Just before the terms ‘self-isolate’ and ‘social distancing’ became part of our daily lives, Edith Bowman, curator of this year’s From Page to Screen film festival, spoke to Fergus Byrne about her love of film and the inspiration behind her choices.
Many people would agree that if asked to choose a favourite film, song, book or poem, the answer might change depending on their emotional state on the day. I spent years telling friends that The Unbearable Lightness of Being was my all-time favourite book, but that was more than thirty years ago and now I can’t remember why. Today, older and with a much wider choice of experiences to draw on, if I had to choose a favourite in any cultural discipline, it would probably change week by week, possibly even day by day. The same goes for Edith Bowman, the inspired choice of curator for this year’s From Page to Screen film festival in Bridport. Edith admits that if she had to make her film choices again a week later, they may well be different. ‘That’s the thing about film and music’ she says. ‘It all rotates around your emotional state and wants and needs at the time.’
And this year’s From Page to Screen does indeed cater for a wide selection of wants and needs. Edith has chosen a range of films with such a breadth of emotional and entertainment experience that audiences can expect a roller coaster of visual and audio entertainment—and no shortage of emotive impact. Powerful classics such as 1954’s On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, sit alongside films as diverse as Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory.
Edith’s key goal is to get people to come out and experience the full impact of cinema and the big screen. ‘We all have such access to films’ she says, referring to what we can now watch on TV. ‘But to see something on the big screen, especially an older film is such a great experience.’ The programme includes films across the decades going back as far as Victor Hugo’s classic The Man Who Laughs and 1933’s King Kong, to the just-released magical remake of The Secret Garden with Julie Waters and Colin Firth. Bridport’s exciting week of films also includes Paris Texas, City of God, Motherless Brooklyn and the recent remake of Jane Austen’s Emma amongst others.
An eclectic selection of films by any stretch of the imagination but the theme that runs through a large part of the programme, of course, stems from Edith Bowman’s knowledge and passion for music. In many cases, the soundtrack stands tall amongst the film’s highlights.
Brought up in a small seaside town in Scotland, Edith worked in the family business, a small hotel run by her mother and father. She grew up surrounded by music, whether it was Saturday night dinner dances, folk bands in the cocktail bar or jazz at Christmas. Exposed to her Dad’s ‘amazing record collection’ and her mother’s interest in musical theatre it wasn’t hard for her to see music as something she wanted to make a career out of. Before studying at Edinburgh University she applied to get some work experience at a local radio station. If it hadn’t been for her natural tenacity and determination she might have fallen at the first hurdle. ‘After sending the controller multiple letters and leaving dozens of messages he was like “Jesus get this girl off my back’’’ she recalls. So he eventually gave her an interview. ‘It was a terrifying experience. He almost brought me to tears—being bit like Jabba the Hutt sitting behind his big desk—really intimidating. But I kind of held my own and told him I wanted to learn all about the business, and maybe eventually have my own show. And his response was, “I can’t put someone with an accent like yours on the radio”. And I had that feeling where I could feel those tears about to explode out of my eyelids, but internally I was thinking, “you are not gonna cry in front of this man”. And I think that’s always stuck with me—I thought “I’m gonna prove you wrong.”’
And prove him wrong she did, along with any others that might have underestimated her. She has worked for MTV, Radio 1, BBC, Channel 4 and Virgin Radio to name just a few, and her other passion for film, also cultivated by early exposure to her father’s film club in the hotel, has brought her to the forefront of film broadcast. In 2016 Edith launched her podcast ‘Soundtracking’ where she talks to directors, actors, writers and composers about their relationship with music, both professionally and personally. The podcast has won an ARIA for Best Specialist Music Show in 2018 and was also the recipient of two Gold trophies for Best Digital Music Programme and Music Podcast at the New York Festival Radio Awards also in 2018.
Coming to Bridport she says was a ‘no brainer’ for her. She joked that the hardest part has been stopping talking about what films to show. However, she is quick to point out that putting the programme together was a collaborative effort—working often with producer Nick Goldsmith who is in on the From Page to Screen committee. She talks about ‘a lot of phone calls with Nick and a lot of going online to check that things were adaptations. And then being devastated when you find out Noooo, and then trying to almost squeeze an adaptation connection out of something.’
The end result, she hopes, has something for everyone, with a little bit of herself in each film. The line-up shows not only Edith’s flare and diverse interests but she admits that in most cases there is something personal. ‘There are films that at some point or someplace have had an impact on me’ she says. ‘West Side Story, for example, is probably one of the musicals that I have watched the most. There’s something about that film. I think it’s close to perfect really. I’m not a fan of all musical film but that kind of nails it I think.’ She cites the finger-clicking start where the Jets dominate their turf with a Haka-like routine. ‘It’s just incredible—and the take on Romeo and Juliet. What a brilliant interpretation of Shakespeare and brilliant piece of musical theatre. That’s what I mean; every film has had an impact on me in some way shape or form, or has been part of my film education as well.’
The five day festival, with films showing at Bridport Arts Centre, the Electric Palace, the Lyric Theatre, the LSI and the Unitarian Chapel also features Paris Texas, a film that Edith was fortunate enough to discuss with Director Sam Mendes while doing a film show for Channel Life Cinematic. Sam chose it as one of his favourite films. ‘What an extraordinary piece of cinema’ she says. ‘And then to hear someone like Sam dissect it and talk about his emotional connection with it and his take it and its influence on him. That was an absolute treat.’
Ry Cooder’s haunting melancholy slide guitar is a highlight that subtly sits in the bones of the viewer. In fact, Director Wim Wenders has been quoted as saying the film was shot with ‘a camera and a guitar’, describing Cooder’s soundtrack as ‘sacred music’. Explaining why it was one of her choices for this year’s festival, Edith says, ‘the simplicity of how it sounds and the complexity of the scenes is just breath-taking.’
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the family classic Pinocchio probably offers up one of the most weepy tunes in cinema. When You Wish Upon A Star has probably brought more tears to cinema audiences than any other tune. The song was performed by the late Cliff Edwards, who was also known as ‘Ukulele Ike’. After a string of hits and the lifestyle of a star, Edwards died penniless at a charity hospital in Hollywood. His body was initially unclaimed until it transpired that Disney had been quietly paying the hospital bills. His sad ending somehow makes listening to his voice even more poignant.
Despite the fact that we now have to wait until October to enjoy the From Page to Screen Festival, enforced isolation might give some people the opportunity to catch up on films they may not have had time to see before. Edith’s excellent podcast ‘Soundtracking’ which can be accessed through her website www.edithbowman.com/soundtracking is also an excellent place for film fans to hear interviews with directors, actors, producers and a range of other fascinating people involved in film. It is her ‘pride and joy’, something she works hard to ensure is a highlight for those that listen to it. And it’s also an opportunity for Edith to get close and personal with people that often only offer a fleeting moment during promotional tours.
‘The lovely thing is people really respond to it, which is really lovely’ she says. ‘Because a lot of the time I interview people in the kind of promo window time, where they’re in the middle of promoting a film. So you’re just one of the people in a long list of who they see.’
In those situations, Edith has just a brief moment to make a connection and listening to her podcast it’s clear that her enthusiasm has helped her build up an impressive collection of friends and contacts in the industry.
There will be light at the end of the tunnel the world is currently going through and From Page to Screen is one of the things to look forward to when we get there.