It’s 30 years since Yorkshire was torn apart during the year-long miners’ strike. Now that anniversary is being marked by the Ilkley Film Festival.
On September 7 the festival is staging a one day Mining Visions: The Miners’ Strike 30 Years On event featuring four screenings of dispute-related film. These include the critically acclaimed Pride which takes a light hearted look at how a lesbian and gay support group helped feed the starving workers’ families.
To focus on such a contentious dispute that still divides communities to this day is a bold decision by a film festival that hasn’t even celebrated its first birthday. But festival director Martin Pilkington says it was an obvious choice.
“We wanted to do an anniversary screening and the miners’ strike stuck out as it is really poignant and affected hundreds of thousands of people round these parts,” says Pilkington. “It is still causes a lot of debate 30 years on so wanted to put together quite an eclectic programme.
“We had our first film festival in February with three days of film and 21 events in total ranging from films accompanied by live music to documentaries and previews. We had hoped around for 1,000 people but in fact 3,500 came along so we knew there was a big thirst for film in this area as there isn’t a cinema for 10 to 15 miles.”
Pilkington brings on board his experience as director of Cheltenham Film Festival. He’s booked some top quality films for this event which is being staged as part of the festival’s monthly Live Cinema Experiences, and is designed to drum up support for their main festival in February 2015.
For many who grew up in the teeth of the strike it was the nearest the UK came to a civil war, as the forces of the State squared off against the guard of organised labour. The endless bitter skirmishes in this undeclared war came to a head in a pitched battle at the Orgreave coking plant where police and miners slugged it out on an open field in South Yorkshire.
The festival has secured a screening of Mike Figgis’s The Battle of Orgreave, a film where Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller recreated the hand-to-hand to combat involving 800 participants from both sides, including the moment when police riders led a cavalry charge through the nearby village.
“We choose that because of the whole production story behind it and how Deller wanted to recreate what took place,” says Pilkington. “You can read the story but seeing it on screen and the re-enactment just brings it to life. It brings back all the emotions stirred up at that time and it leads us onto a panel discussion with politicians, miners and journalists who were in that area will give their accounts, plus we’ll be getting the audience involved.”
Figgis delivered his film in 2001 and over a decade later Owen Gower has made the hard-hitting Still The Enemy Within which was shown at last year’s Sheffield Documentary Festival sparking a two minute standing ovation.
The festival closes on a lighter note with the UK preview of Matthew Warchus’ feature film Pride, telling the tale of how gay and lesbian activists stepped up to support the miners. The film stars those stalwarts of British cinema Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy while strike veteran Mike Jackson is turning up for the showing as he is portrayed in the film by This is England’s Joseph Gilrun.
“We end with Pride which is a bit more of a commercial look at another aspect of the strike and it did really well at the Cannes Film Festival so we’re lucky to get it for our festival. It’s got a comedy aspect as the two different groups work together, and it looks at how they dealt with the working class miners who had their mind set, and were helped out by a lesbian and gay group who come together for a common cause.”
A cynic might say that sounds just like a liberal director’s made-up vision rather than a relationship based on real events.
“It is based on a true story and they have made it bit more commercial,” asserts Pilkington. “It goes on general release a week or two after it plays here and we didn’t think as a young, relatively small festival that we’d get this sort of film with one festival under our belt.”
Tickets for Mining Visions: The Miners’ Strike 30 Years On are available online at www.ilkleyfilmfestival.co.uk, from the Ilkley Visitor Information Centre or by phone on 01943 602319.