Short Scottish Documentaries

After many years of trying and failing to get to a screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival – the films I want to see are always sold out by the time I find out about them – and much juggling of the diary to find something that I wanted to see, was on at a time I wasn’t at work and wasn’t sold out, I finally made it to a screening. A screening of short, Scottish, documentaries which regular readers of this blog may identify as being pretty close to everything I want in a film screening. The screening was organised by the Scottish Documentary Institute. For those, like myself, who’d never heard of them before, they’re a research centre based at Edinburgh College of Art specialising in training, production and distribution of documentaries since their founding in 2004. The films screened were all the products of this year’s Bridging the Gap initiative – a new talent initiative where four Scottish-based filmmakers are commissioned to make a 10 minute documentary, receiving training and support along the way from development to post-production. In previous years all the films have been based around a theme, but this was the first year when the filmmakers hadn’t been given a theme, and yet they all seemed to have a theme despite that; of men in isolation.

Polaris (Chico Pereira)
Polaris is set amongst the Filipino community in Fraserburgh, and in particular on the trawler from which the film takes its name. The use of sound and equally of silence is brilliant, at times the sounds of the ship feel like a physical presence. It’s a contemplative and poetic piece with minimal dialogue, following the lives of the crew both on board and on shore without telling a particular ‘story’. Instead mediating on ideas of isolation and companionship, leaving the audience wanting to know more about the community into which we get the briefest of snapshots.

Pouters (Paul Fegan)
Pouters on the other hand is a film about the idiosyncratic and apparently ancient sport of Doo Fleein. Put aside your images of men in flat caps racing pigeons, this sport requires far more, cunning, dedication and sheer bloody minded trickery than its more refined cousin. This is a film about a 25 year rivalry, an all-consuming passion and a really obscure sport. The characters are charming and larger than life; the humour both broad and subtle. Not a lot happens in the film but there’s plenty of dramatic tension nonetheless, and maybe a wee bit of an insight into the West of Scotland sports fan mentality in there too.

In Search of the Wallaby (Alasdair Bayne/Andrew O’Connor)
In Search of the Wallaby is probably the weakest of the three films, mainly because, by the filmmakers own admission, the film is torn between what it wants to be. Back in 2004 a Wallaby was mysteriously found dead on Islay, how it got there in first place and what killed it was never resolved. The film starts as an X-files-style investigation into the mystery and runs into a dead end pretty quickly, and ends up as film about a young farmer with the Wallaby as a somewhat inadequate metaphor for his feelings about his life on the island. I couldn’t help feeling there was a far better film in there somewhere and it was a shame they hadn’t had the freedom to ditch the failed idea and more fully develop the more interesting one.

Takeaway (Yu-Hsueh Lin)
Takeaway is the most solitary of the films, quite an achievement given the company it found itself screened in. It follows a Chinese Takeaway delivery driver on his rounds one night and his musings on his job, his life in Scotland, the city and how much of a different world it becomes at night, takes us on a journey through an Edinburgh that is at once familiar and utterly alien. The cinematography of the world outside the fishbowl world of the car reflects this, the shooting creating a distorted world that is both intimidating and tempting.

Polaris and Pouters are available to watch online.

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