Glasgow Film Festival

20 February – 3 March 2019

February means Glasgow Film Festival, the joy of connecting with the world on screen and joining some of the best audiences on the planet.  The opportunity to see retrospective classics, discover emerging filmmakers and cinematic rarities is always a draw, but there is a special buzz around Glasgow, a combination of people and programming that makes it unique. As a visitor, staff, volunteers and audiences make you feel welcome and the additional bonus of introductions and Q&As from filmmakers add considerable value to the whole experience. The Pioneer strand of films by first and second feature directors was particularly strong this year with Border, Complicity, Float Like A Butterfly, The Man Who Surprised Everyone, Woman at War and Werewolf among my overall festival highlights. Regardless of the subject matter, there was something about each one of these films that made me feel hopeful. It is always exciting to discover artists whose work you want to follow in future and seeing the ways filmmakers are responding creatively to man-made chaos, past and present, was thoroughly inspiring!

Woman at War directed by Benedikt Erlingsson.

Having loved Benedikt Erlingsson’s previous feature Of Horses and Men (2013), I was looking forward to his latest film Woman at War/ Kona fer í stríð. Erlingsson has a gift for tackling serious subjects with irreverent charm and great humour. In this case, the story of 50-year-old Halla (Halldóra Geirhardsdóttir), a seemingly ‘mild-mannered choirmaster’ secretly committing acts of eco-terrorism to save her beloved Iceland from environmental catastrophe. With a poster of Gandhi on her wall and a Nelson Mandela mask in the field, her extraordinary intelligence, practical skills and physical stamina debunk the Western myth that middle aged women are past their prime. Taking on saving the earth and motherhood by adoption, Halla is a fearless, thoroughly likeable heroine that you can’t help but root for, because her prime motivation is care. Tackling Icelandic history, ideas of democracy, mass media spin, industrial exploitation and the persecution of foreign nationals with shrewd comedy, Woman at War is an absolute delight, being both entertaining and highly conscious. The rugged Icelandic landscape is the ever-present star of the film and the way music functions as witness, chorus and emotional commentary is pure, quirky genius. Woman at War is a wonderful film from start to finish, a gentle push for individual conscience, collective responsibility and action.

Border directed by Ali Abassi.

Iranian-Swedish director Ali Abassi delivers a surprising take on human identity and our relationship with the natural world in Border / Grӓns, winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes in 2018.  Eva Melander stars as Tina, an outsider and a border guard with the uncanny ability to smell fear, guilt and shame, enabling her to naturally detect illegal activity and solve crimes. When Vore (Eero Milonoff) crosses her path, she encounters someone from her own tribe for the first time, embarking on a path of self-discovery that calls into question who she was raised to be. Without giving too much away, Abassi explores boundaries of gender, animal and human characteristics, together with the nature of evil and the role of mythology in contemporary life. This supernaturalism is a brilliant way of interrogating human behaviour and finding humanity. I loved the unexpected, legendary elements of the story and the complexity of the female protagonist. The elation Tina finds in discovering who she is, is coupled with the ambiguity of that experience and a moral dilemma about how to live in the 21st century. Being cast between worlds, there is a cost in belonging which this film explores unlike any other.

Werewolf directed by Adrian Panek.

Writer/ director Adrian Panek’s Werewolf / Wilkolak delivers a new way of seeing its subject, emulating a deepening aspect of craft in contemporary Polish Cinema. Panek’s examination of the psychological effects of trauma on a group of children feels acutely relevant, not only in terms of the history of Poland and the Holocaust, but in the current climate of human displacement on a global scale. Werewolf questions the nature of Horror, liberation and instinct. It is one of the most fascinating and compelling examinations of the Holocaust I’ve seen, because it takes the view of child protagonists in a new direction, beyond sympathy or sentimentality, to a deeper level of confrontation with what makes us human. Panek asks vital questions about whether growth is possible in extreme (and every day) circumstances, transcends multiple genres and presents a story which is both culturally specific and universal. Set in the summer of 1945 in the chaotic aftermath of WWII, the advancing Russian army liberate Gross-Belsen, a site that was part of a complex of German concentration camps, then a German village and now situated in modern day Poland. This territory of conquest and fear is also the primordial forest of fairy tales in the tradition of the Germanic brothers Grimm. Aerial shots intensify that feeling of density beyond the physical, dwarfing the human figure or vehicles in a seemingly impenetrable dark canopy of trees.  Freed by fleeing SS guards, a pack of German Shepherds roam the forest, as ravenous as a group of orphaned children that have taken refuge in a derelict mansion. Held captive by the ever-present canine threat and the adult world outside, the children forge a path beyond survival.

The young cast including Nicolas Przygoda, Kamil Polnisiak, Sonia Mietielica deliver natural, nuanced performances that convey glimmers of hope as a counterfoil to terror and despair. Each character deals with their trauma in a different way, exposing the audience to degrees of empathy and the possibility of what they might become, either succumbing to the horrors they’ve experienced or eclipsing them. Wladek (Kamil Polnisiak) has survived the camp by being subservient to malevolence. Fuelled by adolescent desire, He’s a devious character willing to close the door while atrocities are being committed- equally seizing the insane routines of his captors to survive a moment of impending death. The question of whether he, and his fellow survivors, can experience liberation of a different kind is part of the underlying tension in every scene. I loved the way that seemingly small details of expression and action initiate change in the heightened confines of the mansion, a microcosm of the wider world.  Dolly is a minor character, a little girl, perhaps 5 years old and unable to speak until she initiates an act of kindness that enables the dynamic of predator and prey dominance to shift. Tellingly the dogs have been trained and rewarded by humans for brutally attacking anyone in a striped uniform. Discarding the uniform, the process of scratching away at serial numbered tattoos is a painful process of bloodletting that is significantly as real as it is symbolic. The introduction of red to what is predominantly a cool, blue palette, alludes to Red Riding Hood, a colour worn by the leader of the group, Hanke, who finds a red dress in a suitcase of belongings and becomes momentarily what she might have been without the Holocaust, simply an adolescent girl growing up. Her civilizing influence on the group, giving structure to shattered lives (including her own) and her ultimate choice to act with mercy implies redemption and deliverance from a life of mere endurance. It’s a path through the forest towards light that left me feeling hopeful- not just for the fate of Hanke and her band, but for a country and film industry that consistently delivers increasingly sophisticated confrontations with its own past. Acknowledgement of history and atrocity is necessary for a future beyond mere survival, or one in which history simply repeats itself. Werewolf is a beautiful example of cinematically out-creating destruction.

