Harrogate’s successful film society that keeps reeling down the years

Harrogate Film Society committee members - Paul Kelly, Jan Garvey, Sally Smith, Niko Vouckelatou, chair Tony Thorndike, treasurer Beryl Thorndike vice-chair Nicholas Williamson and Paula Stott (s).
Harrogate Film Society committee members - Paul Kelly, Jan Garvey, Sally Smith, Niko Vouckelatou, chair Tony Thorndike, treasurer Beryl Thorndike vice-chair Nicholas Williamson and Paula Stott (s).

Trust Harrogate to have a film society that’s a cut above the average, nationally!

When the credits roll for The Olive Tree at Ashville College next Monday, it will amount to more than just a group of film enthusiasts watching a poignant Spanish movie in a nice auditorium.

Now in its 62nd year, the film society is a place of impressive cinematic knowledge and strongly-held opinions which has survived challenges galore.

There’s been controversy and disagreement at times yet, in a competitive era of Netflix and box sets, it stills boast a big membership.

Chairman Tony Thorndike said: “The success of Harrogate Film Society is a testament to the strong history of support for and enjoyment of cinema in Harrogate and we’re proud to be part of this history and to be playing a key role.

“We have a strong core of members who have been with us for a long time and have been essential to ensure that our film society has endured over the years when others have folded.

“We like to offer something for everyone, not simply ‘film buffs’.”

At one time Harrogate had as many as five cinemas. The arrival last year of plush and trendy newcomer Everyman to add to the veteran Odeon brought it back up to two.

Should general cinema-going disappear after , say, a terrible nuclear armageddon, you get the impression the dedicated members of Harrogate Film Society would preserve the art form single-handedly.

A member of the British Film Institute and the British Federation of Film Societies, it was first launched in 1955 during an era of weighty projectors and 16mm prints.

At the time the biggest movie stars in the world were James Stewart, Grace Kelly and John Wayne.

Membership numbers at Harrogate Film Society currently stand at more than 100, a remarkable figure bearing in mind its approach to choosing films for its programme each new season.

Heavily international - French movies have been a particular favourite over the years - it’s proud to present a diverse range of films from all over the world, virtually all of them rarely screened in the UK.

This is far from regular these days.

The film society may show popular British and American films occasionally but it has no truck with the family-orientated fayre which seems to dominate the cinema circuit these days - even so-called ‘art house’ cinemas.

Chairman Tony Thorndike said: “Our members tastes are very wide. Films made by Woody Allen and Oliver Stone always appeal, as do British ones, but the majority of the films we screen every season are international with subtitles.

“French films are always deservedly popular but it may come as a surprise that Iranian directors, despite censorship, have been responsible for some great films and always go down well in Harrogate.”

It would be a mistake to think that Harrogate Film Society does not move with the movie-going times.

By the late 1990s when the leading box office stars were Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Leonardo diCaprio, it came face-to-face with the reality that good old celluoid was out and digital was in.

The film society saw it as an opportunity to be grabbed.

The change came just in time for new rivals to cinema-going were around the corner in the shape of Sky, Netflix and box sets.

The biggest step in the recent history of Harrogate Film Society was its move from its long-term home at Harrogate Grammar School to Ashville College which provide excellent help and support and purpose-built facilities - with free parking!”

This go-ahead society has also been very supportive of the new Harrogate Film Festival which started this year.

Still, worries remain. Membership at Harrogate Film Society is down from 138 two years ago to 116.

But guest numbers are up and the society’s concern for the social side of cinema is highlighted by its recently-launched ‘Film Club’ where members are free to discuss and debate.

There’s even been disagreements over the choice of films - sexual content was one issue - and whether Harrogate Film Society should be introducing further measures to attract a young audience.

That’s always a sure sign of a healthy organisation!

Some of the most popular films enjoyed by members at screenings in the last ten years at Harrogate Film Society include:

Pierrepoint (UK) - 2005 British drama starring Timothy Spall.

You Will be My Son (France) - 2011 French film set in a winery.

The Lunchbox (India) - 2013 Charming Bollywood romance,

Midnight in Paris (USA) - 2011 Woody Allen comedy starring Owen Wilson.

Taxi Tehra (Iran) - Golden Bear-winning 2015 doc-fiction

Girl with a Pearl Earring (UK) - 2003 drama starring Scarlett Johansson.

Rabbit Proof Fence (Australia) - 2002 fact-based drama on three Aboriginal girls escaping domestic servitude in the 1930s.

Girlhood (France) - Gritty 2014 teenage coming-of-age drama

Slow West (USA) - 2015 action-western starring Michael Fassbender)

Rams (Iceland) - Hilarious and heartbreaki ng 2015 Icelandic drama about sheep farming.

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