Velvet Queen: A Film about Patience, Observation, and also Snow Leopards

Velvet Queen: Snow Leopard (Munier/Amiguet, 2021) is a documentary about snow leopards and also very much not about snow leopards. It’s a film about nature photography and about film making, about observing and being observed, about what it means to be a human in a wild landscape, both part of and separate from nature. The snow leopards are kind of a metaphor for a bigger theme about dreams and the modern obsession with ticking off experiences but they’re also very really creatures, beautiful, shy and dangerous. It’s a gorgeously shot, dreamy film, that lulls the viewer into a very meditative state of mind, while at the same time peeling away the glamour of filmmaking to show just how much of nature photography and film-making involves sitting very still and very quietly in one spot for long periods of time, making your peace with the fact that the animal may not show up at all, while at the same time staying alert so you don’t miss it if it does appear.

Probably my favourite part of the film was the way that it gradually revealed increasing amounts of detail as it went along. At the start of the film, the cinematography focused almost entirely on the landscape; all dramatic landscapes and vistas. We know there are humans in the landscape too – the very first scene of the film is an exchange between two of the local Tibetans being mildly concerned these odd Frenchmen are going to get eaten by wolves – and occasionally nomads drive their domestic herds through the valleys below but always from a distance. At first we only see birds of prey soaring over peaks and packs of wolves chasing herds of yak and antelope on distant slopes. Gradually as our protagonists begin to get their eyes in, we start to spot the smaller animals: the pikas, Tibetan foxes and antelopes, Pallas cats and smaller birds of prey. At one point Vincent tells a story of a previous photography trip he’d taken into these mountains, where he hadn’t seen any snow leopards, or rather thought he hadn’t, until looking back at a photo he’d taken of a falcon discovered that there was also a snow leopard in the photo, just peeking over the ridge, almost perfectly camouflaged looking straight at the camera. He hadn’t seen the snow leopard, but it had certainly seen him. As the film progresses Sylvain becomes increasingly adept at spotting the signs of the larger animals, at one point, they explore a large cave, identifying the preferred spots where various predators of varying size have made dens over the years. There’s some particularly lovely shots late in the film of yak charging along the horizon, where the combination of light, movement and distance, gives them a beautiful lack of definition that makes them look like animated cave paintings, as though we’re looking into the past and seeing something both metaphorical and true.

At the same time as the landscape becomes increasingly populated with a whole food chain of different animals and birds, the sheer remoteness of the landscape is undercut, most particularly by a delightful scene where they spot four young Tibetan children out exploring who – despite their careful camouflage – spot the camera crew easily and clamber up to find out what they’re up to. Unsurprising really, if these mountains and valleys are your world, the locations of both play and work, then being able to spot that something is observing you from above can be the difference between life and death. Knowing when to hold your ground and when to run away when it comes to dealing with predators is a recurring theme throughout the film. As is the idea of being unknowingly observed by thousands of birds and animals every day, not just in this remote high landscape, but every day in the rest of the world, even in the places we think are most under human control, the natural world is constantly butting up against and around us.

We don’t actually see the snow leopards themselves until quite late in the film, when both Sylvain and the viewer have almost given up and made our peace with never actually seeing more than a brief glimpse via a trail cam of the central creatures. However, when they do show up, they are well worth the wait and as much as the film is almost the epitome of ‘the journey not the destination’, the confluence of patience and luck that gets us to the destination is pretty satisfying as a viewing experience.

Other Pleasures @glasgowfilmfest

While the majority of the films I saw at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival – and isn’t that a lovely phrase to write, normally I’d only manage a couple of films at this festival in total – were firmly within the confines of two of the festival strands, I did see a small assortment of films that didn’t fit into either of those categories. Films that I didn’t pick for logical reasons but instead because something about them – the description, a post on the GFF twitter feed, the trailer, or even just that this might be my only chance to see them on a big screen.

One Second

I have a funny feeling that this wasn’t the film that I meant to see, that when I was flicking back and forth between the schedule and the film blurbs I mixed it up with another film, because this very much wasn’t the plot I was expecting. It’s a good movie and I’m glad I watched it, but I ended up watching a historical drama – does it count as a period piece when the era is the 1970s? – when I was expecting a crime thriller. As much as the film does feature an escaped prisoner, this being the Cultural Revolution, he’s quite clearly in prison for political reasons, rather than for the ‘fighting’ for which he’s supposedly doing time. Also, given that the film was apparently originally selected for the Berlinale and then withdrawn for ‘post-production problems’ that seem to have been code for censorship reasons, I’d be interested to know what subtler political statements the film is making about present day China that are not obvious to the less informed viewer. On the surface it’s as much about children paying for their parents mistakes as it is about anything else and no less moving if that’s all that really is going on.

