Threat to piece of region's heritage

By Andrew ClarkeArts EditorA SPECIAL piece of the region's heritage will be saved - thanks in part to the East Anglian Daily Times.Akenfield, a landmark film about rural life in Suffolk during the 20th Century, has been rescued from oblivion thanks to intervention by the EADT and Suffolk County Council.

By Andrew Clarke

Arts Editor

A SPECIAL piece of the region's heritage will be saved - thanks in part to the East Anglian Daily Times.

Akenfield, a landmark film about rural life in Suffolk during the 20th Century, has been rescued from oblivion thanks to intervention by the EADT and Suffolk County Council.

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The film was directed by Suffolk-born Sir Peter Hall and based on the bestseller Akenfield by author Ronald Blythe.

Akenfield was shot over the spring and summer of 1974 using local non-actors to tell the story of Suffolk's fast-disappearing traditional farming life.

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It was the first British film to open the London Film Festival and one of the first films to be funded by British television.

Dave Gregory, a champion of the film and manager of the Ipswich Film Theatre, screened Akenfield yesterday for the producer, Rex Pyke, Mr Blythe and local star, Peggy Cole - and they were all alarmed at the condition it was in.

Mr Gregory said: “This is last remaining print we have of the film and, quite frankly, it's unwatchable.

“Over the past 30 years all the colours have faded into a rosy pink, there are frames missing and all manner of blemishes and scratches which have mauled the surface of the film.

“This film needs to be preserved because it occupies such a unique place in East Anglia's cultural heritage.

“It's the only example I know of local people working with a locally-born film-maker to document the changing nature of their lives. Not only is it an important film, but it's also a terrific piece of social history.”

However, after hearing of the plight of the film, experts at Suffolk County Council offered to help find funding to rescue this important part of Suffolk's heritage and the EADT pledged to help fund a second exhibition print.

EADT editor, Terry Hunt, said: “It is vitally important that Akenfield is not lost to future generations. It is a window on to Suffolk's past and an important historical document.''

It is hoped the East Anglian Film Archive in Norwich will be able to strike a 16mm print from the 35mm master that will allow it to tour the film to village halls and not have to rely on full-scale cinema facilities.

Mr Pyke said: “I am delighted at the news. This morning we had a badly-deteriorating print and now the film looks as if it has a wonderful future. It's excellent news.”

Mr Blythe said he was thrilled the film had been given a new lease of life and added: “When I was writing the book all those years ago, I never dreamt it would exert such a powerful influence on the public imagination.

“The fact that the story exists as a book and a powerful piece of cinema is fantastic and the fact that it has been saved for future generations is terrific.”

The film opens in the spring of 1974, the day of Old Tom's funeral. Apart from fighting in the First World War, Old Tom never left the village in which he was born.

Seen through the eyes of his grandson, also called Tom, the film tells the story of that day, with frequent surreal encounters between him and his grandfather.

Mr Gregory said: “It's fitting that it should be restored to its former glory in its 30th anniversary year.

“It still has a huge local following. I used to screen it at least once every 18 months in the 14 years I have been here and we always sold out.

“There's a tremendous audience for this film simply because it was made by local people about a world that they grew up in. It's an excellent piece of film-making.

“We owe it to all those people who gave their time and energy to make the film and to future generations who will learn about their heritage through the film to make sure that Akenfield can still be seen.”

Mr Gregory said the film was originally released on four or five prints and over the years as the prints gave out, reels and individual scenes were cannibalised into making two working prints and then one.

EADT columnist and Akenfield star, Peggy Cole, said: “I must have seen the film between 40 and 50 times and I must say I was shocked at the state its in now.

“The beginning was particularly bad - all snowy and covered in scratches. But it's just the wear-and-tear of 30 years of screenings.

“Every week I get letters from people asking me about Akenfield and not just from this country. Letters come from all over the world.

“I still go out and give talks about the film and it's important its preserved and younger audiences get to see it.”

Suffolk County Council's offer came from Iain Dunnett, external funding manager, dealing with lottery money and European funds.

“I have spoken to the producer of the film about advising what facilities and outside funding may be available once he has spoken to the BBC about the costs involved,” he said.

“It is important to point out that this is not county council money - we are merely advising on what external sources of funding maybe available.”

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