At the time of this prestigious honour in 2009, Bradford played host to the Bradford Film Festival, Bite the Mango International Film Festival and the Bradford Animation Film Festival. Three major film festivals that were serious players in the international annual film calendar. The Bradford Film Festival, hosted and organised by the then named National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, was one of Bradford’s jewels in the crown. In its two decade history, the festival attracting global film stars such as Jean Simmons, Oscar winner Michael (The Deer Hunter) Deeley, John Hurt, Terry Gilliam, Claire Bloom, Richard Attenborough and Kenneth Branagh. Organised by the NMPFT’s Head of Film Bill Lawrence and Festival Director Tony Earnshaw, The Bradford Film Festival “brought a touch of the red carpet, a tangible sense of glamour, the presence of living, breathing film heavyweights and the notion that the north could do it as well as the south. Some said even better” stated Tony Earnshaw at the time.
The Bite the Mango Film Festival was billed as a ‘celebration of world cinema’ and since its inception in 1995 by Carey Sawney who passed on the baton to me in 1998, the festival became one of, if not the leading film festival of its kind in the UK. Between 1998 – 2008, both BIFF and BTM put Bradford on the global map as a city where independent and commercial cinema would be celebrated. Regular world premieres, screen talks, workshops and seminars became common at the NMPFT and the emphasis of film was very much at the forefront of the Museum’s attraction peaking at almost one million annual visitors. A contribution to the attraction of visitors was the global film personalities that visited the museum. BTM attracted global stars such as Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar Pooja Bhatt, the late Om Puri (twice), Mahesh Bhatt, Shabana Azmi, Amit Khan, Anil Kapoor, Samina Peerzada, Meera, Subhash Ghai, Shatrughan Sinha and James McAvoy. With these stars, Bradford and the festival were highlighted in the New York Times, Mumbai Mirror, Screen Daily and other international journals.
Even before the film festivals were born, Bradford has always had a rich history as a city of locations for filmmakers. Famous films such as The Railway Children, L.A. Without a Map, Billy Liar, and The Dresser used locations around the city such as Keighley, Little Germany, Undercliffe and the Alhambra Theatre.
Let us now fast forward to 2017. The NMPFT has changed its name to the National Science and Media Museum (no emphasis on film) and was on the verge of closing in 2013 due to a lack of funding. Bradford now has NO film festival. Bite the Mango was axed in 2010 as it was struggling to “attract the harder to reach communities” according to the Head of Marketing at the time of cancelling. The Fantastic Films Weekend followed in the same vain in 2013 and the Bradford Film Festival was finally put to the sword in 2016 after being ‘temporary cancelled’ a year earlier pending a review. As I said at the time, reviews only mean one thing. Now we know what it meant.
Today, Bradford has very little film activity even though we do have a team at the Bradford City of Film office. Sporadic fringe events do not justify the status of City of Film. The museum, it seems, will now take a direction towards science and as one walks around the struggling venue today, there is no displayed archive of the movie greats that once stood foot in the venue. It is though the museum has eradicated any possible memory of the film festivals that once took place.
Bradford does not deserve the status of City of Film. It’s as plain and simple as that. Doing the odd sporadic event is simply not enough. Unless it once again plays host to a major film festival or the bosses in charge of film activity in the city up their game, the status will remain embarrassing.
by Irfan Ajeeb