Widescreen classics dusted off for retro films weekend

Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
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The festival-within-a-festival that is the Widescreen Weekend pre-dates its parent the Bradford International Film Festival (BIFF) by a whole year.

Given that BIFF has racked up 20 editions that’s saying something. But for the widescreen buffs who travel from the far ends of the world to gather in Bradford each year it represents something wholly unique in the UK film festival calendar.

For the uninitiated the Widescreen Weekend showcases those great old formats – and those great old films – that were once regular attractions in our cinemas.

Think back to CinemaScope, VistaVision and Cinerama and there is a celluloid link that trails back to the golden age of cinema. Modern audiences can thrill to the latest IMAX release but it really all began with those far-off days and those ground-breaking processes.

The regulars who benignly invade the National Media Museum on an annual basis come from the United States, Australia and all across Europe. For many it represents a holiday – not so much a film festival as a convention.

The talk is of aspect ratios, lenses, cameras and, of course, formats.

Among the devotees is Duncan McGregor, projection team manager at the National Media Museum and latterly the festival’s widescreen programmer.

This week he has vacillated between nervousness and relief. The nerves came courtesy of news that a scarce 70mm print of West Side Story had been damaged in transit and was unplayable. Relief quickly followed when a replacement print was located.

McGregor has been a part of the Widescreen Weekend long enough to recognise that aficionados expect to see what is advertised. No DVD replacements here; only the real McCoy will do.

Some of the 2014 line-up comes courtesy of the museum’s own film archive. One title being dusted off is the Eighties classic City Heat, starring Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Says McGregor: “It probably hasn’t been played since its original release in 1985.”

The retro appeal of such widescreen gems is what makes the event such a draw. In 2012 the team celebrated the 60th anniversary of Cinerama – the museum still operates one of the only Cinerama projectors in the world – and in 2013 focused on CinemaScope.

This year the celebration centres on VistaVision with a presentation of White Christmas.

McGregor is on a proselytising mission: to screen the biggest movies, as they should be seen – on a big screen.

And in Pictureville buffs can wallow in the best environment courtesy of the cinema David Puttnam called “the best in the world”.

Other titles in the line-up include Luc Besson’s The Big Blue, John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China and James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Eastwood fans get a second chew of the cheroot with For a Few Dollars More, the second in the Man with No Name western trilogy and a title chosen by Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, the author, academic and broadcaster who will present a lecture on western icon Sergio Leone.

Widescreen Weekend, 10-13 April, Bradford International Film