A FILM about Rob Roy shot in Scotland almost a century ago begins the country’s only festival of silent film next week.

The rarely seen 1922 film starring bushy-browed David Hawthorne as the titular folk hero is one of the opening films of the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival – affectionately known as HippFest.

Held just a few days before the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union, many highlights reflect HippFest’s theme for 2019 of collaboration between nations.

The five-day festival is anything but silent, with screenings of some of the world’s best restorations from the silent era being accompanied by soundtracks performed live in the impressive Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness.

Festival director Alison Strauss says Rob Roy, which was filmed in Stirlingshire and the Trossachs, had excited cinema-goers queuing in the streets to see it when it was first screened.

For HippFest, the film will be accompanied by live music written and performed by David Allison, a multi-instrumentalist recently acclaimed for his soundtracks to 1920 silent movie The Last Of The Mohicans.

Another major commission this year is a live soundtrack to Laila, an epic from 1929 which Strauss says is considered to be “the very pinnacle of Norwegian silent cinema”.

It stars Swedish actress Mona Martenson as a Norwegian girl separated from her parents and brought up among the Sami people.

Now the restoration of the film by Danish-German director George Schneevoigt will be set to a new score by award-winning musicians Rona Wilkie and Marit Falt – themselves an international duo.

Fiddler Wilkie was named BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2012 – the same year she and Falt won the coveted Danny Kyle Award for the uplifting, borderless music they make together. Like Laila, Falt was brought up in Norway. Like the actress who plays Laila, she was born in Sweden. She plays the mandola, a traditional Nordic instrument bigger than a mandolin.

The Scottish-Scandanavian duo are behind the soundtrack to 16 Years Till Summer, Lou McLoughlan’s Scottish Bafta-nominated documentary about a man’s return to the Highlands following years in prison.

Laila will be the first silent film the pair have scored. They say their score will be influenced by joik, traditional Sami music, and how the Sami are represented in the film.

“There is very much the idea that ethnic Sami people and ethnic Norwegians cannot be together,” says Falt. “Sometimes the way the Samis are portrayed, the way their make-up is done – they are made to look menacing.”

Wilke says their soundtrack questions the film’s use of ethnic stereotypes.

“The way that we introduce the Samis is inspired by joik, the main traditional music of the Samis,” says the fiddler. “Joik uses scales which are non-threatening to our ears in the Western classical tradition. It’s a nice coincidence that we can use music which is inspired by their tradition, and that the scales within that tradition have the tonality to paint a non-threatening mood.”

Falt and Wilkie will tour with Laila to Edinburgh’s Folk Film Festival in April.

“The Hippfest performance is really influencing how we are writing the score,” says Wilkie. “It’s two-and-a-half hour film, and there’s only two of us playing, so we have to make sure we don’t injure ourselves.

“The challenge is to write for that amount of time, and to only use complete silence very sparingly, as it’s very, very powerful.”

She adds: “We first watched the film with no sound at all. Because modern consumers of images like us expect there to be a sound basis to what’s on screen, when there isn’t sound, that silence is deafening.”

All films at HippFest are accompanied by live soundtracks and Strauss says that audiences are savvy as to how images and music tell stories in a different way.

“I went to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake recently and it was so clear that a story was being told, despite there being no dialogue,” she says. “Instead, it was being told with movement and with music. In a film like Wall-e, which has no dialogue for the first part of the film, you don’t notice because the story is being told visually, or sometimes with music.”

STRAUSS continues: “When you watch a silent film with really good music, which is what Hippfest is all about, the music expresses what’s going on in the film.

“It adds another layer or helps you understand the film. The music is very much supporting the film.

“People at HippFest often say that they forget that a film was silent.”

The festival will also host the UK premiere of the restoration of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles (1929) – the final Sherlock Holmes film made in the silent era. Long believed lost, the 35mm nitrate print of this version was only rediscovered 10 years ago in the basement of a Polish priest’s house.

Conan Doyle’s atmospheric adventure was brought to life through another international team: German director Richard Oswald, a Danish cinematographer and six lead actors from six different countries.

During HippFest the film will be screened twice with live piano accompaniment from musician Mike Nolan and with English intertitles.

Another major commission this year is a soundtrack for 1928’s Moulin Rouge, a British film directed by German silent era pioneer Ewald Andre Dupont.

Reflecting the original British-German collaboration, HippFest commissioned a new soundtrack from German musicians Frank Bockius and Günter Buchwald and Jonny Best, a British musician and director of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival.

Strauss says collaborations between people from different countries were common in the silent era, and that the form itself is internationalist, as intertitles could be easily switched to match each screening location.

“Different languages were of little account at this time, and international casts and crews could work interchangeably across Europe and North America,” she says. “Film is a collaborative thing anyway. People often shine the light on the director, but we all know it’s also the writer and the cinematographer and the cast and all the crew that make a film. Similarly it’s about collaboration across countries as well.”

Strauss says HippFest’s researcher found a report from the time Moulin Rouge was being made at Elstree Studios.

“In Elstree,” the report reads, “all the Germans speak broken English and all the English speak broken German.”