It’s a film that really illuminates both just how vast China is as a country – the dessert between the two ‘work unit’ locations we move between in the film seems like it could go on forever – and how claustrophobic life in that time was – everyone in the film is trapped within their assigned role to a greater or lesser extent. After all who needs walls or guards or fences when you have gossipy neighbours and miles of dessert?

I had presumed early in the film that the circulating films were meant to sugar the pill of the propaganda newsreels, that they showed first so that people wouldn’t leave as soon as the film finished. But it turns out that the townspeople are so desperate for an escape from their lives that – regardless of their grumbling about having already seen the film many times – they will watch it over and again if given the chance. Just as our fugitive, Zhang Jiusheng, could happily watch the damaged fragment of newsreel featuring his daughter, over and over, in a loop all night, so the audience would watch anything the projectionist screens for them just as long as they can escape their day to day lives for little while longer. Finding a little freedom in the only place they can.

Love, Life and Goldfish

This film is a delight. Probably my favourite film of the festival, this is a film that commits utterly to it’s concept. I should make clear that the concept is completely ridiculous, being a musical comedy set in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where the vast majority of the population are obsessed with goldfish. Specifically goldfish scooping – a part of Japanese culture that had totally passed me by but that much like the film both baffles and delights me.

The film is gorgeously shot, the colours are so vivid, the sets and locations are a visual treat – the contrast between the crushingly mundane and the vividly fantastical is perfectly handled. More generally, the film walks the perfect balance between playing it’s concept straight and not taking it too seriously. Both characters and cast seem to have the attitude of yes this is very odd, but this is our life deal with it. In fact of all the things that our ‘hero’ Makoto Kashiba does that his new colleagues find to be ‘odd’ the bursting into thematically appropriate song is the very least of it.

Fascinatingly to me, our hero, the character that we follow throughout is not the ‘romantic hero’ of the film. He absolutely thinks he is and resists that furiously – he is repressed to the point of comic disaster – but it turns out that he’s the catalyst for change both in himself and for the people he meets. His happy ending is absolutely what he was hoping for, but really not what I was expecting from the genre. Perhaps I’ve just seen too many old-fashioned Hollywood movie musicals, because I definitely had narrative expectations, some of which the film played with in a pleasingly meta fashion, but others it just totally ignored. It turned out to be something stranger and better than I was expecting.

Cleo from 5 to 7

Showing as part of the GFF’s Winds of Change Retrospective Season – where they’re screening great films from 1962 in the early morning slot, for free, you just turn up on the morning and if there’s space you get in! – this was the one film of the season that I was really excited to see. Like most film students, I got a little obsessed with the Nouvelle Vague films for a while though it was more through the medium of Cahiers Du Cinema than the films themselves as the films I could see were limited by the choices of the university library and what fellow film students had that they were willing to lend me. As a result I’ve always known Agnès Varda’s work more by reputation than in actuality.

When the Film Festival’s Co-Director Allan Hunter did the film’s introduction, he pointed out that Varda’s work has more in common with that of film makers Allan Resnais and Chris Marker than it does with the work of the more famous Nouvelle Vague directors like Truffaut and Goddard that she’s so closely associated with in most people’s minds and I have to agree, there’s an intimacy and a painterliness to this film that fits better with those films. More Left Bank than Right Bank if you like.

So when the opportunity to see probably her most famous film – on film even – I couldn’t resist, and it was well worth it. Apparently Varda herself called this film a portrait of a woman painted over a documentary about Paris, and I can see what she meant. It looks very much like an observational style documentary, just the protagonist we’re following as our guide through that world is an actress, interacting with other actors, saying scripted lines. You can really see Varda’s experience as a photographer and a documentarian here, her focus on faces and spaces, letting the story tell itself and giving things space to unfold ‘naturally’.

This is definitely one of those films where I felt that I’d seen a lot of the ideas and style choices before, but that also came with the knowledge that most of those films were in fact referencing – or at least influenced by – this one. The cliches aren’t cliches, this is where those cliches came from originally.

