Mark Kermode on Cinemagic Film Night and love of Belfast

David Roy chats to top film critic Mark Kermode about this year's Mark Kermode's Film Night at Cinemagic Belfast and why he loves spending time in the city...

Mark Kermode returns to Cinemagic Belfast for another Mark Kermode's Film Night on Saturday
Mark Kermode returns to Cinemagic Belfast for another Mark Kermode's Film Night on Saturday

MARK Kermode's Film Night has been a regular fixture at Belfast's Cinemagic for so long now that even the man himself can't quite recall how far back his relationship with the youth-orientated movie festival extends.

"I've been coming over for it for as long as I can remember, basically," offers Kermode, co-host of the top-rated movie-themed podcast Kermode & Mayo's Take – formerly the top-rated movie-themed BBC Radio 5Live segment Kermode & Mayo's Film Review – and, until last week, Observer film critic.

"I mean, it must be getting on for 20 years now – I know we had a big anniversary some years back. I love doing it and I'll always keep coming back because it's really good fun."

The aim of Mark Kermode's Film Night (MKFN) is to showcase a movie that's suitable for all ages, preferably one which has been under-appreciated or perhaps never seen on the big screen in Belfast before, and then have a chat with the audience about it, as well as all things film-y, with the help of regular MKFN host and film buff, Brian Henry Martin.

Brian Henry Martin is the regular host of Mark Kermode's Film Night. Picture by MT Hurson
Brian Henry Martin is the regular host of Mark Kermode's Film Night. Picture by MT Hurson

This year's selection is Lionel Jeffries' 1972 supernatural adventure The Wonderful Mr Blunden, an adaptation of Antonia Barber's 1969 novel The Ghosts, a film which Kermode first saw as a wide-eyed nine-year-old when it was originally released.

It has remained close to his heart ever since, to the extent that, as one of its foremost high-profile champions, the critic ended up making a cameo in a recent re-make, directed by Mark Gatiss.

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"My mum took me to see it, and I loved it," recalls Kermode (60) of his life-long relationship with The Amazing Mr Blunden.

"Back then, you saw a film once and then you only had your memory of it – you didn't have it on video. But when I was a university years later, I was writing my PhD thesis on horror fiction. I knew that Blunden was based on a book, The Ghosts, so I went back and I read the story, and I loved it too. That kind of rekindled my interest in the film.

"Mark Gatiss did his remake because he loves the source story as much as I do. And we discovered that there was a group of us who'd all loved it when we were young and had all kind of carried a torch for it.

"When Mark was doing the remake, he actually got some of the people who were in the original film back to be in it. And, because he knew that I was a huge fan, he got me and [fellow film critic and The Amazing Mr Blunden enthusiast] Kim Newman to do cameos.

"When Mark's version was released, the book went back into print. He said that was one of his great joys, because it is a great book. So yes, it's a real joy to be showing the film in Belfast. It's really lovely to be able to show a young audience a film that you loved when you were young."

Indeed, one of the most memorable moments in the uncertain history of MKFN was when Cinemagic managed to source a print of another long-lost Kermode favourite, the little-seen 1973 teen romance, Jeremy, to be screened at the event – which was the first time he had seen the Arthur Barron-directed film in over 40 years.

"I'd seen it as the supporting feature on a double-bill with Breakheart Pass, the Charles Bronson movie," explains Kermode.

"I loved this film but knew nothing about it and had never been able to find it again, because it hadn't been released on video over here.

"But about four or five years back, Cinemagic managed to track down a print and we showed it. I hadn't seen it since I was about 11, so I did an introduction which was basically me going, 'I have no idea whether this film is any good – I think it is, but I was a kid when I saw it."

He adds: "It is particularly lovely to take something that you loved when you were young and introduce it to a new audience, although you always worry – you just hope they will love it as much as you did."

More mature cinema-goers might like to know that Mark will be sticking around at QFT Belfast after MKFN on Saturday night to introduce one of the films he has become most closely associated with, William Friedkin's 1973 horror The Exorcist, in its Director's Cut form.

Mark in 'extreme cinema' mode
Mark in 'extreme cinema' mode

Having made his name as a champion of horror fare like The Exorcist and The Evil Dead, it seems that's another reason why the veteran movie reviewer enjoys showing off his more family-friendly side at the Cinemagic events.

"Every single year, we've always had a film that anyone can see," says Kermode, whose previous selections have included Edgar Wright's under-appreciated Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010), Studio Ghibli animation The Red Turtle (2016) and Powell & Pressburger classic A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

"And I think that has always been the great joy of it. Generally, I'm kind of known for doing more extreme cinema stuff, but we've managed to show old classics, animations, live action, and all of them are films that basically younger audiences and older audiences could watch together. And I think that's been a real treat."

As well as doing his film-related events in Belfast this Saturday night, Kermode will be making time to see family friends who live in the city, as he explains: "Our oldest friends are in Belfast, and our godchildren, so we're usually there a couple times a year – and my band, The Dodge Brothers, play in Belfast pretty regularly too.

Mark Kermode returns to Cinemagic Belfast for another Mark Kermode's Film Night on Saturday
Mark Kermode returns to Cinemagic Belfast for another Mark Kermode's Film Night on Saturday

"So what I'll do is, I'll do the events, and then I'll catch up with all the people I haven't seen for the last six months – which is a great joy for me."

Mark Kermode's Film Night comes to Cinemagic Belfast on Saturday September 30 at Queen's Film Theatre, 6pm. Tickets via Cinemagic.org. Mark will also be introducing The Exorcist (The Director's Cut) at QFT on Saturday evening at 9.25pm, tickets via queensfilmtheatre.com.