HippFest 2024 programme revealed

The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival is back with another knockout lineup of silent cinema, featuring early cinematic visions of Scotland, some of the biggest stars of the silent era and loads of rarities, all performed with live music

Article by Jamie Dunn | 06 Feb 2024
  • Clara Bow in Mantrap (1926)

HippFest (or The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival to give it its full title) returns to its stunning home at the Hippodrome cinema in Bo’ness from 20-24 March. As ever it features a sparkling lineup of films from the silent era, which will be brought right up to date with new scores and live musical performances.

Scotland on Screen

One of the chief threads running through this year’s programme is Scotland’s representation on screen. Take for example HippFest’s opening film, Peggy. It follows Billie Burke as title character Peggy Cameron, a high-spirited New York socialite who’s uprooted from her glamorous home to the wilds of Scotland to live with her stern uncle. Her forthright behaviour causes quite a stir here, and she catches the eye of the hot local reverend, giving this 1916 film some Fleabag vibes.

Peggy is an early example of American cinema’s romantic vision of Scotland, which can be seen in everything from glorious Hollywood spectacles like Brigadoon to Netflix hokum A Castle for Christmas. For something closer to the real deal, there’s The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric (1933) from pioneering Glasgow-born filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson. Blending both fiction and non-fiction film techniques, it’s a tender and beautiful dramatisation of life on Shetland in the early 30s. HippFest describes the film as “a poignant ‘story documentary’ about crofting families”, and it’ll be presented with a newly commissioned score that’s a collaboration between two Shetland musicians – Catriona MacDonald and Inge Thomson.

A black and white still from the film 'The Rugged Island'. A woman and a man hold hands while standing on a rock by the sea; a dog looks on.
The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric (1933); courtesy of National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive

Visions of Scotland can also be seen in the annual New Found Sound screening, in which local young musicians will accompany shorts from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive. There's also a festival excursion to Callendar House, the setting for key scenes in the popular Outlander TV series. The visit includes an illustrated presentation from former Location Manager for Scottish Screen Belle Doyle, and we're told her talk will be "filled with insider secrets about filming in Scotland".

Silent era stars: Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish, Buster Keaton et al

Black and white still from the film The Wind. A woman stands in a shop, holding a gun.
The Wind (1928); courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Collection

This year’s Friday Night Drama is Mantrap, a wild romantic farce in which everyone is horny for Clara Bow’s effervescent flapper. Bow isn’t the only huge female silent star taking centre stage at Bo’ness. Joan Crawford is glamorous and gin-fuelled in the fizzy jazz-age romance Our Dancing Daughters. It’s two Mary Pickfords for the price of one in Stella Maris, a stirring melodrama in which Pickford plays both a rich orphan raised in a protective bubble and a young woman abused by her cruel mother. And the mightly Lillian Gish is typically terrific in the elemental western The Wind, which closes the festival.

Other silent era favourites in the HippFest programme are Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr., which is this year’s “Jeely Jar” screening (the entry fee is a glass bottle or jar); the “Man of a Thousand Faces” Lon Chaney stars in Fagin in an early Oliver Twist adaptation directed by Glasgow-born Hollywood director Frank Lloyd; and there’s the annual Laurel and Hardy double bill.

Also look out for the cracking gangster yarn The Racket, the hugely stylish Czech classic The Organist at St. Vitus’ Cathedral, the gorgeous Ukrainian charmer Adventures of Half a Rubel and the inspiring sports drama Queen of Sports, starring Chinese superstar Li Lili.

The full programme and tickets are available on Hippodrome’s website. Dig in!

Hippodrome Silent Film Festival, Hippodrome Cinema, Bo'ness, 20-24 Mar