23 March, 2011

Why Would a Film Festival Bother with Television?

Blogger: Kate Dunn, Curatorial Assistant - Television

Every year, TV Heaven - our public television archive - screens a complementary schedule of programmes during Bradford International Film Festival. So why does a festival that celebrates film bother with television?

The relationship between film and television has historically been a competitive one. Following the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, the percentage of British households owning a television set leapt from 30% to around 89% by the end of the decade. In response, film studios launched a widescreen, full-colour attack on the black and white upstart, with lavish historical epics like The Ten Commandments (1956, Dir. Cecil B DeMile) and Ben-Hur (1959, Dir: William Wyler) tempting people out of their living rooms and back into cinemas.

Despite - or perhaps because of - competition for audiences, film and television have also influenced each other in very positive ways, by nurturing and sharing creative talent and ambition.

Intimate Contact

Claire Bloom in 'Intimate Contact', courtesy of ITV / Rex Features

Many well-known film stars, directors and writers cut their creative teeth on television projects, and TV continues to attract talent from the silver screen. Because a television series tends to offer a larger canvas than a feature film, film directors and producers have often turned to TV for epic projects, including the likes of Steven Spielberg (producer of Band of Brothers and The Pacific among many others) and Martin Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire), and if you want to look at the full scope of a film star's career, chances are you will have to look to television at some point.

The TV Heaven schedule for this years' Film Festival features many a big screen name, including James Mason, Virginia McKenna, and Claire Bloom, recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award.

Brideshead Revisited

Claire Bloom in 'Brideshead Revisited', courtesy of ITV / Rex Features

To commemorate the occasion, TV Heaven will be screening some of the actress' greatest television work, including the ground-breaking four-part drama, Intimate Contact, which was among the first to realistically portray the impact of AIDs on patients and their families. We will also be showing a 1961 adaptation of Anna Karenina - lost in the depths of the BBC archives until 2009 - and an episode of Granada Televisions' gorgeous 1981 adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.

These last two programmes show another shared trait of film and television – they tend to look to the same sources for inspiration.

British entertainment is littered with television and film adaptations of the same plays, novels and short stories, and it was natural choice for us to fill the rest of this year's TV Heaven line-up with other great literary adaptations.

Dr Fischer of Geneva

'Dr Fischer of Geneva', courtesy of BBC

These include: Dr Fischer of Geneva (BBC, 1984) an excellent version of Graham Greene's darkly satirical novel featuring James Mason's last ever performance; A Passage to India (BBC, 1965) an adaptation of E M Forster's novel directed by Waris Hussain; and a double-dose of Jonathan Miller with Alice in Wonderland (BBC, 1966) and Whistle and I'll Come to You (BBC, 1968).

Alice in Wonderland

'Alice in Wonderland', courtesy of BBC

Not only are Alice... and Whistle... wonderful adaptations of Lewis Carroll's classic children's fantasy and an M. R. James ghost story, but they also highlight television's a taste for the cinematic.

Television drama in particular has often been inspired by the look and feel of film, be it epic narratives, film-led production techniques, or experiments with form and style. Miller's adaptations of Alice... and Whistle... are both visually stunning, sharing an ethereal, gloomy beauty that would not look out of place on the big screen. Television drama like this exhibits huge ambition and a visual flair that is barely contained by the small screen it is made for.

Whistle and I'll Come to you

'Whistle and I'll Come to You', courtesy of BBC

Cinema and television are not opposing media forces. They are often seen as competitors because they share an audience, but they also share creative drive and talent. Any competition between the two has ultimately furthered the cause of each, encouraging both media to push the boundaries, to be ambitious, and we the audience have reaped the benefits.

During this year's Bradford International Film Festival I can highly recommend visiting TV Heaven and exploring the best cinema that British television has to offer.


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