Due North: The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams

Forget Edinburgh – the place to be in August will be the actress Tilda Swinton's delightfully eccentric new film festival. By Kaleem Aftab
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The Independent Culture

Are Tilda Swinton and Mark Cousins trying to embarrass the Edinburgh Film Festival? Its patron and former artistic director, respectively, they are starting their own festival on the dates that were this year abandoned by the event. Not only that, but they're creating a festival that's innovative, individual and getting the sort of buzz that's usually the preserve of Cannes, Venice and Sundance.

They're throwing all the usual accoutrements of film festivals into celluloid hell: goodbye world premieres, superstar actors and corporate sponsorships; hello, classic movies, live musical accompaniments, beanbags, and fun. The greatest innovation is that you don't even need to part with any hard-earned cash to get into the screenings – all you need is to bake a tray of fairy cakes and be willing to share your culinary delights with your fellow audience members. Even if you don't bake, tickets will only cost £3.

The festival will take place in the picturesque Moray community of Nairn, the Scottish town that is home to Oscar-winning actress Swinton. She's funding the festival largely from her own pocket and had the brainwave of using a former ballroom as a cinema when she saw a screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca at the Screen Machine mobile cinema. Swinton decided to rent the Victorian stone building and asked Cousins if he'd help her run a film festival there.

There are no seats, so festival-goers will have to sit on beanbags. And, in keeping with the eclectic flavour, the Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams festival will run for eight-and-a-half days in honour of the closing night film, Fellini's masterpiece, and because of the belief that that's the ideal age to fall in love with cinema.

The location and food may be slightly low-tech, but the films on show are definitely top notch. The festival opens with one of Swinton's favourites, Henry Hathaway's 1935 surrealist classic Peter Ibbetson. Nearly all the films are being shown with a pertinent short, this one being Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart's 1949 animation, Begone Dull Care.

Swinton is soon to be seen in the new Coen brothers film, Burn After Reading, and director Joel Coen has programmed two of his favourite films, Ray Enright and Busby Berkeley's 1934 kaleidoscope musical Dames and Akira Kurosowa's High and Low (1963).

The actress lives in Nairn with her partner, the artist and writer John Byrne, so it would have been wrong not to put one of his directorial efforts into such a personal festival and the film chosen is his 1993 effort Boswell & Johnson's Tour of the Western Isles. Derek Jarman's work also features heavily – Swinton was the director's muse: the festival includes three of his shorts, Studio Bankside, Tarot and Sebastiane Wrap, alongside one of his favourite movies, Sergei Parajanov's 1964 baroque love story Shadows of our Forgotten Ancestors.

Cousins' influence, meanwhile, can be seen in the programming of three world cinema classics from the 1990s: Polish director Dorota Kedzierzawska's children's classic The Crows; Hyenas, by the Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety, whom Cousins compares to Orson Welles; and the Iranian director Mohammad-Ali Talebi's The Boot.

Music will definitely be adding an additional flavour to the proceedings, with performances of Francesco Stefani's East German fantasy film The Singing Ringing Tree and evergreen classic Singin' in the Rain. Also, the composer Simon Fisher Turner will be showcasing the world premiere of his new score to the Yasujiro Ozu classic I Was Born, But.

Among this eclectic line-up are two arthouse staples, All About Eve and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's extraordinary The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant.

One of the reasons that Edinburgh's film festival moved dates was that it struggled to get attention in August during the Fringe. But the Ballerina Ballroom is a commendable attempt to prove that an innovative, quirky approach to programming can hold its own. Swinton and Cousins hope that the festival becomes an annual event; I've already brought a recipe book.

The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams (www.myspace.com/ballerinaballroom), 15 to 23 August

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