In an interview for CineEuropa (05/12/18), director Adrian Panek discusses the cultural and human resonance of the film:

‘I think that the figure of the werewolf, half-human, half-animal, is contemporary here. We as humans used to think that we were civilised and cultured, or that we had a divine origin that made us stand out from the rest of nature. After World War II and the Holocaust – the mass slaughter of one group of people by another, in the name of the battle of the species – we altered that perspective completely. Now we’re seeing that beastly, biological element of humans more and more; we perceive ourselves as animals with overgrown brains, and it’s a complete change of paradigm. Horror has always been part of our culture, but now it’s on a different scale.’

To his credit Panek deals in realism and never succumbs to making the inferred story of the title supernatural. He reminds us that Horror is, above all else, a human invention. If there is a fantastical element, it is the miracle of human survival in the face of desecration. Beautifully filmed by cinematographer Dominik Danilczyk and edited by Jaroslaw Kaminski, who worked on Pawel Pawlikowski’ Ida and Cold War, Werewolf mirrors the truth in fairy tales, as life affirming self-reflexivity, rooted in all cultures. I hope that many more audiences will have the opportunity to see this film, experience its multi-layered tensions and essential light.

The Man Who Surprised Everyone directed by Natalya Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov.

Another highlight of GFF19 was The Man Who Surprised Everyone / Chelovek kotoryy udivil vsekh by writer /directors Natalya Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov. Although it is a film about human intolerance and cruelty, it is also a story of how folklore can be an agent of healing. Tales can mask and reveal truths, especially in countries where visual traditions evolve in response to institutionalised persecution based on politics, gender, race or sexuality. As a contemporary adaptation of a Russian Folk tale, The Man Who Surprised Everyone is an important film that confronts hateful attitudes towards gender identity.

Egor, played with quiet dignity and gravitas by Yevgeny Tsyganov, is a forest guard who learns he is dying from cancer. Prompted by a local healer, he attempts to cheat death by assuming female identity, setting off a chain of events that reveal the depth of prejudice in his community. Whilst the sheer audacity, brutality and unquestioning right to judgement by his persecutors enraged me, the inescapable truth here is attainment of a state of being which shrinks the symbolic tumour, carried inside the individual in denial of who they truly are. Engagement with the fable is life, an alternative to a living death for the central character. Powerful and moving, The Man Who Surprised Everyone is a miracle of a film when one considers its origin. The director’s statement at the Venice Biennale described the film as “a parable about the resistance of the ordinary Russian man to death, which he is trying to deceive. The film is based on the personal memories of the director Natasha Merkulova, her Siberian childhood, the village in which she grew up, the people who surrounded her, the legends that were told in those places.” I think the real beauty and brilliance of this film lies in the story as a Russian doll.

Float Like a Butterfly directed by Carmel Winters.

Set in a travelling community in Ireland during the 1970’s, writer / director Carmel Winters Float Like a Butterfly is the uplifting story of a young woman finding her place in the world and defying expectations, within and outside her community. Hazel Doupe’s luminous leading performance as Frances immediately has the audience on side, rooting for a character with the odds stacked against her. The fighting spirit of the film is also collective, a meditation on prejudice and belonging that fortunately isn’t reduced to black and white morality. Though Frances identifies strongly with Muhammad Ali’s fight for his people, this is also a story about her fight for dignity and respect as a woman-ultimately to be called “the greatest” by her father. The relationships between Frances and her father, brother and extended family present comfort and conflict. Poverty, lack of access to education, the pressure to marry young, have children and serve a husband, compound the ever-present threat of misogyny. Coupled with unrelenting racial persecution from the outside world, Frances’s story could have been tragic, but it isn’t because of who she is- sensitively framed by Winters. Traditional folk music has a significant role to play in the richness of this film and in that respect, I find it interesting that it is set in the past. The vintage palette of passionate crimson and steely eyed blue defines the central character and the dynamics of her predicament. To conform to belong, against one’s own nature is to lose the fight completely. Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at Toronto International Film Festival 2018 and Best Film Audience Award at Cork International Film Festival, I’m sure this film will win hearts wherever it screens and perhaps present an alternative view of travelling life to a wider audience.

Complicity directed by Kei Chikaura.

Human relationships and the need to belong is also the subject of Complicity, a rare Japan-China co-production and feature debut from writer / director Kei Chikaura. Like the work of Ozu and Koreeda, Complicity is a beautiful, quietly observed portrait of everyday urban life addressing familial relationships and what we need to grow as individuals. It is also an important film for crossing borders, presenting a human face to economic migration with intelligence and compassion. Unable to find work in China, Chen Liang (Lu Yulai) buys a fake identity and moves to Japan, taking an offer of employment intended for someone else. Apprenticed to an elderly soba chef (Tatsuya Fuji) he slowly becomes part of the household, gaining skills and confidence. The relationship between master and apprentice gives the young man the structure, craft and emotional support to flourish in ways that would be impossible at home. Although built on desperation and deception, the connection is real and positively life changing. I love the way Complicity shines a light on the need for safe harbours in the form of human beings, willing to give others the chance and agency to make their own way in the world. If ever there was a need for such a humane statement on screen, it is now.

Her Smell directed by Alex Ross Perry.

In contrast, director Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell from the GFF19 Sound and Vision strand hits the audience head on with the unrelenting, narcissistic chaos of addiction. Ultimately, it’s a very sobering film about the cult of personality / celebrity that turns stratospheric talent into an inevitable downward spiral. Elizabeth Moss inhabits the role of Grunge star Becky Something so completely that there’s really no option as a viewer than to go with it. There are times when like her fellow band members, the audience is driven to the edge and you really want to get off the tour bus, but that’s precisely the point. Being spun in Becky’s orbit may be an excruciating, all-consuming vortex, but that is the nature of addiction and the insecurity that feeds it. Fortunately, due to Moss’s riveting performance and the examination of female identity/creativity, it is also an interesting ride. When the film does finally shift gear away from full throttle, the cost and repercussions of this life in the spotlight are revealed and like Becky, we have to grapple with what’s left. Effective use of hand-held camera follows her twists and turns of paranoia, delusion and heartfelt brilliance, so that as much as we may dislike the character’s ego and excess, we are compelled to stay with her to the end. Agyness Deyn and Eric Stolz ably support what is essentially a star turn for Moss/ Becky in unflinching closeup. Grunge music culture of the 1990’s wore a particular brand of nihilism, rock and roll excess and heroin chic, almost as a badge of honour. Tragic star personas aside, the raw honesty and vulnerability of Nirvana’s anthem Smells like Teen Spirit or Alice in Chains’ Down in a Hole is undeniable. The channelling of energy depicted in this film is certainly dark, however, it’s also an essential aspect of femininity that’s being let loose here, something that is potentially destructive, but equally pure in terms of expression. It’s not desirable or pretty to look at- but I can think of very few films which allow the same latitude to female protagonists and for that reason it was a dark highlight of GFF19.  

