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Ice house and Custom House play host to films; This is Berwick's big weekend. DAVID WHETSTONE popped up for a film premiere at the Custom House.


IF you've a mind for exploration, Berwick is the place to be this weekend. The annual Film & Media Arts Festival invariably turns up cultural gems and oddities and lures visitors into some of the region's most evocative nooks and crannies.

I whizzed up on Thursday for the premiere of Paul Rooney's festival commission. The Liverpool-based artist has spent a lot of time in Berwick since April and this was the result - a short, beautiful and disturbing film called Still at Large.

Set on Holy Island - a brave choice for Berwick's artist-in-residence but he reasoned it was in the district of Berwick - it begins as a kind of travelogue, with a solid-looking chap, Nicholas Still (played by actor Richard Stephenson Winter), trudging around relating the history of the place to camera.

Paul said he'd had in mind Jonathan Meades, who in real life trudges around doing that sort of thing.

Having been seduced by the look of Holy Island, Paul had then found out about Cul-de-sac, Roman Polanski's 1966 thriller which was shot there.

A sinister female voice starts to interrupt Nicholas Still, like those traffic updates on the radio. It's a persistent voice, threatening. "It's deliberately unclear where the voice is coming from but the implication is that it's Still's mother," said Paul.

Towards the end it all collides with the final scenes of Cul-de-sac.

Paul, who said he'd stayed in Berwick once before when his car broke down, was maybe having a flashback. Cul-de-sac begins with a gangster, Dickey, pushing his broken down car over the Holy Island causeway.

Paul said he had seen a lot of Samuel Beckett. You might think of Beckett's Not I, where all you see is a woman's mouth, babbling.

Still at Large, which is showing at the Custom House, will now be entered for festivals.

As well as ticketed film screenings at The Maltings there are many free installations to be seen at the festival whose theme, under new director Peter Taylor, is Fact or Fiction.

I ventured into Peter Burr's Cave Exits, a disorientating 'four-channel video cube' in the Bankhill Ice House, one of the many Berwick venues which strives to upstage whatever is being shown. Technically brilliant... but I was not inclined to linger.

I bumped into John Haswell, chairman of Berwick Chamber of Trade and Commerce who said the festival was "excellent, absolutely brilliant" for the town.

"It brings in a different type of holiday-maker," he said.

The town, he suggested, was "struggling", with some of its assets overlooked by tourism chiefs and shopkeepers frustrated that coaches could not park nearer to their premises.

But this is a weekend for Berwick to be in the spotlight. It really is a great place and this festival is a good excuse for a visit. Find the festival programme on


Paul Rooney, who has been Berwick's artist-in-residence <B Tim McGuinness

Cave Exits, by Peter Burr, is on show in the Bankhill Ice House Tim McGuinness

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 26, 2015
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