Cinema Unbound
Powell and Pressburger classics screen across the North

Portrait of Emeric Pressburger and Michael PowellPortrait of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell

Cinemas across the North explore the creative worlds of Powell and Pressburger, October - December 2023.

Cinema Unbound is the latest nationwide season from the BFI: a celebration of perhaps the UK’s most distinguished filmmaking partnership; the peerless Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The creative partnership forged by Powell, Pressburger and their collaborators was responsible for a luminous collection of works quite unlike anything else seen in British cinema history. Throughout the 40s and 50s, they elevated the pastoral to the poetic in films such as I Know Where I’m Going!, interrogated British identity in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, defied divine will in A Matter of Life and Death, pushed polite sensibilities to the precipice in Black Narcissus, and created seductive, sumptuous Technicolor fantasies in The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann.

Now well-established as key figures in the history of British film, Powell and Pressburger are the subjects of a special, UK-wide season running from October - December 2023. Film Hub North is pleased to support organisations across the North to take part in Cinema Unbound. Thanks to National Lottery funding awarded by the Hub and the BFI Film Audience Network, Powell and Pressburger retrospectives are taking place throughout the region - from Cheshire to Cumbria, and across Yorkshire.

Season highlights

Storyhouse, Chester, showcase the sensuous quality of Powell and Pressburger’s work with an immersive screening of Black Narcissus complete with synchronised wind and volumetric light effects, and the aroma of the original Narcisse Noir scent that features in the film. Elsewhere in their programme, Storyhouse examine the influence of Powell and Pressburger on filmmakers such as Joanna Hogg, Martin Scorsese and Darren Aronofsky.

Black Narcissus also goes under the spotlight at HOME, Manchester, at an event exploring the film’s depictions of race and Empire in a post-colonial context. HOME’s wider retrospective programme includes an ln Conversation event with Thelma Schoonmaker: Michael Powell’s wife and a three-time Oscar-winning editor who has been instrumental in cultivating Powell and Pressburger’s contemporary revival through her work with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation.

The enduring influence of The Red Shoes is celebrated at Showroom Cinema, Sheffield, with a screening of Matthew Bourne’s stunning ballet adaptation, a listening party for Kate Bush’s iconic album of the same name, and a lecture from Pamela Hutchinson; author of the newly-released BFI Film Classics monograph on the film. Showroom also screen a selection of early Powell and Pressburger films - Contraband, The Spy in Black and One of Our Aircraft is Missing - from 35mm prints.

Analogue presentations and the legacy of The Red Shoes are also key features of the programme from Merseyside-based community cinema specialists Cinema Nation. They host a special 35mm screening of A Matter of Life and Death at Birkenhead Town Hall on Wednesday 6 December. And, on Tuesday 12 December, they take over music venue Future Yard for a screening of The Red Shoes followed by a tribute to Kate Bush courtesy of live, stripped-back performances from local artists.

Additional Powell and Pressburger seasons take place at Lucem House Community Cinema Plus+ (St Helens), Holmfirth Film Festival (Holmfirth), Cottage Road Cinema (Leeds), The Dukes (Lancaster) and Victoria Hall (Grange-over-Sands). Film Hub North funding will help these organisations enhance their programmes with additional marketing activity and guest speakers.

To coincide with the launch of the season, we got in touch with Dr Andrew Moor - Reader in Cinema History at Manchester Metropolitan University and author of several publications on Powell and Pressburger. 

Andrew is set to share his insights with audiences across the North as part of Cinema Unbound with events scheduled in Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and beyond. In his season preview, Andrew reflects on his personal journey with Powell and Pressburger, and the filmmakers’ wider importance for audiences today.

Andrew Moor - season preview

I feel as if Powell and Pressburger’s films have been part of me for 40 years now. A lot of their die-hard fans have life-long attachments like this. Their films have an open, questioning, surprising and inventive quality. They deepen and change with repeated viewings.

Maybe it’s the unlikely partnership between a breezy and adventurous middle-class Englishman, born into an Edwardian colonial culture, and a reticent, sophisticated Jewish Hungarian émigré who would fall in love with Britain but never feel wholly ‘at home’ here. They both saw right through British insularity and were frustrated by it. Even in their wartime ‘propaganda’ films, they sound a critical voice and never say the obvious things - Blimp criticises the British Establishment and has a German as its most intelligent character, yet somehow they got it made in the mid-years of the War!

I also love their films about the magic ‘spirit of place’ – often in remote locations as in I Know Where I’m Going!, a film that just gets better and better. After the war they are able to really explore the potential of cinema to create hypnotic, artificial Technicolor worlds where music, design, camerawork and story-telling all combine – the high point here is probably The Red Shoes. Has Britain ever produced a visual artist to equal cinematographer Jack Cardiff?

   It's a privilege to be bringing some of their work to new audiences, and to be part of Cinema Unbound, the BFI’s nationwide celebration of their work. At HOME, I’m particularly looking forward to our event with Powell’s widow, Thelma Schoonmaker. She and Scorsese have done so much to keep the Powell and Pressburger flame burning.

Powell and Pressburger’s films fell out of favour through the 1960s to the 1980s before a well-deserved rediscovery, and now their reputations have never been higher. They made films about community, hospitality to strangers, healthy curiosity, seeing things from the other person's point of view, custodianship of the land, and our wish for romance: those feel like good and important things today.

Explore the season

Cinema Unbound screenings in the North of England are supported by Film Hub North and the BFI Film Audience Network with National Lottery funding.

For more information on how we can help your next project, book a meeting with our team or visit our Exhibition Funding landing page.