The Secret Policeman's Film Festival

Paley Center in Los Angeles: June 24 to July 19, 2009 [View Schedule]
Paley Center in New York: July 1 to July 31, 2009 [View Schedule]

For followers of all things Monty Python, references to The Secret Policeman’s Ball and its many incarnations are legion. Filmed records of these pioneering Amnesty benefit shows have not always been readily accessible in the U.S., however, nor has it been easy to keep track of which of the myriad events are available and whether or not those that reach American shores are offered in their unexpurgated British glory.

To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the first show to give the gatherings their enduring name, The Paley Center for Media gives fans of the Pythons—and also of Beyond the Fringe, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Saunders, et al, and musicians ranging from Sting to Eric Clapton to Peter Gabriel—a chance to see twenty-five films capturing those landmark events and their American offspring.

It was the Python’s John Cleese who actually instigated the very first show to benefit Amnesty International, called "A Poke in the Eye (With a Sharp Stick)" on stage, but retitled Pleasure at Her Majesty’s for its 1976 filmed record—and retroactively grandfathered into the Ball canon as the progenitor of the series. While the initial galas focused primarily on comedy, the sprinkling of acoustic rock performances (starting the “unplugged” phenomenon) into subsequent shows made The Secret Policeman’s Ball and its various double entendre–named sequels invaluable records of some of the British Isle’s foremost talents in both humor and rock. Along the way, Cleese handed over the spearheading role to new-wave comic Eddie Izzard, allowing the Ball tradition to be carried on by new generations of British comedic performers and rockers. The Center’s screening series includes U.S. premieres, theatrical world premieres, the return of certain films that have been out of circulation for years, uncut versions previously seen only in truncated form, and several shows that have never been available on video or DVD.

The Secret Policeman’s Film Festival is a five-week fete taking place in Los Angeles and New York. The Los Angeles salute (overall dates June 11 to July 19) will be hosted by the American Cinematheque at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre and by The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills; the New York retrospective (overall dates June 26 to July 31) will be hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and by The Paley Center for Media in Manhattan.

The festival is curated and produced by Secret Policeman’s Ball series cocreator Martin Lewis, who coproduced the first four shows, produced multiple films, TV specials, and albums of the shows, and who coconceived Amnesty’s 1988 “Human Rights Now!” world tour. The Paley Center screenings were cocurated with Ron Simon and Barry Monush.

View the full festival schedules:

Los Angeles Schedule

New York Schedule

Program Synopses

Screenings included with general admission.