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Celebrating 25 editions of Widescreen Weekend

Published: 4 October 2021

2021 is a special time for Widescreen Weekend as we reach our 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion and celebrate, we wanted to share a few things that honour the legacy of the festival and our programming through the years.

As this year is such a milestone for Widescreen Weekend, we wanted to remember and reflect on the festival and its history. We asked colleagues past and present and the ‘Widescreener’ community to send us fond memories, personal stories, favourite moments, and anniversary wishes to the festival team. 

We are so lucky to have loyal and passionate supporters who have been with us from the beginning, and we’re very grateful to everyone who took the time to contribute.

On this page you’ll find personal reflections from some of the staff working behind the scenes, stories shared with us by our dedicated ‘Widescreeners’, and ways to explore the festival’s history.

Explore our legacy programme

You can now enjoy the sounds of Widescreen Weekend through a playlist that includes a track for each unique film screened at the festival.

We found that many Cinerama soundtracks are not as readily available as we would like on Spotify, and we decided to not include a track for every instance in which a film played (or else we’d have a whopping 13 tracks from How the West Was Won).

You can listen to the playlist in chronological order from 1997 to 2021 and immerse yourself in the music of our big screen.

Secondly, we’ve gone through our festival records and have managed to log and catalogue every film that has ever played during the festival. We have started a special Widescreen Weekend Letterboxd account which records our complete history and will continue to include films that we screen at future festivals and in between.

The list includes over 201 unique films which have been spread across 294 screenings—meaning that this year we will celebrate our 300th film screening at the Weekend. We’d love to see fans of the festival follow us on Letterboxd and create widescreen film playlists using past (and maybe future) films from the festival.

Bill Lawrence, Founding Festival Director:

“25 years: a long time and many happy and crazy memories, and some not so good. The great thing about Widescreen Weekend is that it was a happy accident created by the fans and one programmer paying attention to who was turning up at the cinema. Without those people who believed in Cinerama and 70mm it wouldn’t have happened. Without Willem Boumeester servicing IMAX projectors, Keith Swadkins and his International Cinerama Society newsletter then maybe Cinerama would never have been installed in Pictureville Cinema. Without John Harvey in the States, we would not have had a technical go-to person or a print of This is Cinerama that got it all going again in 1993, and without Johan Wolthuis and the International 70mm Newsletter we wouldn’t have been plugged into a fantastic network of very knowledgeable widescreen fans around the world.

“One of those fans sent a fax to me at the museum in 1995, Udo Heimansberg, who said he knew of four Cinerama prints in the basement of a cinema in Essen, Germany: Seven Wonders of the World, Cinerama Holiday, Windjammer and How the West Was Won. The latter two eventually found their way to Bradford. Windjammer was very pink, but ran well through a projector so why not show it to those who turned up to the weekend—and a surprise hit it became. But the treasure was How the West Was Won, a stunning Technicolor print that had survived. However, of course, it was the German print and so had a German soundtrack. To the rescue came Jean-Pierre Verscheure in Belgium who had an English soundtrack and Cinerama being what it is, 3 x 35 prints and separate 35mm mag track, it is a simple job to ship it over to Bradford and we have a full English print. Well, not quite. The German print was slightly edited. Certain violent scenes had been cut out and so the print was shorter than the soundtrack.

“This is where passion comes in. The wonderful late Tony Cutts and Duncan McGregor set about the task of filling the gaps with black spacer—on three films for each panel of Cinerama—and then running the print, often overnight, to ensure that it all remained in sequence. I don’t know how long it took, but I know it wasn’t part of the day job. Eventually, they felt it was ready and time to launch to a public audience at the 1996 Bradford Film Festival, on 10 March at 19.30. Sales were excellent and 240 people crammed into Pictureville (the edge seats are not so good for Cinerama), and the lights dropped and Alfred Newman’s magnificent soundtrack kicked in with full stereophonic sound. That alone made the hairs stand up, but then the curtains pull back and the screen opens on Das war der Wilde Westen. Yes, it still had the German titles. But my god, it was still exciting and the atmosphere electric. It had all been worth it.

“Unfortunately, at that point I had to head across town to do a Q&A for a film, Tattoo Boy, with the director and producer. But it was only 88 minutes and I was back in time for the end and the final summary from Spencer Tracy. To stand there, at the end of that screening, is one of the favourite memories of my life. To listen, to grown men, deeply emotional, seeing something from their younger lives that they thought they would never see again was such a privilege. A wonderful night in the cinema—and what a start to Widescreen Weekend.

