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It’s that time of year again, the Inverness Film Festival is returning. Not quite the way it was in the before times but certainly closer to that then it was last year. As part of the returning normality the Film Festival Preview screening happened again, though it was not the packed affair that it normally is – busy certainly, but not the kind of affair that I can only get into because I only want one ticket. As always it was a selection of trailers for films showing at the festival themed by the threads of the film festival with introductions by the film festival programmer Paul MacDonald. As much as I am a sucker for a good trailer, I’m really there to hear the programmer’s thoughts and reasonings for the choices. I sincerely doubt that I’m the only audience member who takes an enthusiastic Paul reaction as a more reliable review that any gushing blurb in the programme – or in Sight and Sound for that matter – or number of film festival prizes.

This year’s recommendations come more with the carrot of ‘this has a great performance by that actor’, or this is the new film by the director of this previous IFF favourite film. Which I appreciate, I’d likely never have booked to see Petite Maman if I hadn’t been informed that it was the new film by the director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Sciamma, 2019) which in turn I likely wouldn’t have picked without Paul’s recommendation that it was one of best film’s he’d seen that year – it was definitely the best film I saw that year.

Normally many of the films would come with recommendations from other – larger, more prestigious – film festivals but while all of the European ‘big three’ ran in more or less truncated forms this year, and awarded prizes, there is no real sense of films coming with an accumulating buzz. (This year’s IFF features this year’s Palme D’Or winner along with two films that won the Golden Bear at Berlin over the pandemic but There is No Evil (Rasoulof, 2020) is showing as part of a wider season of Iranian cinema that I’m personally pretty excited about rather than as a garlanded star.) With that in mind, this year’s festival is much more about previews and first chances to see than it is a chance to see the cream of that year’s festivals. It’s worth noting that a surprising number of films didn’t actually have trailers yet – that’s how new they were – and some of those that did came with the caveat that they were ‘works in progress’, the final trailers that accompany those film’s general releases may well be very different. A reminder, if we needed it, that it’s been a funny old year and a half for the film industry.

(Oddly enough, the biggest absence from the usual schedule for me, is that the Bo’ness silent film festival hasn’t run these last couple of years – well a much reduced online version did run – so there’s no newly restored/re-scored silent film for us to enjoy at IFF this year.)

As always, I’m more excited by the films showing in the documentary and new world cinema strands then any award winners. The whole point of seeing films at a film festival for me – and handily also for many of the friends I tend to see films with at the festival – is to see films I otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to see. As fun as it was to have seen Oscar winner Nomadland (Zhao, 2020) before it won the Oscar I generally don’t expect to have an opinion about any awards category except Documentary. (Crossing my fingers that Courage is one that comes back.) This year looks to be a vintage year for documentaries at the film festival, though frustratingly some of the best coincide with the times I absolutely can’t be at the cinema. Nonetheless there’s some great stuff that I can go to see – and I’m definitely much more excited to be seeing Becoming Cousteau (Garbus, 2021) after having seen the trailer.

However far from normal this year’s festival will still be, I can feel myself getting excited already, and that was worth the price of admission to the preview screening all by itself.