Film festivals are excellent things, brilliant opportunities to see films that you might not otherwise – or at least not for a long time – to see short films or obscure documentaries. I love film festivals, but crucially I don’t go to that many. Not, as some might presume, because there aren’t very many in Scotland, while the majority of the film festivals that take place in the UK are held in London there are a fair few up here. Recently the Edinburgh Film Festival has stepped out from under the shadow of its parent Festival, and the Glasgow and Shetland film festivals are gaining increasing international coverage; there are numerous smaller more specialised – Edinburgh’s annual Africa in Motion comes to mind – film festivals held in Glasgow and Edinburgh, festivals from the rest of the UK increasingly do tours and Tilda Swinton and co continue to produce charmingly eccentric efforts across the Highlands. I just have this unfortunate tendency to miss them. Somehow, I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time or don’t hear about them until it’s too late; one year I will hear that tickets for the Edinburgh film festival have gone on sale before the films I want to see sell out.
Never has this unfortunate tendency of mine been more obvious than this autumn. I knew in advance I would be missing the Africa in Motion festival as I was off adventuring around mainland Europe, and doubly so because its tour doesn’t come my way this year. However, it seemed everywhere I went around Europe I would find a film-festival that I couldn’t go to. Festivals seemed to be happening the week before I arrived places, or the week after I left them, in the case of the controversy dogged Zürich film festival it started the evening of the day I left. In one particularly annoying case I discovered that the last screening of one festival was the evening I arrived in that city; the day afterwards. It did occur to me that it would make quite a fun project to travel around Europe for a year trying to attend every single film festival, but mostly I came to feel that the film festivals of Europe were taunting me a little. It even continued once I’d returned to the UK, arriving in Bristol to discover that the Unchosen festival – which campaigns against Human Trafficking – was the following month. (Looking for a link to that festival I’ve discovered that I am currently missing the Encounters short film festival in Bristol…)
Therefore I felt thoroughly triumphant to actually make it to a screening as part of the Birds Eye View Festival when its tour arrived in Glasgow this week. Flooding and train cancellations meant I didn’t get to the Documentary Masterclass at the CCA but I did see an excellent silent film with live musical accompaniment at the GFT on Wednesday. My Best Girl starring the iconic Mary Pickford could almost be held up as the perfect archetypal romantic comedy, and despite not being the greatest fan of the genre I mean that as a compliment. Additionally it has a certain charm, a sort of innocence and naivety almost, borne of being made in a less cynical age than our own. I must admit that I think all silent movies should be watched on a big screen with live musical accompaniment, there’s a certain vibrancy that the live accompaniment gives them that doesn’t come across on the pre-recorded scores that accompany DVD or television screenings. Some films lend themselves to cinematic viewing, loosing a certain something on the small screen (I saw Requiem for a Dream in a tiny screening room, with an excellent sound system, at uni and I’ve never felt more claustrophobic or enjoyed that film more). There’s just something about that piano accompaniment, accentuating the moments of comedy or tenderness, or picking up the pace, galloping along as the inevitable chase gets increasingly manic, that somehow manages to hold its own against any amount of deafeningly crystal clear 5.1 surround sound. There’s something more intimate and warm about it, almost akin to attending a gig, knowing that you’re sharing a unique experience and that even if you were to go and see the film again, with the same people, in the same place with the same accompanist it wouldn’t be exactly the same. It was, as the girl in the row behind me announced at the end, “exactly what I needed.”