Asunder lives on through new screening programme

AN award-winning film about Sunderland people living through the First World War is set to get a much wider audience.

Asunder premiered at the Sunderland Empire on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016 as part of the national 14 -18 NOW programme of experiences connecting people with the First World War, as part of the UK’s official centenary commemorations.

Written and produced by respected music writer and film producer Bob Stanley, Asundertells the story of the region’s involvement in the ‘Great War’ through personal experiences. 

Last year it was announced Sunderland Culture would deliver an Asunder legacy programme, including screenings of the film at local and national venues, along with an educational resource project for Sunderland schools.

Covid restrictions meant a planned programme of screenings could not go ahead, and reduced seating capacity because of social distancing measures also threatened the commercial viability of screenings when the current restrictions are eased.

However, Sunderland Culture is now working with Live Cinema UK, the country’s leading organisation dedicated to producing, promoting and researching live cinema events, and with YourScreen, a multi-screen virtual cinema created in partnership with local, independent exhibitors to stream films into homes across the UK. With the help of both organisations, Asunder will be broadcast via a website for a two-month run.

Viewers across the UK will be able to watch Asunder at https://watch.yourscreen.net/ from Monday, March 1 to Friday, April 30, for £7.99, or at a discounted rate of £5.99 when booked through one of YourScreen’s partner cinemas around the country who share in a percentage of ticket sales.

A list of participating cinemas will be updated at https://yourscreen.net and https://asunder1916.uk. Audiences are encouraged to check with their local independent or community cinema to see if they are signed up to YourScreen, and if they haven’t already done so, they can sign up as a partner venue by contacting [email protected] to get set up.

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director at Sunderland Culture, explained: “We’re delighted that, with the help of Live Cinema UK and YourScreen, Asunder will be available to such a wider audience.

“It was important to us that the successful Asunder project had a legacy and that the performances back in 2016 were a start of something. A big part of that legacy has been an educational resource project for Sunderland schools, which we produced with support from Sunderland Music Hub. This has clearly been affected by the Covid pandemic, but will be ready for schools when they want them, with 15 schools expressing an interest.

“Another part of the legacy project was making the Asunder film available to a wider audience. We’d commissioned Live Cinema to help us with this, but again our joint efforts were hindered by Covid restrictions. Now, with the help of YourScreen, we can deliver the film to new audiences without the need for traditional cinemas.

“Asunder is a remarkable piece of film-making with some powerful stories and wonderful, original music bringing the First World War vividly to life.”

The film was directed and co-produced by award-winning artist and filmmaker Esther Johnson and narrated by Kate Adie OBE, with Alun Armstrong as the voice of the Sunderland Daily Echo & Shipping Gazette. The film’s soundtrack was scored by Field Music and Warm Digits, performed with Royal Northern Sinfonia and The Cornshed Sisters. 

Some of the characters in the film include Sgt George Thompson – a transport driver in the 7th Durham Light Infantry whose story was dubbed ‘the original War Horse’ after his diary told the tale of both him and his horse surviving the Somme; Bella Reay – a young munitions worker during World War One and also top striker in Blyth Spartans Ladies FC scoring 133 goals in one season and going on to play for England; Lizzie Holmes – the first woman in Horden to wear trousers, challenging convention and inspiring other women factory workers; and Margaret Holmes, a tram conductress and heroine of a Zeppelin bombing raid.

For more information about the film, go to http://asunder1916.uk or follow the Twitter account @1916asunder