Holmfirth Film Festival and the Yorkshire town once dubbed England’s answer to Hollywood

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IT’s little known outside Holmfirth, but the West Yorkshire town was once dubbed ‘England’s answer to Hollywood’.

It all began in the late 1800s with James Bamforth, a local painter and decorator turned photographer and artist, who began making a name for himself producing magic lantern slides.

Bamforth went on to become one of the first people in the world to produce moving films.

Lights, camera, action

As there weren’t any professional film actors at the time, the ever- inventive Bamforth used local people for his movie casts and stories about the Holme Valley for his films.

Bamforth and Company’s production of films continued in Holmfirth until the beginning of the First World War, and, as Stephen Dorril, a film expert and lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, points out, they proved popular.

“They created a lot of films and they took off in quite a big way and were internationally known,” he says.

Unlike Hollywood, the Holme Valley isn’t known for its balmy climate and it was, of course, LA, rather than Holmfirth, that became the industry’s epicentre.

Even so, the town’s film-making heritage wasn’t forgotten and this weekend the Holmfirth Film Festival – playfully self-styled as the Cannes of the North – returns, marking its 10th anniversary.

More than 30 films will be screened at six venues in and around the valley. “The first year we did the event it went very well and people asked us to keep going so we’ve kept coming back,” says Dorril, the festival’s director.

It’s estimated that around 3,500 people will attend this year’s event. “We are aiming to make this year’s festival a special occasion with a day of local and historic films, the best of European cinema, and award-winning films from around the world.”

Among the films being screened will be those from bygone eras – stretching from Edwardian times to the 1970s on aspects of life in the Holme Valley.

“Something happens to people when they watch old films like this, it’s not just nostalgia it’s something deeper,” says Dorril.

“They see how the place looked 50 or 100 years ago and they see people who are no longer around. They see how it’s changed, the buildings that have been demolished, and it’s interesting to see the effect it has because people tend to go very quiet.”

The town hasn’t lost its connection with its cinematic past. The Bamforth and Company building, where the film business began, still stands in the centre of Holmfirth.

It is currently undergoing renovations by the new owner, Peter Carr, who also owns the Picturedrome, the former Valley Theatre that opened in 1912 and one of the venues being used in the festival.

As well as producing such notable stars as Jodie Whittaker and Lena Headey, the Holme Valley is also home to numerous film-makers, cinematographers and make-up artists.

It’s also been the backdrop to many film and television productions and along with an array of movies – from blockbusters to acclaimed foreign films – the festival includes photographic exhibitions and talks spread over the weekend.

For Dorril, it’s important that local film festivals like this continue, especially at a time when giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime make it easy for people to binge watch TV box sets from the comfort of their own home.

“There are still lots of people that like to go and watch a film in a cinema because they like being in an audience and feeling part of a community. It’s something you don’t get from watching TV at home.”

The Holmfirth Film Festival runs ntil June 9. For more details go to www.holmfirthfilmfestival.co.uk