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The Secret Policeman's Film Festival: 30th Anniversary of Landmark Benefit Series Saluted in L.A. and NY

Friday, May 15, 2009

May 15, 2009—Los Angeles/New York—This June marks the 30th anniversary of "The Secret Policeman's Ball" series—the pioneering benefit shows instigated by Monty Python's John Cleese to aid the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights organization Amnesty International. The first show took place in London in June 1979, and it triggered a series of benefit events starring Britain's top comedians and rock musicians, that have been presented in the UK over the past three decades.

"The Secret Policeman's Ball" series has been credited with galvanizing comedians and rock musicians to use their talents and influence to raise funds and consciousness for human rights and other social and political causes—and helped inspire 1985's "Live Aid".  Artists who cite the series as the starting point for their social activism include Bono, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bob Geldof.

This summer, "The Secret Policeman's Film Festival" will celebrate three decades of comedic and musical performances for Amnesty by over 100 top stars—with a five-week fete taking place in both Los Angeles and New York.

The Los Angeles salute (June 11–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 (June 26–July 31) will be hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and by The Paley Center for Media in Manhattan.

The festival will showcase the multiple films, TV specials, and documentaries that have chronicled the "Secret Policeman's Ball" shows—many of which have never been screened theatrically in the US and are not available on DVD.

Twenty of the festival's twenty-five films will be receiving their World Theatrical Premieres at the festival. The festival will also screen the uncut US premieres of the three most recent Balls organized by Eddie Izzard as well as films and TV specials of Amnesty USA's 1980s and 1990s music tours and concerts—several of which have not been seen anywhere for over twenty years and have never been released on video or DVD.

The shows have brought together the cream of Britain's comedic performers including John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman (of Monty Python), Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Rowan Atkinson, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Hugh Laurie ("House M.D."), Stephen Fry, Jennifer Saunders ("Absolutely Fabulous"), Neil Innes (Python associate and The Rutles), Russell Brand, Graham Norton, Steve Coogan ("Night At The Museum"), Richard E. Grant, Alan Rickman.

In recent years the "Secret Policeman's Ball" shows in London have featured special guest appearances by visiting American performers including: Jimmy Fallon, Chevy Chase, Sarah Silverman and Spinal Tap.

The "Balls" have also featured the cream of the British Isle's rock performers including Pete Townshend, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bono, U2, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Dave Stewart, Bob Geldof, Phil Collins, Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading, Seal, Donovan, Morrissey, Duran Duran. In many cases, the performances were the live solo debuts of musicians primarily known as band members—and the solo performances of their hits by Townshend, Sting, Collins and Geldof have also been credited with directly inspiring the "Unplugged" phenomenon that followed in subsequent years.

The success of the "Balls" inspired the US section of Amnesty to stage its historic 1980s concert tours—the 1986 "Conspiracy Of Hope" US tour and the 1988 "Human Rights Now!" World tour—and several individual concerts in the 1990s.  Artists featured in these concerts included: U2, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, The Police, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Sting, Bono, Radiohead, Lou Reed, Tracy Chapman, Bryan Adams, Jackson Browne, Joan Armatrading, Joni Mitchell, Wynton Marsalis, Sinead O'Connor, Carlos Santana, Yoko Ono, Miles Davis, Joan Baez, Youssou N'Dour, Alanis Morissette.

Highlights of the film festival include:

  • • 20 World Theatrical Premieres
  • • The original uncut UK films of the iconic first six shows organized by John Cleese
  • • The US premieres of the uncut 2001, 2006 and 2008 shows organized by Eddie Izzard.
  • • Two long-unavailable US-only versions of the films—including the special US version of "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball"—the movie that became the breakthrough first hit for the fledgling Miramax Films in 1982.
  • • A special 11-hour marathon event recreating the experience of Amnesty's landmark 1986 "Conspiracy Of Hope" concert at Giants Stadium. The screening will follow the exact time-frame of the original show, which took place from 12 noon till 11pm on a Sunday in June. Audience members will be encouraged to enter into the spirit and dress up in 1980s clothes, with prizes for the best outfit. (The L.A. screening takes place on the exact anniversary of the original show.)

The festival is presented by an informal concord of respected cultural organizations: The American Cinematheque, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, The Paley Center for Media, and the Mods & Rockers Film Festival (founded in Hollywood in 1999).

The festival is curated and produced by "Secret Policeman's Ball" series co-creator Martin Lewis—who co-produced the first four shows, produced multiple films, TV specials and albums of the shows, and who co-conceived Amnesty's 1988 "Human Rights Now!" world tour.

TICKETS & INFO on the consumer website: