Short films showcase untold stories on Leeds-Huddersfield line

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Two short films are the result of an unusual arts project inspired by the daily routine on the Leeds-Huddersfield train line. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Stations and train journeys are ripe with untold stories – all those departures and arrivals, hellos and goodbyes – and a new arts project is using the Leeds-Huddersfield line as a starting point to tell some of those stories through film.

A collaboration between Creative Scene, West Yorkshire’s three year arts and social change initiative funded by Arts Council England, and train operator First TransPennine Express, the project, entitled The Next Station Will Be… has so far produced two short films. Four professional filmmakers were commissioned by Creative Scene and given an open ‘ticket to ride’ by First TransPennine Express, travelling along the line – used by more than 350,000 people every year – over four weeks last autumn, taking a behind-the-scenes look at the daily routines of staff and customers.

There is something about travelling on a train that is conducive to reflection – maybe it is the rhythm, the movement through space and time, the outside rushing past. It is easy to get lost in your own musings – and it is this which is captured in one of the films, aptly entitled Train of Thought.

Created by Holmfirth-based filmmakers Andy Wicks and Tim Copsey, the film is just under 10 minutes long featuring interviews with key members of train staff and revealing the thoughts of commuters – voiced by actors – as they travel. “We were circling around a few ideas,” says Wicks. “The first was ‘railway of romance’ and we were also looking at ‘the secret life of the railways’. Then my partner Kay Douglas suggested that we should try and find out what people are thinking about when they look out of the train window.”

So the creative team came up with a few questions and distributed them on sheets of paper through carriages of trains running along the line. Questions included ‘What are your thoughts as you look out of the train window?’ ‘What’s on your mind?’ and ‘What is your favourite train daydream?’ There was no way of knowing how people might react, but Wicks and Copsey were very pleasantly surprised. “We got a huge range of answers,” says Wicks. “And people were very generous and open with their responses. We got a stack of about 150 which we sifted through and we ended up using around thirty. We were really lucky that people were so forthcoming.”

Themes that crop up are the beauty of the landscape, memories of childhood holidays, family and work concerns, wish fulfilment, romantic daydreams and some more surreal thoughts, such as one traveller who imagines he is an astronaut and the train is his spaceship. Wicks and Copsey also spoke to a conductor, station staff and an on-train catering manager who discussed among other things train etiquette, how to deal with angry or frustrated passengers, what they like about their jobs and some of the unusual things they have had to deal with on board. “All the staff we spoke to went out of their way to be very helpful,” says Wicks. “It was really interesting to get that level of access – it was very enjoyable, a great experience.”

The second film Riding in West Riding was made by Alistair Macdonald and Kevin Threlfall who are both based in Marsden and their film takes the viewer on a visual journey through the Yorkshire landscape taking in the people and places along the line, at its busiest during the rush hour and at quieter periods late at night. The intriguing soundtrack features birdsong, chatter, footsteps, traffic in the city centres as well as extracts of interviews with passengers speaking about the reasons for their journeys. Together the two films present a snapshot of the diverse life, comings and goings, acts of kindness and brief encounters on the train line – as one traveller memorably puts it in Train of Thought “every day people passing through each other’s lives for a moment, and then they’re gone.”

The films will be screened at venues and festivals, and will be popping up at stations, across the region in the coming months. www.creativescene.org.uk

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