soundtrack to a film about Britain’s coastline, From the Sea to the Land Beyond.

Highlights of the programme include a preview of a new vampire romance, Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tilda Swinton, a screening of the critically-acclaimed Bradford-set feature The Selfish Giant, directed by Otley-born Clio Barnard, and an extended version of the silent science-fiction classic Metropolis with accompaniment from British Film Institute pianist Stephen Horne.

Ilkley’s role in one of the best-loved of British comedy films, A Private Function, written by Alan Bennett, which was filmed in and around the town, is marked with a screening to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its release. The showing will be coupled with a discussion with its director, Malcolm Mowbray, and one of its stars, Bill Paterson.

Even though he’s still in his 20s, Martin is already an old hand at film festivals. He ran two successful events in Cheltenham in 2010 and 2011, which were even more gruelling than Ilkley to organise because he had moved from his native Gloucestershire to Yorkshire to take up a teaching job.

“At this point I was living in Leeds, so I was driving back every weekend after school. It was quite manic and by the end of it I was absolutely exhausted,” he said.

For all the exhaustion, the satisfaction of staging his two festivals stayed with him when he visited Ilkley. “There were always these festivals in Cheltenham, there was always this air of excitement and anticipation over who was going to come along, and it gave the town a focal point, and so I thought about doing a film festival.

“I’d popped to Bettys in Ilkley for a coffee and it was almost like a mini-Cheltenham – the literary festival had just been on and there was a buzz about the town. There was the infrastructure there to do a festival and get an audience, and it was just about putting the plans into action.”

Martin, who teaches English, media and film at Morley Academy in Leeds, began touting his idea around funding bodies, film companies and whoever would listen to him in Ilkley.

“It starts with having a load of ideas. You can have all these dreams and ambitions, but unless you’ve got the cash there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m passionate about film, I wanted to show that the subject I love to teach I’m passionate about as well.

“Because it’s a first time festival, you’ve got no track record so you go to Warner Bros or Fox and you’ve got nothing to give them so you have to really, really sell.

“There isn’t a cinema in Ilkley, but there’s a potential to allow us to show their film and get an audience for it.”

He settled on the King’s Hall and Ilkley Playhouse for the venues. “If you’re going to do a festival, and people are going to come into the King’s Hall or the Playhouse and sit and think ‘This is a cinema’, it’s making sure it’s a memorable experience.

“The King’s Hall, when I walked in first of all, I saw the stage and thought it was perfectly framed for a big screen to go there. The manager said to me there’s been no film showed here before and that was quite interesting for me, because I’ve used different venues before that haven’t been cinemas, but there it just seemed to be perfect.”

Martin’s passion for film began as a child. “I remember my dad taking me to see a rerun of Star Wars, I remember that feeling of seeing this brand new thing on the big screen. There are moments where you go to the cinema and you think, ‘That’s OK’, and the next day it’s gone but there are certain films that stay with you.

“That’s what I love about cinema, when you’re there you’re transported away from the world, immersed in someone else’s idea and then you leave and it stays with you. That’s what we’re trying to do with the programme, to have those little moments of wonder.”

The sponsors and supporters of the festival have such faith in its success that dates have already been booked for 2015. Film companies are already making promises too, which means Martin knows what he will be doing on the day after the inaugural festival closes. “Starting work on the next one.”

Full details of the Ilkley Film Festival and how to book tickets are available at