Prophecy directed by Charlie Paul.

Another interesting meditation on destruction and creativity is Charlie Paul’s documentary Prophecy, part of the Local Heroes strand of the festival, focussing on well-known Glasgow figurative artist Peter Howson. As an insight into Howson’s process it’s a fascinating watch, a journey into the anatomy of a painting from blank canvas to sale, shaped by the artist’s apocalyptic vision. Whether you ‘experience the creation of a Masterpiece’ as the trailer claims is debateable. Whilst I agree with Howson that ‘the veil of civilization is very thin’, I’ve always felt that his work succumbs to the testosterone fuelled, power hungry chaos he’s raging against. This film did nothing to convince me otherwise, however I found the excavation of mark and composition emerging out of the physical/metaphorical ground compelling. The artist’s commentary, decision-making process and choice of soundtrack are revealing, not just of an individual life and vision, but how creativity is perceived. The use of classical music adds gravitas to Howson’s art- like his glazing technique adding depth, but it’s slathered on too thickly- pushing emotional buttons of scale and awe. Music cues response to creative male genius suffering a little too often, rather than allowing the work to speak, stand or fall on its own.

The end of film statement that Howson has sold over 1000 paintings valued at $60 million, most in the hands of private collectors and therefore unlikely to be seen by the public seemed like a curious justification for the production. The real justification for the Howson cause is technique and conviction, he is who he is on canvas, whether you like his paintings or not. His distortion of the human figure, evolving from early experiences of Comic book Horror, Old Masters like El Greco and Griffiths’ Silent Film depiction of Christ, engages with a potent combination of fear and beauty, as he sees it. The atmosphere and intensity of the Prophecy painting is undeniable, as is Howson’s belief that he has an ‘important role to play’ in ‘warning people’ about human decay and depravity. Although there are elements of redemption and innocence, such as his daughter Lucie, a figure in many of his paintings, ‘pointing the way’, I’m not convinced that enlightenment or illumination are to be found in this work. In the end, unrelenting brutality and macho posturing comes to celebrate the very thing he’s protesting about. His Croatian and Muslim painting is a prime example. The strength of this documentary perhaps lies in portraiture, the flawed perfectionism that simply renders the artist human and makes this is an accessible documentary. There are many unsettling elements in Howson’s work, intentional and otherwise. I found the addition of the American and Isis flags in his focus work, described by the artist as intentionally controversial, rather an empty play towards the painting’s final destination, undermining the integrity of his process and biblical-style mission to educate.  US market receptivity and celebrity collectors are part of the framing of Howson’s work and its perceived value, however it’s the psychological elements in play as the artist completes the painting that are the most interesting aspect of the film.

This Magnificent Cake directed by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roles.

This Magnificent Cake by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roles was an innovative delight, screened with their wonderful short Oh Willy…  as part of the GFF19 Belgian Cinema: Both Sides Now strand. A fabulous dose of stop motion Surrealism and post-colonial critique, This Magnificent Cake is a triumph of ingenuity and imagination in five parts, using fibres, textiles and skilful sound editing to create a truly unique vision. The obtusely linked tales feature a dreaming king, a pygmy working in a luxury hotel, a failed businessman, an expedition porter, an army deserter and an unfortunate clarinettist. Worthy prize winners at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival (2018), Clermont-Ferrand International Short film Festival (2019) and Toronto International Film Festival (2018), Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roles are distinctive talents in the field of animation, delivering so much more than amusing entertainment.  Their poignantly woven tales and absurd comedy examine history and human connection in ways that are strikingly fresh, crafted with exceptional skill and originality.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid directed by George Roy Hill.

The annual GFF retrospective strand is a champion of exposure to the back catalogue and accessible cinema, qualities often missing at other festivals. The GFF tradition of free morning films continued this year with the 1969: The End of Innocence Retrospective including screenings ofMidnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Medium Cool, Alice’s Restaurant, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Sweet Charity and The Wild Bunch. Festival co-director Allan Hunter’s introductions always add value, whether the film is familiar or previously undiscovered. Held in the Deco surroundings of GFT1, the thematic focus, added context and open, welcoming atmosphere of these screenings are one of GFF’s unique pleasures. Seeing Shirley MacLaine in Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity for the first time and revisiting the legendary partnership of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were thoroughly enjoyable, especially with Hunter’s lead-in commentary, exposing different layers in film-making, history and performance.

GFF19 has been a great cinematic start to the year, showcasing the many ways that filmmakers are using their craft to make us see, think and feel differently about the world around us and our place within it. Film Festivals and cinema in general has a significant role to play in making these imaginative shifts of perception visible, initiating self-reflection and positive change. The films that affected me most this year weren’t holding placards, they simply told their stories with conscience, beauty, artistry and hope. Promoted as ‘the perfect movie mix’ GFF is all that and more, intimately connected to the energy of the city, its people and the rest of the world, .https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival

15th Inverness Film Festival

November Directed by Rainer Sarnet

8-12 November, Eden Court Cinemas

“Film was born of an explosive.” Bill Morrison, Dawson City: Frozen Time

Over the last decade Inverness Film Festival has become a primary source of inspiration and discovery in the UK cultural calendar. It’s a festival that shows me the world within worlds, where the curation is exceptional and my only regret in taking time off to be there is not being able to watch all of it!  This year’s IFF Audience Award went to The Disaster Artist, directed and starring James Franco. In second place was Nicolas Vanier’s School of Life, screened in association with the French Film Festival UK, and in third place Just Charlie, one of the debut selection of films chosen by the Eden Court Young Programmer’s group. I saw none of the above, but with over 60 screenings and events over 4 days and 5 nights, tough choices had to be made! As usual I gravitated towards the more obscure, because for me that’s what film festivals are for- exposure to World Cinema of all ages that you’re unlikely see anywhere else. This year’s highlights were many and varied, but they all had their own spark of ignition in altering my perception. Each of them in their own way reminded me of what I value most in cinema as a medium for expanded awareness and potential change. I very much hope that all of these remarkable films will be picked up by other festivals and distributors, so that many more people in the UK and beyond will have the chance to see them.