Glasgow Film Fest: African Stories & Documentary Edition

In a change from your regularly scheduled film festival blogging, I’m sending you dispatches from the Glasgow Film Festival this month. Early in the pandemic I had the idea that I’d celebrate the end of the pandemic with a wee trip to the Berlin film festival, but as things have continued to make international travel unwise, I decided to take the safer option of the Glasgow equivalent. Despite having lived in the Central Belt for most of my life, and even worked in Glasgow for a while, I’ve never really done the full festival experience. (I used to do the Short Film Festival instead, cramming as many screenings of short films into a weekend as was reasonably possible.) Unlike the Berlinale, this festival is only spread over two cinemas, both of them just off – opposite ends of – Sauchiehall Street, which significantly increases my chances of still making the screening in the not unlikely scenario where I turn up at the wrong location for the screening in question. With so much choice on offer I decided to focus on two of the festival’s threads – African Stories and documentaries – in an attempt to narrow down my options, and several of the films I saw qualified for both categories.

Blind Ambition

This was the first film I saw at the festival and also the first to qualify for both categories. It was introduced as a ‘feel good documentary’ which I feel set it up for failure. It’s an interesting and quite charming underdog story certainly, but this was also a film with quiet undercurrents. The film follows the fortunes of a team of Zimbabwean sommeliers as they prepare to compete in the World Blind Wine Tasting Championship. (I should clarify that the tasting is blind, not the tasters, the wording of the blurb was not as clear as it could have been.) All four of the team members are charming and compelling on screen presences, and for all that they’ve all been through some fairly harrowing experiences, it only shows in how determined they are to succeed against the odds. They seem to worry most about letting down the people who crowdfunded their trip to the competition, but the pride of their sponsors in both Zimbabwe and South Africa that they got as far as they did, is the biggest endorsement of both their countries that the film could possibly give.

In a lot of ways, this is a film about telling stories. The four young men at the centre of the film, are all of them trying to reshape their own stories. All of them are refugees from Zimbabwe, determinedly building new lives in South Africa, yet they are all of them immensely proud to be representing their homeland, pleased to be able to upend some assumptions and prejudices about Zimbabwe both in South Africa and beyond. There are also a lot of other people in this film trying to tell other stories through and around these young men. One of the wine experts interviewed in the film, Jancis Robertson, explicitly comments on the overwhelming whiteness of the culture and that if they want the industry to be more diverse and less insular they can’t just talk about it, they have to do something to attract new blood to both the competition and the wider industry. It’s also nice that we see that their story doesn’t end with the competition, we see little bits of their post-competition lives, the doors that its opened for both those competing in the competition and the careers of the team members themselves.

Rebel Dread

If the intro to Blind Ambition promised a ‘feel-good’ documentary and the film itself didn’t quite deliver on it, then Rebel Dread was the opposite, the intro gave the impression it would be a serious, slightly worthy documentary and it turned out to be an irreverent and delightful journey through Don Letts’ life and career. Thankfully the audience clearly got what they were expecting – a not insignificant chunk of the audience were clearly there because they’re a fan of his 6Music radio show – and the packed house laughed, cheered and heckled along as appropriate.

The film definitely benefits from having the man himself front and centre, narrating his own life story in a disarmingly honest and unpretentious fashion. Possibly I’ve seen too many documentaries lately where the documentary makers have attempted to render themselves invisible, to create the impression that we are watching reality and that could have really done with a voiceover to keep the structure in place, so it was quite a relief to have a strong narrative voice to guide us. All documentaries about individuals are in their way dialogues between the story the people making the film want to tell and the story the subject(s) of the documentary want to tell. Perhaps inevitably with a film about someone as involved in the music and media industries as Letts this was a film that acknowledged that and even played with it a little. He comes across as quite the raconteur and something of a jack-the-lad – and how often is that a role working class Afro Caribbean blokes are allowed to play in the narrative? – but also as someone who has had to work hard to be taken seriously and respected professionally, and having achieved that, doesn’t need to take himself too seriously personally.

This is a film made with a great deal of affection for both its subject and the wider musical scene of the time, but without having rose tinted glasses – or if it does have rose-tinted glasses, this film is looking at us wryly over the top of them.

