The magic of the movies sparkles on sunny Hollywood, glamorous Cannes — and now, gritty Bradford.
The northern English city best known for rain, shuttered textile mills and inexpensive curry restaurants has been named the United Nations' first-ever City of Film.
Bradford received the designation this week from UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, after a campaign by local officials for recognition of the city's cinema heritage and plans to use film as part of urban regeneration plans.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, who was born near Bradford and won an Academy Award this year for ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ said Friday the designation ‘is superb news for Bradford and is testimony to the city's dedication to the film and media industry.’
Bradford has long-standing — but often overlooked — links to the movie business. It is home to an international film festival and the National Media Museum, which includes displays on film, television and photography and is one of the most popular museums in Britain outside London.
Bradford has been the location for films including kitchen-sink dramas ‘Billy Liar’ and ‘Room at the Top’ and World War II-set drama ‘Yanks,’ as well as the recent television crime series ‘Red Riding.’
The surrounding Yorkshire countryside has featured in movies including ‘The Railway Children’ and ‘Wuthering Heights.’
There is no material benefit to the City of Film designation, but supporters hope the title will bring film industry business, tourists and a touch of celluloid stardust to the region.
‘There is nothing more invigorating and exciting than a red-carpet premiere, and it doesn't matter whether that premiere is in Los Angeles, or Cannes, or Berlin — or Bradford,’ said cinema historian Tony Earnshaw, head of film programming at Bradford's National Media Museum.
Bradford joins UNESCO's Creative Cities Network, a program launched in 2004 to promote cultural industries with links to cities around the globe. The network of 19 urban centres includes cities of literature, music, folk art, design, media arts and gastronomy, as well as film.
A Victorian boom town whose imposing woollen mills were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, Bradford — set in the Yorkshire region some 175 miles north of London — has been hit hard by the collapse of British manufacturing over the last few decades. Unemployment is high, and in 2001 the city saw riots between white and South Asian youths.
The city retains some fine Victorian architecture, a plethora of curry houses operated by members of the large south Asian community — and often-overlooked links with the movie business.
The neighbouring city of Leeds can credibly claim to be the location of the world's first motion pictures — ‘Roundhay Garden Scene’ and ‘Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge,’ filmed in 1888 by French inventor Louis Le Prince.
‘The moves were actually born in Yorkshire,’ said Earnshaw. ‘The first film came to Bradford in 1896. So Bradford predated Hollywood.’
Earnshaw said Bradford and its environs offered almost everything filmmakers could want in a location.
‘Aside from coastline, we have everything — urban landscape, the Dales the moors,’ he said. ‘The only thing we don't have is a seaside.’
Even that might not be an insurmountable obstacle, he said.
‘Yorkshire people can do anything.’