Dede Directed by Mariam Khatchvani

The Scottish premiere of Director Mariam Khatchvani’s Dede brought the audience face to face with the question of cultural traditions, “those we need to carry forward and others which need to be left behind”. The story on one level is deeply personal and intimately connected to the filmmaker’s family history, but it is also universal in its themes of gender equality, personal freedom, self-determination and human rights.  The film is set in a truly breath-taking landscape of cultural and historical convergence, filmed in the UNESCO heritage site of Svaneti, Georgia, within the southern Greater Caucasus mountain range, bordering with Russia. There’s a powerful sense that the “Mother” of the translated title is present in these mountains. Images of human scale in relation to Nature suggest alternative ways of perceiving and honouring power, contrary to traditional, patriarchal structures of dominance and control. The film follows the story of Dina, a young woman who courageously resists a forced marriage and the will of her male elders to elope with the man she loves. However, her rightful pursuit of happiness comes at enormous personal cost, in a community governed by masculine pride and entitlement, played out in vengeful blood feuds.  As the audience discovered during the post-screening Q&A with Assistant Director and Casting Director Tamar Khatchvani, although bride kidnapping is no longer practised, the film is based on a true story from the not so distant past. As result there is a real sense of experience within living memory, translated in the very natural performances of the entire cast of non-actors. Everyone on screen is from the same village and as the region has opened to tourism, there have been cultural gains and losses for everyone involved.

The Scottish premiere of EXLIBRIS: New York City Public Library, provides an extensive view of this community orientated organisation and its wide-ranging activities. Directed by honorary Oscar winner and documentarian Frederick Wiseman, the film highlights inequality in contemporary America and the wider world. Rather than being a repository for books, it is a network of learning centres providing after school support, free access to the internet for thousands of citizens who cannot afford it, literacy and maths classes, English classes for immigrants, public discussions with authors, music concerts and performance poetry readings. The range and scope of activity is staggering. In many ways the library is spearheading the city’s response to social problems created by people falling through the cracks of government policy, or being left behind by an ever changing technologically driven world. At 197 mins long, it is an epic by mainstream feature documentary standards, but the wider implications of the link between knowledge, power and politics justify the exploration. Exposing universal social problems and working towards solutions through educational empowerment, both the library and the film are a means advocacy for the most vulnerable in society. Within the NYCPL collections are the words, actions and images of ancestors, leaders and artists, providing inspiration for new creative work and a space for reflection, thought and connection. It is a shame that many libraries in the UK that have been closed or are threatened with closure could not be perceived and utilised in such a vital way- as invaluable, enriching and ultimately money saving community resources.

Happy End Directed by Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke’s new film Happy End, nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and starring Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz and Toby Jones, places a self-absorbed bourgeois family under the microscope. In typical Haneke fashion there’s gallows humour, the disquieting exposure of uncomfortable truths and familial disfunction, run through with the family’s total blindness to the refugee crisis unfolding in their home city of Calais. It’s a film revealing respectable middle-class indifference to the suffering of others and the luxury of pursing a Happy End in life and death. An even more extreme vision of family life came in the form of IFF’s preview screening of The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth 2009, Alps 2011 and The Lobster 2015) has made a career out of eviscerating the traditional family unit, middle class respectability, aspirations and patriarchal power. Lanthimos excels in cinematic immersion, creating highly critical microcosms aided by his regular collaborator, cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis. The opening scene in close up of open heart surgery, with its bloody exposure of flesh juxtaposed with swathes of cold blue, sets the emotional and intellectual tone of this powerful revenge thriller. The cast including Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan are excellent, ably communicating the horror, absurdity and hypocrisy of a contemporary, upwardly mobile family, with its roots firmly planted in Greek tragedy. The visuals and sound design, from the classical exposition to increasingly visceral, blended sound effects, is highly effective in placing the viewer in a progressive state of unease. As we discover what lies at the heart of the characters, the veneer of the perfect family unit starts to dissolve. Notions of professional success, wealth and power are scraped at like bone until it shatters, transforming the story into a parable of the human soul. Teenage boy Martin’s (Koeghan) eye for an eye demand for justice from Farrell’s passionless, negligent surgeon gathers the momentum of a pact. True to form Lanthimos puts the morality, ethics, loyalty, family bonds of his characters and the very fabric of society to the test. In many ways Martin is a willful agent of chaos, much like the Devil himself in banal, seemingly innocuous contemporary dress. Whether you like or loathe Lanthimos’s vision, I guarantee you will be thinking about The Killing of a Sacred Deer long after you’ve seen it.

Dark River by Director Clio Bernard

The alternative opening night double bill of Dark River and Loveless (Nelyubov) delivered an incredibly strong first night. In Dark River UK director Clio Bernard (The Arbor, The Selfish Giant) creates a world where human emotion and the natural world are essentially entwined.  Ruth Wilson’s central performance carries the film, bringing tremendous strength, vulnerability and subtlety to a character she inhabits completely. Following a 15-year absence and the death of her Father (Sean Bean), Alice’s return to the failing family farm triggers confrontation with an undertow of memory and with her volatile brother Joe (Mark Stanley). Bernard brings a real physicality to the experience of memory, carried in the body, effectively using sound design, elements of the countryside and flashbacks to humanely lay the familial backstory bare. She submerges the viewer in Alice’s lived experience, suspended in the cold, dark water of the swimming hole, buried in the deep, layered earth of the rain cleansed Yorkshire Moors and in knife-edged moments of conflict inside the emotional rabbit warren of the family home. As a filmmaker she’s a Master of the great unsaid, handling the most insidious of emotions, guilt and shame, with empathy, skill and compassion. It’s a film about betrayal of the worst kind, the pure bond between siblings and the fragility of rural life in decline. Although the plot does become a little stretched by the end of the film, it’s an impressive addition to Bernard’s work, cementing her status as an emerging voice in British Cinema.