Once Upon a Time in Uganda

You may, if you’re the kind of film fan who spends a lot of time in the more esoteric parts of YouTube watching the delightful weirdness that exists in the parts of the industry where people have much larger imaginations than budgets, be familiar with the films of Wakaliwood. In which case the characters of this film will need no introduction. If you’re not, then the important thing to know is that Issac Nabwana is a Uganda low budget action film director who has become something of an internet sensation. The film is the story of the unlikely friendship and working partnership between him and his producer, displaced New York film nerd Alan Hofmanis and their attempts to take Nabwana’s films to the next level.

I was reminded somewhat of a film I saw a few years ago The Prince of Nothingwood about an Afghani film star and producer, making films on a tiny budget largely through force of personality. And perhaps this film would best be described as a cross between that and Talking About Trees a film about Malian film club trying to put on one of their members film in an old abandoned cinema. Another film about people who love films and filmmaking so much that they will try to build a whole film industry/culture in their home country against the odds largely through sheer force of will. It’s also a fascinating look at the reality of what the ‘democratisation’ of film making the digital revolution is supposed to facilitate actually looks like outside of the major film-making centres. There’s something both poignant and defiant about watching a film crew roll out an immaculate green screen backdrop over a set that is simply a blocked off street strewn with rubbish and bordered by an open sewer. (Also Dauda the one man props department is an old school ‘mad engineer’ making props, models and occasionally who vehicles out of cobbled together parts, I can only imagine what wonders he could create with an actual budget.) The electricity may be unreliable and the sanitation non-existent but they’ve got themselves a couple of decent digital cameras and a refurbished laptop that will run editing software and the world is almost their oyster.

(The film makes a couple of explicit digs at the wider international film industry and its snobberies, noting that they’d have an easier time getting funding if they were making ‘serious’ films – about the horrors of the civil war or the grind of local poverty – aimed at the film festival circuit, rather than making fun overblown action movies – primarily aimed at a Ugandan audience and secondarily aimed at an international action movie audience. Apparently cartoon violence is more offensive to certain funders than poverty porn.)

At it’s heart I feel that this film is about two men in their early forties from opposite sides of the world, facing up to the decision of whether to keep pursuing their dreams or settle down. It’s a mid-life crisis of a movie and it absolutely shouldn’t be as charming as it is. There’s just something about the pair of them, their odd couple dynamic, their unswerving devotion to making these charming B-movies that charmed me against my will. And maybe, just maybe they’ll manage to charm the rest of the world, if only just enough that none of them have to give up on the dream.

Sambazinga

This one swings in the opposite direction to Rebel Dread being the only film I saw as part of the African Stories thread that wasn’t also a documentary.

Sambazinga is a 1972 film – though it was banned in Portugal until after the 1974 Carnation Revolution – set just over a decade before at the start of the Angolan War of Independence covering the inciting events that led to a prison raid in the eponymous part of Luanda. It follows to contrasting paths of a married couple, first following construction worker and secret revolutionary Domingos as he is arrested, beaten and taken to jail to be ‘interrogated’, focusing on the solidarity between him and his fellow prisoners, and the capricious violence of his captors. The other path we follow is his wife Maria, as she travels from prison to prison occasionally being helped, occasionally being outright abused but mostly just being lied to and sent from pillar to post. As you might imagine from a film about events that prompted the kind of protests that when crushed start widespread civil unrest, this doesn’t end well for Domingos.

(There’s an interesting moment during one of the interrogation scenes where it becomes quite clear that the element the white police officers are most upset about is that one of the members of the revolutionary group – and we only really see them producing leaflets, they seem as interested in forming a workers union as they are in overthrowing the colonial government – Domingos is part of includes one of his white colleagues on the construction site. It seems to offend them on some deep level that they can’t articulate and at some points it feels like they’re attacking Domingos less for what he himself may or may not know or have done, but as a substitute for his unknown colleague.)

