Country Life: The movies come to Hereford

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The Independent Online

Whenever I go to New York City - which makes it sound as though it happens a lot and it doesn't, but I was there last weekend - I like to go to the cinema, preferably to watch a film that hasn't yet been released over here.

Whenever I go to New York City - which makes it sound as though it happens a lot and it doesn't, but I was there last weekend - I like to go to the cinema, preferably to watch a film that hasn't yet been released over here. And I like to go at an unconventional time of day, such as 10 in the morning, or midnight, just because I can.

And if I'm on my own, so much the better. I always feel faintly uncomfortable going to the cinema on my own in this country, even in cosmopolitan London where you can do that sort of thing without anyone labelling you Billy No-Mates.

Maybe it's because my late great-uncle John used to be manager of the Biograph, near Victoria Station, and I grew up listening to stories of single men who would go in the afternoon looking to "make friends". Whatever, in New York, it feels right. There, just by going to the movies on my own, with nothing more than a Reese's Peanut-Butter Cup for company, I almost feel as if I'm in a movie myself.

All of which brings me to Herefordshire, believe it or not, because I wanted to share with you the huge personal irony of a weekend in New York causing me to miss a film premiere in Hereford. The film, Soul Searcher, is the debut feature of 26-year-old director Neil Oseman, and last Friday it opened the third annual Borderlines Film Festival.

All I can tell you about it is that it is the first feature ever shot in Hereford (contrary to popular belief, Mean Streets wasn't and nor was The Matrix), and that it concerns a local lad called Joe who, let me quote from the press release, "is chosen to become the new face of Death and is transformed into the scythe-wielding Soul Searcher, dispensing supernatural justice in the afterlife. But somewhere in town evil is on the prowl so Joe must stop the villainous Dante before chaos erupts. Come and see Hereford as you've never seen it before - as the ultimate battleground between Good and Evil!".

I'm not sure about that last bit, having once seen a clergyman remonstrating with a traffic warden outside the library in Broad Street, but it must certainly have been a novelty watching supernatural justice being dispensed in the Bulmer's cider factory, which is where a chunk of Soul Searcher was filmed. I do hope I'll get an opportunity to see it.

David Gillam, the festival director, assures me that it's a hugely accomplished piece of film-making, especially considering the minuscule £25,000 budget.

Gillam it was who founded Borderlines two years ago, consumed by a desire to bring a wider range of films to the sticks.

It has become Britain's biggest rural film festival, this year screening 60 films from 15 countries at venues all over a chunk of countryside which, from north to south, is equivalent to the distance between London and Oxford, yet is ordinarily served by just three cinemas.

Moreover, as Gillam said to me last week, splendid events though the London and Edinburgh film festivals are, it's rather more of a challenge to get leading film-makers such as Stephen Frears, last Saturday's headline act, to the Courtyard Theatre, Hereford. To say nothing of Clifford Village Hall, where actress Shabana Akhtar Bakhsh gave a talk about her experiences of working with Ken Loach in his recent film Ae Fond Kiss.

I think it's safe to say that village halls in Herefordshire do not have much of a track record in hosting talks about Ken Loach by actresses of Asian or indeed any origin, so for that alone, but much else besides, Gillam and his team deserve immense credit.

The Borderlines Film Festival, I should add, continues until 31 March; call 0870 1122330 for details.

* Last Tuesday evening, I drove home along the dark country lanes reflecting that lobster's blood is blue, that you can't play polo left-handed, that koala bears don't drink, and that Shelley from Coronation Street was in the St Winifred's School Choir which had a hit in 1980 with There's No-one Quite Like Grandma.

This was less to do with the fact that I was losing my marbles than that I was returning from the monthly quiz evening at The Boot, in Orleton, a sizeable village for these parts, near Herefordshire's border with Shropshire. The quiz night at The Boot has become something of a ritual for me, but because I have to drive 11 miles to get there, I rarely arrive before the thing starts at eight, and have to leave as soon as it ends, around 11, if I'm to get a reasonable amount of sleep before the next school day beep-beep-beeps into action at 6.40am.

Consequently, although my five fellow quiz-team members are men I like very much, our huddled conversation never gets much beyond: "So which one of Henry VIII's wives was it who had six fingers on both hands?" Which, as they are all men who lead interesting lives and hold interesting opinions, is frustrating. Especially when we get it wrong.

Mind you, I really don't know why James wrote Anne of bloody Cleves. I'm sure he heard me saying Anne Boleyn.

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