Loveless (Nelyubov) Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan was one of my favourite films at IFF 2014, so I had very high hopes for the director’s latest release Loveless (Nelyubov). The film has won several awards on the European festival circuit already, including the 2017 Jury Prize at Cannes, Best Film at the London Film Festival and Best International Film at the Munich Film Festival. The global scope, sheer artistry and potent relevance of this film exceeded all my expectations. Loveless is an eloquent, gut wrenching and highly observant film, examining the microcosm of a family splitting apart. It is also a reflection of increasing political, social and class divisions within Ukraine, a history of conflict and invasion from “Mother” Russia and indicative of a wider global crisis. Entrenched in the territorial battleground of a bitter divorce, Boris (Aleksey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) are instantly unlikeable characters, narcissistic, petty, spiteful and utterly indifferent to the child they have together. Their primary concern is injuring each other and tending their own needs. Still cohabiting while they try to sell their apartment, the tension and fighting escalate, with their 13-year-old son Alyosha caught between his parents, neither of whom want him. Despite their relatively comfortable lives and upwardly mobile status, their cruel behavior immediately calls into question the idea of advantage and their ability to nurture anything. Although they have seemingly moved on with different partners, whenever we see scenes of intimacy they are driven to negation by selfishness, insecurity, neediness and immaturity. This is visibly compounded by the reliance on self-validation through technology as part of the whole, relentless drive of getting ahead. During the film our sympathy shifts as we are shown that this isn’t because they are inherently bad people. As we see when we meet Zhenya’s annihilating Mother, generations of enforced conformity, the rigidity of church and dictatorial state control have also had a significant role to play in creating a collective state of misery, unrealised and unrecognized human potential.  The infiltration of Western capitalist values, widening economic divide between rich and poor and pitching the false dream of democracy as the freedom to buy things is just as emotionally hollow. Both Boris and Zheyna resent their life choices and blame each other for them, but having never learnt to love or be loved they remain in a childlike, reactive state, unable to grow.

However, the most urgent casualty in this disintegrating marriage is their son and the upcoming generation he represents. As his parents abdicate responsibility in earshot, loudly negating his existence as nothing but an inconvenient mistake, he seeks refuge in a woodland near their apartment block. There is a real sense in these natural images, becoming progressively colder and emotively snowbound, of Nature bearing witness to the unfolding human drama. The camera lingers in the hollows of trees and the earth like it is searching for an answer, not just to the boy’s disappearance but to the loss of self, identity and purpose in life.  Although he has little screen time, Matvey Novikov’s performance as Alyosha is heartbreaking, exemplified in his physical and mental anguish in a brief scene where his mother storms into the bathroom following an argument, not even registering that he’s been right there, the whole time, absorbing every poisonous, self-depreciating word. Although it is a bleak vision of human relationships, diminished capacity and 21st Century empathy deficit, the ambiguity of Alyosha’s disappearance and the small army of dedicated volunteers, who have no self interest in trying to find him, is a definite ray of hope. There is a sense of mobilisation in this group of people, who witnessing the all too common occurrence of children running away or going missing, step in when the police/ state fails to find them. We see compassionate, practical action as a counterfoil to the useless blind cult of “What about ME?!” in a crisis, seen in Boris’s pregnant girlfriend’s reaction to him prioritising finding his missing child above spending time with her. She’s yet another adult nowhere near being emotionally developed enough to support the child she’s carrying. We sense that seeking love and self-worth through vanity, shopping, social status and endless selfies will be what is passed on to the next generation, together with an empty hole in the heart that all those things, including having a child, are attempting to fill. I loved the honesty, tenacity and vision of this film in acknowledging what is a global/ psychological crisis of lovelessness. The film may be set in Kiev and center on a single family, but the dynamics of care and its absence are everywhere. This film is a brilliant touchstone to begin to examine and challenge the soul-destroying dominance of the latter. Loveless is a thoughtful, essential film scheduled for wider release in the UK early in 2018.

The Woman He Scorned (1929) Directed by Paul Czinner

Another festival favourite was the little known British Silent Film The Woman He Scorned (1929), also known as The Way of Lost Souls, with a live improvised score by one of the world’s finest Silent Film accompanists, Stephen Horne.  Channelling the film through piano, accordion, flute, Bereney thumb piano and imaginative silence, this was the best possible introduction to a film that I suspect none of the audience (including myself) had seen. What separates Horne from other accompanists is his emotional intelligence, understanding of film as a medium and great skill as a musician. The ability to faithfully serve the story and interpret its characters with care and sensitivity is comparably rare and the audience were treated to a unique performance of the highest calibre. Directed by Paul Czinner and starring Pola Negri, Warwick Ward and Hans Rehmann, the story of a prostitute in a small coastal town and her relationship with a lighthouse keeper was reinterpreted for a contemporary audience in beautifully nuanced and unexpected ways. Although the title and brochure description alluded to puritanical morality and high melodrama, what Horne brought to the film was infinitely subtler, resisting cliché, drawing out the inner psychology of characters and illuminating the complexity, joy and anguish of what it is to be human. At the heart of the film is Pola Negri’s central performance which defies the stereotypical Vamp/ Femme Fatale in its range, a quality amplified with depth and feeling by the accompaniment. The ballsy bravado of Dance Hall solo piano, sharp, sassy Tango on accordion and its descent into chaotic dissonance, articulated beautifully that “the Vamp” is a performance. What we discover as the story unfolds is the heroine’s real vulnerability, due in no small part to how sound informs what we see in the moment. This musical elevation of character, above the narrow moral codes and judgements of the day, enhances our perception that this is a fallible human being we can all relate to. Horne excels at this kind of musical insight, exemplified in his score / live performance of Stella Dallas (1925), commissioned by the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Film in 2016.

In The Woman He Scorned we see a female protagonist trying to take control of her life and rise above dismal circumstances, triggered by a single act of kindness. At base Louise (Negri) is a working girl under the violent control of her pimp and the ever-present threat of destitution, a pariah in the eyes of society. Although John (Rehmann) first judges and rejects her, he later intervenes on her behalf and then takes her in, in an act framed in his mind as Christian charity. Louise’s attempts to navigate care and kindness she’s never been shown before and escape her past are incredibly poignant, heightened by the instrumentation. As she starts to take her place in village life, these first fragile steps of acceptance are communicated in all their delicacy by the ethereal sound of the flute. She metaphorically removes her makeup, beholds herself in the mirror and begins to see herself differently. The musical interpretation of the scene articulates how vulnerable she is in that tentative, blossoming sound, created with life’s breath. Horne’s accompaniment succeeds in portraying the character rising above societal/ biblical branding of a “whore”, which the character herself has taken on board and musically frees her soul before our eyes. This audience investment in the central character intensifies the drama and emotional impact of what follows. We are not just watching, but feeling the character’s predicament, internalised through the immediacy of sound. We want John to believe Louise because we have come to believe in her, with no persuasion through spoken dialogue at all. What we experience as a contemporary audience isn’t Silent Film as a historical relic, but as a living, breathing, universal artform that crosses all borders of culture and language. In establishing that timeless connection with such consummate skill, you really could not ask for more from a live cinema experience.