One Take Grace

This was my final screening of the festival, and I think both the film and I lost our way somewhat about two thirds of the way through this film. It started off promisingly, dark, strange and compelling, with a strong narrative voice courtesy of it’s protagonist Grace. Grace is a magnetic presence, drawing your attention and holding it. She’s a woman with the kind of history that could make her the subject of pity, but she has no interest in being seen as a victim. She doesn’t want her audience to pity her, she wants them to listen to her, to give her space to her story in her words. I don’t know the story behind the documentary but it felt as though director and subject had met in a professional context – Mothiba Grace Bapela to give her her full name, is an actress having changed careers in her forties – and decided her colourful life-story ought to be a film. There are various points in the film when we see Grace on film sets and stages where she seems very much to be in control – there’s a whole sequence where a younger woman that I think is the director is playing a younger version of Grace while Grace gives her direction – so it very much feels like a collaboration between the two of them. Even the POV shots of Grace at work as a cleaner, just the fish-eye body camera view of the inside of a house, with Grace’s lightly scathing commentary are both clever and compelling, adding to the sense that the documentary wants to put us in her shoes. There are some brilliant visualisations on past events, spare, hand-drawn animations that provide just enough distance from the awful reality of the stories, that the whole process seems therapeutic for, instead of exploitative of Grace herself.

At some point, around half way through the film we discover that Grace has been diagnosed with cancer and as her treatment progresses, so the film begins to, not quite fall apart but to lose focus. As though the film cannot quite hold together without Grace’s drive and creativity, it becomes a documentation of her illness and recovery, but the story they were trying to tell in the first place has got lost somewhere along the way. (Understandably subsumed in Grace’s energy being focused on surviving and being there for her children.) The documentary is fairly experimental in style throughout, but it seems like it needs Grace in the driving seat with her full attention on the project to keep it being good weird rather than bad weird. As it is the film sort of drifts to a conclusion, seemingly a little bereft now that Grace’s attention has moved on to other projects.

Walk Cheerfully @EdenCourt

Almost as though the folks at Eden Court heard me lamenting the lack of silent films at the film festival a couple of weeks ago, a Japanese silent film with live musical accompaniment popped up in the cinema schedule. Despite Japanese films and silent films being two long standing cinematic loves of mine, I realised that I’d never actually seen any Japanese silent films, so clearly I needed to rectify that. Add to that the fact that Walk Cheerfully (1930) is an Ozu film, then well, how could I resist.

I got into Japanese cinema in a different way from most of the other genres that I fell in love with in my teens. In typical teenage fashion though, it was because I had a crush on someone who was really into Japanese cinema. Being a film student at the time, I spent the whole of that winter break reading every book on Japanese cinema that I could get out of the university library and watching every Japanese film I could get hold of cheaply. Unfortunately, being that it was the early 00s and the era of the ‘Tartan Asia’ releases, the crossover between the ‘classic films’ that the books talked about and the films I could actually get hold of was not particularly high. I saw a lot of Kurosawa and Miike films – often with my crush, though it turned out we were both more into geeking out about Japanese cinema together than snogging – but the films I longed to see, that remained tantalisingly out of reach, or at least budget, were the films of Yasujirô Ozu. For a while it felt as though Tokyo Story (1953) was taunting me as it seemed that every time it was screened somewhere I would try to go and then be thwarted. Screenings were cancelled, leave was cancelled, once memorably a storm caused all the trains to Glasgow to be stopped.

The film itself is a fascinating artefact, part 30s gangster flick, part romantic comedy, where our hero Kenji, a small time hood – he and his tiny gang seem to mostly be stealing wallets, Kenji and his brother Senko share not only a tiny apartment but it appears a bed too – is trying to go straight to win the heart of an honest girl with whom he’s fallen madly in love with and the pitfalls and struggles he faces along the way. An interesting point that another review of the film brought to my attention is that Yasue and her family are the only non-Westernised characters in the film, living in a traditional house, wearing traditional clothing, and by implication adhering to traditional Japanese values and honour. Whereas all the criminals, and their victims – even Yasue’s sleazy boss – are dressed and living as though they could be bootleggers in an American film of the same period. We’re told early on that this film is set in a time of great economic hardship and societal breakdown, and clearly the costumes are meant to stand in somewhat subtly for the moral degradation brought to the country by modern life in a newly globalised world. There are some fabulous beautifully choreographed sequences with the gangsters, that make them seem as if they’ve escaped from some kind of Hollywood musical before they were even a thing, as though they’ve decided to make their desperate, precarious existence glamorous if it kills them. Everyone is tap dancing on the edge of ruin and trying to scrape a better life however they can, often by sheer force of will. It’s a slight film, somewhat melancholic, but a charming and strangely hopeful one too.

