Private Viewing: Aldeburgh Documentary Festival contrasts local with global

Aldeburgh Cinema General Manager Thomas Grestenmeyer preparing for the opening of the 20th Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh Cinema General Manager Thomas Grestenmeyer preparing for the opening of the 20th Aldeburgh Documentary Festival, talking with Juliet Brereton of the Aldeburgh Cinema Club

Arts editor Andrew Clarke applauds how The Aldeburgh Documentary Festival has put non-fiction films on the big screen

Ian Hislop pictured at the Aldeburgh Documentary Festival in 2006. Ian Hislop is one of a number o

Ian Hislop pictured at the Aldeburgh Documentary Festival in 2006. Ian Hislop is one of a number of high profile guests to attend the festival.

This weekend the Aldeburgh Documentary Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It’s an event, based at Aldeburgh Cinema and programmed for many years by Private Eye columnist and town resident Craig Brown, that has freed the documentary film from the confines of television and put it up on the big screen.

It’s amazing what a difference a cinema screening makes. A documentary film has a chance to breathe when released from the need to be either 25 minutes or 50 minutes long. Also the picture on a big screen packs an emotional punch that is impossible to achieve on television.

The Aldeburgh Documentary Festival knows all about those difference and celebrates them. The festival grew very quickly from humble beginnings. Over the years it has attracted an array of star names including David Attenborough, Clive James, Simon Schama, Dan Cruickshank and Melvyn Bragg to introduce films and meet audiences after the screenings.

The focus on this year’s anniversary festival is very much based on global meets local.


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Aldeburgh Cinema manager Thomas Gerstenmeyer said: “It is not only about bringing the best documentary films from around the world to Aldeburgh, this year one of the stalwarts of our community is the subject of his very own film.”

This year’s line-up boasts the world premiere of A Life Illuminated: Neville Parry, Cinema Projectionist. The made-in-Suffolk film is a fascinating insight into one man’s lifelong love affair with the magic of the movies, and a window onto developments in the UK cinema industry over the last seven decades.

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“At close to 82, Neville Parry is believed to be the oldest working projectionist in the country, perhaps the world. Over the last 40 years Neville has been the lifeblood of the Aldeburgh Cinema. His cheeky personality, his perfectionism and selflessness radiate throughout the film,” said Thomas. Community has always played a large part in the popularity of the cinema and the success of the festival. Thomas said that the documentary festival was born out of a desire by local people to screen, in Aldeburgh, good-quality documentaries which usually by-passed mainstream cinemas.

“The event has always attracted the support of local media professionals who have given their time and their support to make the event as good as it can be. Both Craig Brown and Diana Quick have been both integral to the success of the event and this year we are delighted to welcome journalists, authors and TV presenters Libby Purves and Paul Heiney to the festival. They will present the weekend’s screenings and conduct question and answer sessions.”

The opening film this year will be the British premiere of Natural Resistance – a documentary by American-Brazilian film-maker Jonathan Nassiter about four Italian wine-growers who are rebelling against the worldwide economics of the wine industry by establishing a series of vineyards which are ecologically progressive, economically just and honour the historical practices of local agriculture.

This year’s lifetime achievement award is being presented to Roger Graef OBE, a critically acclaimed observational film-maker, criminologist and writer. A special presentation entitled: Roger Graef: 50 Years of Making Films – And The World A Better Place will celebrate his film-making passions and the fact that he pioneered the fly-on-the-wall camera system which gave him unprecedented access to boardrooms and government.

The closing film will also become a closing night show featuring star musician and lyricist Edwyn Collins, widely known for his hit A Girl Like You. The film The Possibilities Are Endless details how the musician suffered a stroke which effectively deleted his entire memory. The film follows his miraculous and determined recovery to health. As if to prove that he really is alive and well he will perform live on stage after the screening.

The 20th Aldeburgh Documentary Festival takes place from November 14-16.

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