The variety of sound and pairing of instruments in Horne’s performances are always a source of surprise and discovery. Instruments are often played simultaneously, one in each hand, and in this performance the isolated use of human voice, a sampled element introduced from the original film soundtrack, brought past and present together.  Fully embracing the cut to a mesmerising sequence of suspended time in the wedding scene, the strange, percussive echo of the thumb harp created a hollow for the audience’s imagination to fill. The full sonic range of instruments from the interior strings of the piano to the otherworldly sound of the thumb harp, half way between dreaming and waking have a spatial quality, together with a sense of fluidity and movement. This is both physical and psychological, from the deep undertow of ocean waves, to the intimacy of John soothing Louise by stroking her hair, the accompaniment brought the audience closer to emotional core of each scene. The beauty of the Silent Film accompanist’s Art ultimately lies in being faithful to every compositional frame experienced in real time and achieving a state altered perception in the half light of the flicker, energy which translates directly to the audience’s live experience. It’s the difference between performing music on top a film and living it, both for the artist and the audience. As John stands on the shore in the final frames, sound divides like shards, mirrored by the accompanist’s hands physically divided between the upper and lower register of the piano. In that building temple of sound and consciousness we understand what has been lost, not just in terms of the individual character, but in the context of human judgement. Like the folkloric suggestion of drowned human souls, seen in the flock of gulls hovering over the sea in the very last frame, The Way of Lost Souls is collectively ours. The level of communication achieved with music and moving images as equal partners, created something truly magical and transformative, as only a live cinema experience in the hands of a master accompanist can.

78 / 52 Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Following his illustrated talk, the Last Silent Picture Show, Geoff Brown introduced The Woman He Scorned in the context of the British film industry circa 1929, during the changeover from Silent Film to Sound. Brown’s talk also gave valuable insight into Alfred Hitchcock’s development as a director in his discussion of the Silent and early sound versions of Blackmail (1929).  As an important precursor to the director’s mature work, Brown’s talk also had relevance to the screening of Director Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78 / 52.  This fantastic documentary explores one of the most revolutionary scenes in cinema history on multitude of levels. Breaking down the set ups and cuts in Hitchcock’s shower scene from Psycho (1960) might sound like the preserve of film students and cinema nerds, but there is infinitely more at work in Hitchcock’s films than just technique. 78/ 52 honors and celebrates that genre defining richness. At the heart of it all is Hitchcock the flawed human being, shaped by Victorian values, Catholic morality and his vision of a cruelly indifferent God, becoming the hand of the director. Today we take the crafting of suspense on film totally for granted as part of mainstream Popular Culture, so much so that it has become parody. What I loved about this film were the different perspectives on this watershed moment in cinema, the profound effect it had on audiences at the time and how it still affects and inspires filmmaking today. Even more than that, it made me want to watch the original film again, igniting the hope that post Scream franchise generations will perhaps find their way back to the original “master of suspense.”

Significantly Hitchcock cut his directorial teeth in the Silent Era and who he was is expressed in interesting ways through his films. 78/52 touches on his personal obsessions, the critical and competitive nature of his work and the wider political, social and cultural landscape of 1950’s and early 60’s America. Whilst it is an analytical film and we hear from many professional filmmakers, it is also a film about the psychology of fear, which in an age of the Trump administration feels particularly ripe for exploration. Psycho is a deeply subversive film on multiple levels and this documentary is a timely reminder of the value of artistic subversion. Made “in defiance of Hollywood” and its code of censorship, Hitchcock kills off the box office gold leading lady early, invades the sanctity and safety domesticity and transforms the concept of “Mother” into something truly monstrous, reflecting that which is carried within. Psycho also represents, as Director/ Interviewee Peter Bogdonovich points out, “the first time” that the naked “female body comes under attack” likening the effect of watching the film to an act of rape. It’s debatable whether a contemporary audience, saturated with images of violence to the point of anesthesia, can really appreciate the true Horror the film engendered, lessening the revolutionary nature of that moment. At the time of release people were viscerally screaming in shock, something I have yet to see in a contemporary cinema. Like Hitchcock’s “bomb under the table” analogy, we should never confuse a simple cinematic explosion wired for entertainment with the heightened anticipation of being told a bomb is going to go off, effectively placing the audience in the position of waiting for the inevitable. Hitchcock sets the audience up for confrontation with their own sense of death or punishment. His refined craft of suspense is a devilish, manipulative art and the “order and chaos” of that “magic act” is something Hitchcock understood completely. As an agent of the darker sides of human nature he is an extremely interesting director whose work will always have primal resonance. As the documentary commentary points out, he plays with audience expectation and makes us work, imagination infilling what we think we see projected on screen. The genius of the shower scene in Psycho in breaking rules, aligning natural sound, music, image and point of view remains breathtaking, affirming what a beautiful, terrible thing the human mind can be.

Dawson City: Frozen Time Directed by Bill Morrison

Director Bill Morrison has a gift for transforming fragmentary archival material into visual poetry. In Decasia (2002) Morrison created a celebratory Memento Mori, crafting decaying film stock into a mesmerising, meditative vision of humanity attempting to outlive itself through Art. The purity of moving images and a symphonic score, with viewers free to make their own associations, was not only refreshing in its use of raw material, but created a sense of sublime beauty in physical decay. Our essential connection to highly fragile, combustible celluloid nitrate is explored on multiple levels in his extraordinarily moving latest film Dawson City: Frozen Time which had its Scottish premiere screening at IFF. Here Morrison moves into more mainstream documentary territory, with commentary delivered entirely in text form rather than voiceover. As in all great Silent storytelling, he creates connective space between the lines for the viewer’s mind to inhabit, exploring different thematic threads on their own terms. This is a film about the memory, history and dreams held in each precious frame of film as lived experience, memorial and portal. This documentary feels very timely in an age where technological progress increasingly urges us as a society to shed the old and embrace the new via the latest upgrade. The question of what we conserve, what we lose, who makes that decision (if it is even conscious) and why, in relation to the back catalogue of World Cinema, has barely been considered. The fact remains that film is still the most tangible, stable material we have, nobody has invented a means of digital storage that equals it in terms of conservation. Morrison subtly reflects that truth in a world that urgently needs to take stock of itself and reveals that film is the very stuff we are made of in the process.

