Hippodrome Silent Film Festival goes online for 2021

HippFest takes its tenth edition online, with films featuring silent-era icons like Marlene Dietrich, Louise Brooks and Rudolph Valentino, and music from the likes of jazz composer Wycliffe Gordon, the Graves Brothers and HippFest fave Neil Brand

Article by Jamie Dunn | 08 Mar 2021
  • Louise Brooks in Prix de beauté

This time last year, the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival (aka HippFest) was gearing up to celebrate its tenth edition but of course, that could not happen thanks to… well, you know why. Twelve months later the festival is having another crack at celebrating this milestone with a refreshed programme that will take this celebration of silent cinema online.

“We are looking forward to welcoming back all the many fans of HippFest and to throwing open the virtual cinema doors for audiences joining us for the first time,” said the festival’s director, Alison Strauss. “It’s exciting to think that more people might take the plunge because attendance this year is as easy as turning up in your own front room. This is definitely one of the upsides of a virtual festival.”

The festival kicks off on Wednesday 17 March with Body and Soul (1925) from African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, which tells the story of a hypocritical gospel preacher (Paul Robeson) who's rotten to the core. Professor Charles Musser introduces the online screening, which is accompanied by an 18-piece orchestral score written by American jazz musician Wycliffe Gordon.

One of the highlights looks to be the sweeping historical romance The Eagle (1925), which stars Hollywood sex symbol Rudolph Valentino as a dashing Russian lieutenant who catches the lustful eye of Catherine the Great. There’s also German silent classic The Woman Men Yearn For (1929), starring the incomparable icon Marlene Dietrich.

Two other queens of the silent screen make appearances in the programme. In 1930 French film Prix de beauté (penned by the intimidating duo of GW Pabst and René Clair), Louise Brooks plays a gorgeous typist who enters a beauty contest, much to the chagrin of her jealous boyfriend. And Mary Pickford leads the gothic fairy tale Sparrows (1926), playing the oldest teen of a group of orphans who’ve been imprisoned and put to gruelling manual labour by a sadistic landowner.

There’s also Russian chess comedy Chess Fever (1925), a rare screening of the documentary Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925) and British drama Underground (1928). The stellar line-up of musicians scoring films in the programme includes the Graves Brothers, who fuse jazz, hip-hop and classical music; multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne; and HippFest regular Neil Brand.

“Whilst we will miss all being together under the star-studded ceiling of the Hippodrome,” says Strauss, “we have tried to create a comparable cocktail of screenings with music, workshops, events and activities to sweep you up in the marvellous magic of early cinema. If dressing up is your thing, go for it! If you like mingling with other festival-goers, dive in to our virtual festival hub! However you do HippFest we’re sure you’ll have a great time.”

HippFest runs online 17-21 Mar; a festival pass is £20 adult/£5 conc from indyondemand.com
For full programme details, head to www.hippfest.co.uk