A FILM festival will screen the previously unseen “Lost Films of the Kursaal” and a rediscovered Laurel and Hardy film on its gala opening night.

The Southend Film Festival is set to show more than 50 films and welcome directors, producers and actors from across the world.

But rather than showing a big budget blockbuster, the top billing on its opening night has gone to home movie footage shot in Southend itself.

In 2006, builders renovating a house in Southend discovered a collection of 16mm film reels shot by the late Jay Morehouse, the last owner of owner of the property and the last owner of the original Kursaal Amusement Park, which had been sold for redevelopment in the 1970s.

For more than twenty years Morehouse, an amateur photographer and movie maker, filmed crowds of daytrippers and holidaymakers having fun at the Kursaal and throughout Southend.

In 2016 Morehouse’s archive was offered to the White Bus – the festival’s organising body – and a painstaking restoration and digitisation project began.

The result is the very first public screening of the films, now known as the Lost Films of the Kursaal, Southend-On-Sea, offering moviegoers a fascinating glimpse of Southend in its heyday.

Festival director Paul Cotgrove said: “I’m really looking forward to the gala night. Jay Morehouse’s films are culturally important and they really capture people living in and visiting Southend in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.”

“We tend to think of this era as rather drab, but these 16mm home movies reveal a different truth.”

There will also be a special Laurel and Hardy screening. In 1952, the duo performed in Southend and stayed at the Park Inn Palace hotel, the main setting for the festival. Their silent comedy the Battle of the Century will be shown, a triumph as for decades the second reel of the film had been thought lost.

However since it was rediscovered two years ago it has only been shown once before, in London, making the Southend screening even more unique.

To complete the original and authentic 1920s cinema experience, local musician Adam Ramet will provide live piano accompaniment to the action.

A piece titled AmStarDam about a young man’s journey to Amsterdam, by Chalkwell-born music video directors Lee and Wayne Lennox, will round off the event, which runs from May 25 to the 29.