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Tonight is the official start of the Inverness Film Festival, so I kicked off my film viewing with my traditional attendance of a short film screening. Bridging the Gap is in many ways the perfect confluence of my film festival interests combining short films and documentaries. (The only real complaint I have about this year’s scheduling choices – given that this year it will allow me to see six out of the seven documentaries showing – is that there a lot of short film screenings scheduled across from documentaries so I’ll be seeing less short films that I would otherwise.) I always look forward to the Bridging the Gap screenings because the quality is always so high, even the ones that I personally consider to be duds are usually well made. As much as I think that five to ten minutes is the perfect duration for a short film, I do give a bit more leeway to documentaries and the ten to fifteen minutes that these span was pretty much spot on. Leaving the audience wanting more time with the more compelling protagonists and not out staying their welcome for the less compelling ones. I’d go so far as to call this a vintage year for BTG documentaries.

Altsasu

Altsasu is a Basque town where during the annual festival, several youths and a couple of off-duty civil guards had a contretemps that ended up with seven youths in prison for terms between two and sixteen years, on terrorism charges. The case is widely considered a miscarriage of justice – and the imprisoned as political prisoners – with sizeable annual protest coinciding with the local festival that marks the anniversary of the events. The film largely follows one of the mothers as she faces the anniversary and campaigns to free her son and his compatriots. The segments shot during the festival give everything else and strange and slightly unsettling quality, underlining in it’s own way the cultural differences between Basque country and surrounding Spain.

Hydebank

This was my favourite of all the films in this year’s screening. It’s set in HMYOC Hydebank, which has, for reasons that were never explained, a flock of sheep that prisoners care for as part of their rehabilitation. Our protagonist Ryan is clearly a violent and damaged young man, but the care and tenderness he shows the animals in his care is just as obvious. He’s by far at his most articulate when talking about the sheep. It seems that its as much a revelation to him as to anyone else that he’s capable of something other than destruction. (I suppose, in a way, working with sheep must be oddly cathartic for someone like him, they couldn’t care less about who he is and what he’s done, and screaming and posturing will have pretty much no effect on them.) The scene where he’s working away in the dark, with only a headlamp for company, fellow prisoners shouting abuse down at him from the cells above, that feels terribly metaphorical for the other work he’s carrying out. Learning to control himself in the face of provocation, and equally to face the demon of the crime that put him there in the first place.

My Name is Anik

My Name is Anik is a very sweet and compelling film about a Kurdish woman living in Istanbul and the arrival of her granddaughter from Scotland to stay with her and learn Kurdish. Grandmother and granddaughter are performing a dance throughout the film negotiating the differences between what the younger woman wants and needs from her grandmother, and what Anik wants and needs to pass on to Bircan. What is most obvious in their arguments and stubborn silences, and the quiet tenderness of hair-care is how fundamentally alike they are, however different their opinions and perspectives may be.

There is a great deal unspoken in this film, so much of the politics of being a minority language speaker, of cultural and linguistic preservation and inheritance, plays out in their discussions and arguments without really being discussed head on. There’s also a great deal said obliquely about what it means to be an immigrant and what it means to go home, whether a meaningful going home is possible for either of them.

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

This film was nominated for a BAFTA and I can kind of see why, without agreeing with the decision. On the surface it’s a charming and whimsical film about a man with a traumatic brain injury and his slightly eccentric but warm and cheerful wife, but underneath, it’s a deeply sad film about what love can endure and survive, and the toll that his condition takes on both of them. The slow isolation that is settling around them as the quirks of his condition gradually drive friends and family away, placing more and more of the strain on Lindsay alone.

If comedy is tragedy plus time then this is the opposite, with what at first seems like a funny side effect of Paul’s injury becomes increasingly sad as it reveals how little remains of the man he was before.

Vivir Bailando

The summary of this film makes it seem much more grim and bleak than the actual film turns out to be. It’s a joyful and hopeful film about getting a second chance at love and finding joy in unexpected places. Widowed Cari and her new beau Vincente are the last inhabitants of their village, but instead of this being a source of sorrow or loneliness for them, it’s an opportunity and an excuse to be as eccentric as they like. To play loud pasodobles in the street and dance in the middle of the road, treating their village like their own playground and living life to the full. Dancing their lives away indeed.

I suspect that this is the first time I’ve seen one of these screenings without being handed an explanatory blurb sheet, but as I only tend to read those during screenings if I don’t like the films – a sneaky peak at the duration to see how much longer I need to endure – I really can’t complain that I didn’t notice until I came to write them up afterwards. I did have fun trying to guess this year’s theme – perhaps absence or displacement, there are a lot of people who aren’t where they’re meant to be in these films – but it turned out to be opportunities. Initially I thought didn’t really fit – though the other tag that they have ‘red’ fits even less – but the more I think about it the more it works. To a greater or lesser extent, all the films are about second chances, the needing of them or the getting of them.

Trailers for all of this year’s films are available to watch online on the Scottish Documentary Institute’s website.