“Over the years, so many people contributed, but two stand out to me. Howard Rust, whose joyous enthusiasm for Cinerama never left him and was able to pass it on to so many others, including me. Thomas Hauerslev, who took over In70mm from Johan Wolthuis and became co-programmer of the Weekend. These were guiding spirits, but never as strong in their guidance or spirit as the fans who turned up year-on-year and became a family for an extraordinary three or four days of celebration of the great days of cinema when everything was possible.”

Jo Quinton-Tulloch, Director of the National Science and Media Museum:

“New to the museum in 2012, I was vaguely aware of the Widescreen programme and had been told about our Cinerama technology—one of only three remaining in the world. But it wasn’t until the enormous curved, louvred screen was revealed that I fully appreciated its scale and the technical challenges of synching three films simultaneously. Nothing could have prepared me for such a unique experience and the magic that comes from seeing film on film.

“We are now the only remaining venue that screens Cinerama to the public and I am incredibly proud that we continue offer this early immersive technology and maintain the spirit and ambition of those cinema pioneers.”

Kathryn Penny, Festival Director, Widescreen Weekend:

“I’ve had the great privilege of steering Widescreen Weekend since 2016, the year after it became a standalone event. Since then, my team has taken the festival on a journey of change. We have kept classic widescreen at the core of the programme and shone the spotlight on more modern achievements, films and people less represented and new immersive experiences like VR and 360⁰ dome cinema.

“My favourite memory of recent years was chatting with the delivery driver who came to collect our enormous 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia to drive it to Belfast. The care and attention given to these rare prints, from the specialist delivery drivers to the projectionists, is part of what makes these cinematic experiences so magical.”

Stars and greats at Widescreen Weekend

Over the years Widescreen Weekend has welcomed many familiar faces, including actor/director Kenneth Branagh; directors Ken Annakin and Clio Barnard; visual effects wizards Douglas Trumbull and Paul Franklin; broadcasters Sir Christopher Frayling and Samira Ahmed; and many more. Alongside these well-known names, we’ve greeted many respected voices within the field of film heritage, presentation and preservation.

We find that once initiated into the worship of widescreen (and the marvels of Cinerama), these faces often return to us sooner or later!

Stars and greats gallery

Mark Trompeteler, Widescreen Weekend delegate:

“After Sunday lunch, delegates returned to a packed cinema to hear Kenneth Branagh in conversation on stage. The interview covered his film career and Branagh spoke in depth about certain of his films, his screen roles, and his approach towards them. The screening of Hamlet (1996) that then followed displayed a modern 70mm print of fabulous quality. Shot more recently on film emulsions that would have used T-grain emulsion technology, the increased image sharpness and almost disappearance of all grain in the projection to a large screen, gave a presentation of breathless print quality.”

Co-produced and presented by our community

Widescreen Weekend is proudly a community of likeminded individuals, gathering in film each year. Made up of movie buffs, ex-projectionists, and everything in between, our cohort is passionate about cinema and are dedicated to seeking out the rarest and best experiences film has to offer. Many of our own delegates will also come to us with their own expertise and delight our audience with talks and presentations on a range of interesting subjects in film.

Much as Cineramacana—our ‘show and tell’ of filmic delights—does each year, we welcome input from our devoted visitors and embrace the co-operative spirit on which the festival was founded.

Community gallery

Hector Warr, Widescreen Weekend delegate:

“The festival is an inspiration to movie buffs. I grew up with projected film and to see that format once again at the forefront is an incredible experience. To see 3-strip Cinerama for the first time with How the West Was Won was something I will never forget.

“In 2017 I was inspired by the announcement that Grand Prix would feature in the 2018 programme, took a deep breath, and emailed Kathryn Penny to ask if I could do an introduction. Much to my surprise and delight, she agreed that I could present alongside Dave Strohmaier. I spent the ensuing months immersed in research and writing, excited to be a part of Widescreen Weekend. This sums up the spirit of the festival: generous and inclusive. Long may it continue.”

The world’s only ‘true’ Cinerama screen

Sadly, while 2021 marks celebration for us as a festival, it is also one of sadness, as the world has seen the closure of the other two last remaining public Cinerama venues. While we certainly hope that the Seattle Cinerama and the iconic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood find new life in the future, we recognise the enormous privilege and responsibility that we have in Bradford until they return.

Cinerama gallery

Mark Lydon, Widescreen Weekend delegate:

“Here am I in Cinerama, on the world’s only true Cinerama screen in the Pictureville cinema, Bradford. Once there were 150 such screens.”

Thank you!

We recognise that we would certainly not be here without you, the dedicated visitors and followers that attend the festival each year, participate in its production and comprise our ever-growing Widescreen Weekend community.

So, whether you’re with us this year or not, please join us in toasting to the 25th edition of the festival and to at least 25 more in the future.

Thank you.

Festival archive

Further reading

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