Films from France, Brazil, Turkey and Japan reflect the eclectic nature of the festivals slate, while much-loved Hollywood and Ealing classics make welcome returns to the big screen.
However, rather than screening a big budget, blockbuster filmed using the latest hi-tech gadgetry, the festival’s opening Gala Night (Thursday 25th May) will showcase previously unseen home movie footage.
In 2006, builders renovating a house in Southend-on-Sea discovered a collection of 16mm film reels shot by the late Jay Morehouse, the owner of the property and the last owner of the iconic, original Kursaal Amusement Park (which had been sold for redevelopment in the 1970s).
For over twenty years Morehouse, an enthusiastic amateur photographer and movie maker, filmed the crowds of day-trippers and holidaymakers having fun at the Kursaal and throughout Southend, creating an astonishing record of people at play from the 1940s to the Swinging Sixties.
In 2016 Morehouse’s archive was offered to The White Bus – the festival’s organising body – and a painstaking restoration and digitisation project began.
At the opening gala, The Lost Films Of The Kursaal, Southend-On-Sea will be publicly screened for the very first time, offering moviegoers a fascinating glimpse of Southend in its heyday.
For true film aficionados, Laurel and Hardy are in the firmament of movie greatness and they are inextricably linked with cinema’s golden era of slapstick comedy during the 1920s and 30s. In 1952, the duo performed in Southend and stayed at the Park Inn Palace hotel – the main venue for the Southend Film Festival – overlooking the seafront and pier. So it is something of a very special ‘homecoming’ that Laurel and Hardy’s classic short silent comedy The Battle Of The Century (1927) will be screened inside the hotel.
For decades, the second reel of the film had been thought lost but it was rediscovered two years ago and Southend Film Festival is poised to give the movie its regional premiere, as it has only been shown once before in London – last summer at the London Film Festival. To complete the original and authentic 1920s cinema experience, local musician Adam Ramet will provide live piano accompaniment to the action, which consists of a reputed 3,000 custard pies being riotously flung in the climactic scene!
Another highlight of the festival will be Tales From The Two Puddings. In 1962, the Johnson family took over the traditional East End boozer, the Two Puddings, and transformed it into one of the Capital’s busiest and most fashionable venues. This terrific documentary looks back upon a lost world of local eccentrics, villains, vindictive coppers, punch ups and practical jokes, all now lying buried beneath West Field shopping centre.
The festival will be drawn to a close by AmStarDam, the debut feature from Chalkwell-born acclaimed music video directors Lee and Wayne Lennox, who have worked with the likes of Rolling Stones, Coldplay and Robbie Williams.
Sick of his musician mother’s poor parenting, Jack sets off to Amsterdam on his 21st birthday to reconcile with his absent father, only to discover that he is the failed owner of a marijuana coffee shop. A chance encounter leaves Jack thinking he might just have solved his dad’s problems and set out on the path of rediscovering their non-existent relationship. An outlandish take on the city of coffee shops and bicycles, AmStarDam is a rowdy feel-good comedy about family, friendship … and weed!
“I’m really looking forward to the gala night,” says Festival Director, Paul Cotgrove. “Jay Morehouse’s films are culturally important and they really capture the joie de vivre of people living in and visiting Southend in the 40s, 50 and 60s. We tend to think of this era as rather drab, but these 16mm home movies reveal a different truth.”
He adds: “One of the quirkiest films of the entire festival will be 40 Years Behind The Plough. It’s a documentary about Donald Cave, who never learned to read or write but became an authority on Stone Age archaeology. He’s reminiscent of David Bellamy, in that he can make a dry, somewhat crusty subject sound fascinating. To accompany Gerry Anderson – On Film! we will have an exhibition of Thunderbirds memorabilia and original models to accompany the very special screenings of Thunderbirds and Space 1999 episodes.
I’m also especially pleased to add My Feral Heart to the programme. Steven Brandon, an actor with Down’s Syndrome, is a revelation as the central character Luke, giving a performance that won him Best Actor at the National Film Awards. The director, Jane Gull, grew up in nearby Rochford and filming took place there, plus Hockley and Rayleigh. Many of the supporting cast and crew are local too, so it will be great to see a film featuring lives in the local landscape. By way of total contrast, AmStarDam is reminiscent of the Cheech and Chong movies of the Seventies. It’s good fun with its tongue firmly in its cheek.”
For full listings, details about venues and where to buy tickets, go to www.southendfilmfestival.com