The story of 533 nitrate film prints dating from the 1910s – 1920s discovered in 1978, buried as landfill beneath an ice hockey rink, encompasses forces at work in the wider world today that have never been more urgently relevant. The history of Dawson city as a Klondike Gold Rush town is about human displacement, the decimation and endurance of First Nations cultures, the rise of capitalism becoming corporate rule by the few, the destruction of the environment for profit and the perpetual lie that Film is, like everything else in 21st Century life is simply disposable, consumable entertainment. As the last stop on the distribution circuit and with distributors avoiding the expense of transporting out of date films back to their place of origin, films in Dawson were first stock piled under the administration of bankers. When storage ran out they were then destroyed, thrown into the Yukon River, burnt or buried, painfully echoing the wider estimate that of all the Silent Films ever created, Humanity has lost 75% of them. However, this isn’t a film that preaches, the intention and craft behind it is seeing the bigger picture and extracting the metal. Morrison is all about seeing the debris and the entire landscape from above, within and below the winter permafrost we’re currently living through.  As such he is an important documentarian of our age. Dawson City: Frozen Time achieves universality in the crafting of images, the spark and substance of what it means to make things, to out create destruction.

Dawson City: Frozen Time Directed by Bill Morrison

The origins of film as an explosive material is a powerful metaphor and like the emotional aesthetic of Decasia, it is a double-edged sword as the truth often is. Significantly, film’s most profoundly moving and overwhelming moments are pure Silent sound and image. The morphing of Chief Issac’s face from that of an intensely proud, self-possessed young man, to an aged figure, eroded by exploitation expands into conscious awareness. Morrison is telling us nothing and showing us everything in that moment. In tantalising fragments of films we will never see in their entirety, countless archive photographs, faces and lives, many stories are woven together. The haunting closeup of Mary MacLaren in Bread (1918) directed by Ida May Park is a glimpse into many hidden histories. Through cinema Dawsonites saw the world, in a place that today appears as a last stop before wilderness and oblivion. The fortunes of a town which was born at the same time as the new media of photography and cinema, heralding the start of a modern age, is an excellent place to dig for what sustains and allows us to endure.

Although there were sequences when Alex Somers’ score felt repetitive and overbearing, the music connects emotionally with the imagery, evoking ghostly presences and the physicality of decay. The slowed tempo of human voices and strings operate like something holding on in the present tense of sound hitting the ear and not wanting to let go. The use of organ as an underpinning lament fading into recorded time and distant, echoing piano feel half submerged in the subconscious. There’s real pain in the ebb and flow of human fortunes and in the fate of discarded, abandoned material Culture. This is found footage filmmaking at a whole new level, over and above simple appropriation. As Writer, Editor and Director, Morrison brilliantly combines fragments of rare silent films, newsreels, archival footage, interviews and photographs, including Eric Hegg’s glass plate images which are a survival story in and of themselves. The final sequence of Dawson City: Frozen Time will be etched in my mind forever. Like “the salamander of the ancients [that] lived through fire unscathed”, everything which burns is not extinguished. We see a hand reaching out of the fluttering erasure of emulsion and a dancer, her head and eyes covered, unfurling her scarf in the flicker of free movement, hands raised, claiming and claimed by light. It’s a gesture that feels miraculous and far reaching in terms of human aspiration. It reflects the light, dreams and dust we are as human beings. Kinolorber’s description of the film as a “meditation on cinema’s past” really feels like an inadequate summation because like a lot of other Silent Film publicity it ignores the film’s universal thematic content. Like the image of Mae Marsh in Polly of the Circus (1917) in Morrison’s final sequence, this film is an awakening. Taking its cues and inspiration from original film stock, marked by human actions, neglected and resurrected in a different form, personal and collective loss is acknowledged in a film which is conclusively hopeful. I felt overwhelmed and enriched by watching it and as soon as the credits rolled, I wanted to watch it again.

November Directed by Rainer Sarnet

Another film of extraordinary beauty, artistry and substance is Rainer Sarnet’s November, based on the bestselling Estonian novel Rehepapp by Andrus Kivirähk, starring Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik and Arvo Kukumägi. Films like this one are the reason I go to film festivals! I hope that this Scottish premiere at IFF will be picked up by other film festivals and distributors so that many more people will have the opportunity to see it. Dredging the collective unconscious, Pagan and Christian mythologies are entwined with Estonian Folklore in this creatively striking, thoroughly immersive film. November is possessed of its own fluid logic and this dreamlike narrative is so visually stunning that you cannot help but surrender to it. Director Rainer Sarnet has created something captivatingly strange and magical. It’s a world cast between the physical and metaphysical, where the fantastical and irrational exist side by side with the hard, everyday grind of life, the reality of political oppression and centuries of class rule. True to Eastern European cinematic traditions of escape into fiction and fairy tale, masking social criticism, political and religious dissent, November is all about the human truth in fiction. At base it is a story of human yearning and unrequited love. Laced with black humour, national pride, observance of superstition, ignorance, greed and betrayal, this is a different kind of fantasy, grounded with roots that run deep within the human psyche.  In many ways it reclaims the primal forest from which all storytelling springs- some of the richest creative soil there is! Although I’m certain that there are many specific Estonian references lost on me and UK audiences in general, there are enough archetypal elements in this black and white vision of the living and the dead, found in cultures all over the world, which translate visually. In that respect November’s Director of photography, Mart Taniel was a very worthy winner of Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature Film at the Tribeca Film Festival. The Jury comment about their decision that “one film was particularly audacious and showed supreme command of its visual language” is a very accurate assessment of the film.

November depicts “an ancient land” “where spirits roam”, a world frozen in solarised light and the deepest of shadows.  Villagers create creatures called Kratts out of discarded wood, farm machinery and domestic debris, who serve them in exchange for souls. A young woman Lina is in love with village boy Hans, but he is obsessed with the baron’s beautiful daughter. In the emotional context of unrequited love Lina turning into a wolf, metaphorically consumed by her emotions, inner drives, needs and desires, isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds. On the contrary, it’s a very apt manifestation of what the character is feeling and part of her journey, albeit in canine form. That felt sense, grounding what might appear at first glance as fantasy, is one of the most powerful elements of the film and there are many moments of human recognition throughout. The sequence where the cart and funeral procession cross and pass each other in the stark clarity of black and white is absolute poetry and devastation, as fate separates the living from the dead and a soul is paid for. Beneath its exquisitely crafted, labyrinthine world November suggests, “there is the soul we sell, the soul we long for and the soul we cannot live without”. The question of what human life is worth in alignment with these ideas goes beyond fantastical entertainment. Part of reclaiming our souls is reconnection with this ancient mode of storytelling and the masked wisdom the world has forgotten how to read.

Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat Directed by Fritz Lang

Aligned with the festival screening of new release biopic Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool starring Annette Benning and Jamie Bell, IFF’s superb three film tribute to Gloria Grahame was a definite retrospective highlight. The selection featured her Academy Award winning Best Supporting Actress performance in Vincente Minelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), her starring role as a sharp, sincere and sassy gangster’s dame in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953) and with Humphrey Bogart in the tragic anti-Romance In a Lonely Place (1950). Throughout Grahame demonstrates her stage experience, range and why she deserves to be better known. Hopefully the release of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool will encourage people to seek her out her early film work. There is no device on the planet that can replace or simulate the beauty of black and white restorations on a big screen. IFF, together with the Eden Court Cinema programme generally, is committed to showing as many 35mm format films as it can. In the world of 21st Century cinemas this is a rarity and an absolute pleasure.

It is always exciting to see the work of emerging filmmakers and this year’s selection of short films were incredibly strong, diverse, refreshingly original and brimming with possibility. IFF has consistently championed the work of Scottish filmmakers and this year there were six collections of Short Films including two screenings of international shorts specifically for children. Two films in particular shone as part of the Bridging the Gap showcase in association with the Scottish Documentary Institute. Thomas Hogben’s Teeth (11 mins) cleverly combines archival footage, interviews with the director’s parents, Orthodontist and Dental Anthropologist Dr. Daniel Antoine, in a humorous and revealing story of how teeth express our fears, aspirations and ideals. It also poses important questions about the lengths we go to to try and achieve ideal Beauty. It’s an absorbing and entertaining film, charting the development of child to adult and tapping into the universal human need to belong. Hogben probes insecurities shared by the audience, exposing the horrors and unexpected healing powers of dentistry, with teeth as the mirror of Self.

Directed by Sean Mullen Inhale (15 mins) is an accomplished and sensitive story of family bereavement, grief and transformation from Northern Ireland. Working with horses provides the catalyst for transforming pain and outdoor drone photography is used very eloquently to express the interior life of the subject. Poignant and confessional, this is a film about enduring the loss of those we love and having the courage to let go, knowing that life will never be the same again. Faith is an important aspect of the film, conveyed in the voice of the central protagonist and the belief that “the infinite momentum of life via an energy never destroyed, only transformed.” Whatever your spiritual identity, it is a powerful and moving film. Other Scottish Shorts highlights included Flow Country (10 mins) by Jasper Coppes, beautifully shot using black & white 35mm and winner of Best Scottish Short at the Glasgow Short Film Festival, A Tail of Two Sisters (4 mins) by Lindsay McKee, part of the Edinburgh 48hr Film Project 2017, Selina Wagner’s captivating animation Spindrift (12 mins), Alison Piper’s timely political statement Free Period (6 mins) and Gordon Napier’s 1745 (19 mins) a story which highlights the largely hidden history of Highland slavery.

1745 Directed by Gordon Napier

It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to witness the creative development of local filmmakers over successive years and to see individuals making creative leaps, honing their craft and finding their unique voice. Director Mike Webster screened two films this year Eathie (9mins) and Coire Eilde (11 mins), both following gorge scrambles by Adventure and Wildlife Photographer James Roddie in largely unknown sites in the Highlands.  In the traditionally high-octane field of masculine/ mountain adventure films and festivals, it is refreshing and enlightening to see the process and care taken in approaching each pitch. The expectation of “adventure” is often in the spirit of man conquering the landscape, rather than “venturing into the unknown”. Finding your foothold and being fully conscious of your surroundings, to experience something beyond the everyday in the presence of Nature, is more akin to the idea of Slow Adventure. The idea of Nature as Culture in relation to how we experience the environment is only starting to be explored and there are some seeds of that ethos in Robbie’s descent of the Eathie Gorge on the Black Isle and Coire Eilde (the Pass of the Hinds) in Glencoe. As Roddie and Webster navigate their way into the natural environment, the path created by experience, skill and instinct is inspiring. Drone photography is used very effectively to broaden the viewer’s experience of this territory. It would be great to see more of the interior, psychological aspect of the adventurer in future films, enriching not only the conception of the landscape, but perception of what a masculine point of view in this genre can be. As Roddie states during interview what you really want from an adventure is “obscure” and “intimidating”, heading into an environment where you’re not too sure what you will encounter, equipped with the  tools and self-awareness to find your way through.

Eathie Directed by Mike Webster

The pairing of Webster’s films with those by another local filmmaker, Katrina Brown, were very complimentary in challenging preconceptions and prejudice. It is wonderful to see such a progressive leap in the space between IFF 16 and 17 in the screening of Brown’s two most recent projects, Woman Up (3 mins) and Riding Through the Dark (23 mins). Her natural ability to tackle difficult subjects, based on the trust established with interviewees and participants is a great strength for any documentarian. Making the voice of the subject the primary focus of the film and being led by it clearly drives her vision as a filmmaker. This authenticity aligned with stories that need to be told is a very promising and valuable combination. In Woman Up the stereotype of the “sporty woman” is challenged, following Eilidh, who discovered her passion for mountain biking, together with skills and confidence she didn’t believe she had. That sense of positive empowerment is further developed in Riding Through the Dark. It’s a film that juxtaposes the experiences of two groups of women, “one held in awe” and “the other in stigma”, asking the question of just how different they (and we the audience) really are. The individual stories of a group of elite female cyclists/ athletes and women taking part in a cycling to health and wellbeing programme are woven together and they are extremely honest, courageous and moving. Although the film tackles the issue of mental health and depression head on, it is ultimately hopeful and uplifting.  In revealing the insecurities, loneliness, pain and loss we all share as human beings, Brown and her interviewees shine a light on the possibility of regaining oneself when a safe space can be created, grounded in mutual respect and shared experience. In many ways the film creates that safe space for the audience, doing what cinema does best with the road and the world opening up, gaining understanding and projecting ourselves into the frame as viewers. Riding Through the Dark is also very realistic about the concept of recovery rather than cure. I’m sure that many people seeing the film will strongly identify with it, either in relation to their own experience or that of friends and family. Depression is the absence of hope and in telling their stories these brave women are a shining example of grasping that little bit of something in acute darkness, finding the strength to get back up and to keep going. Using cycling as a coping strategy and a means of being absolutely present in the moment is hugely inspiring, as both groups of women and individuals “create impetus” and “momentum” to move out of darkness, “ignit[ing] [that] passion into everyday life.”

As IFF 2017 drew to a close and I emerged out of the dark, the world appeared a good deal brighter. Outside the cinema it was pitch black and autumn chills, but I was carrying the sparks of everything I’d seen with me. In the cross fertilisation of fiction and documentary there is fire, hope and the possibility of positive change. The world needs imagination and the voices of independent filmmakers as never before, to find the truth, set things alight and make us see the world anew.

http://2017.invernessfilmfestival.com/welcome/