Then there was Silvia Hallett’s accompaniment, which in the tradition of the best silent film accompaniment this was not just performing a basic score. It seemed largely improvised, so able to respond not just to the film playing on screen, but also to the benshi performance as well. She played a whole variety of instruments – some traditional, both Western and Japanese, some electronic – certainly but also provided a whole array of sound effects throughout the film that altogether felt more like she was performing live sound design!

Because my passion of Japanese cinema predates my passion for silent film, I clearly hadn’t paid much attention to Japanese silent cinema traditions – and in my defence I think most of the books I read in my research binge all those years ago, mostly focused on post-second world war Japanese cinema – so I was completely unprepared for the benshi performance from Tomoko Komura. Unbeknownst to me, Japanese silent cinema didn’t go down the inter title route, and instead had live narrators who performed dialogue, provided plot summaries and generally brought the piece to life. Apparently at the height of their popularity, the best benshi were paid on a par with the screen actors, and were just as much of a draw for audiences. I can absolutely believe that, because Komura’s performance was a tour de force, giving the whole film an atmosphere and vivacity that I would definitely seek out again. It was both a delight and a revelation, on a par with the first time I saw Neil Brand improvise to a Buster Keaton film for upending my ideas of what ‘silent’ film can be and do. Just excellent.

Documentaries @Invfilmfest

There were so many documentaries on at the Film Festival this year and I was pleased to note that they were scheduled in such a way that if everything had gone to plan, I could have seen almost all of them. Unfortunately, world events beyond my control meant that I was unable to do my usual full on festival experience and instead had a rather more limited schedule – with the days when the majority of the documentaries were on being almost entirely out of bounds to me. Yet the documentaries that I did see, were lovely and well worth tracking down.

The Last Autumn

My first documentary of the festival, and an unexpected extra film that I squeezed in at the last moment before work on Saturday. It was an extremely autumnal day that matched the mood of this film really well.

The film follows the day to day life of a farming couple on an island at the very north of Iceland, throughout the final Autumn of the keeping sheep. As in many similar communities across Northern Europe the sheep traditionally spend the summer grazing on the hills above the community and are brought down in the Autumn to overwinter in the valley. (One of the last places where they still do this in Ireland has turned this event into something of a festival that acts as a tourist attraction, in order to keep it viable.) As less and less young people from the community go into farming themselves, or are able to come home specifically to help with it, more and more farmers are giving up their sheep as they get too old to tackle the hill. The trick, according to the film, is to give up before you can no longer get up the hill to help. I described this film to a colleague and she said, with a wry smile, that we’d made that film ourselves, in a dozen different ways, in three minute chunks, over the years. It’s true, it’s a familiar refrain here in the Highlands, of young people who go away and don’t return, or if they do return only for the holidays. 

The film has no narration, and very little dialogue, so most of the commentary on events comes from radio programmes playing on the radio from what I presume to be the Icelandic equivalent of Radio 4. There’s much talk on the radio about language, about the steady creep of English into everyday life, especially among young people. That too is an all too familiar refrain here, and for me a far greater worry than the potential end of hill sheep farming – agricultural has changed many times before and will doubtless change many more times in the future. If the way of life is inevitably changing is it possible to unshackle the language from the lifestyle? Can the language survive without it? If the language is to survive it must somehow remain the language of both those who leave and those who stay. And if that is a struggle in Iceland, where the language in question is the majority language rather than a minority language, how much harder is for those of us fighting for minority languages? The film and it’s protagonist remains stubbornly hopeful, despite everything else. 

I was reminded strangely of Sleep Furiously – while it’s a very different film from that one, the was something of the tone and the atmosphere that put me inescapably in mind of it. This film felt like an elegy, marking the passing of a way of life, not just for the sheep farmer whose last autumn in the job we’re following, but for the wider community. The film feels at peace with that change, there’s no resentment or anger in this film, just a sense of inevitability, that the world is changing and that that’s okay. Which could be a really depressing outcome, but feels strangely reassuring. 

It was also showing with a Scottish short film, Confluence, about a luthier – that’s someone who makes and repairs violins and fiddles to you and me – Charlie Webster, in Abriachan, above Loch Ness. It’s a film about someone who’s found a new way to make a life and a living for himself in a remote area and that despite the impact of the pandemic, is full of hope. It’s a gentle meditative piece with lovely music that made the perfect accompaniment to the documentary. 

Becoming Cousteau

Unlike many of the audience for this film, I didn’t grow up with the films of Jacques Cousteau, my view of the underwater world was shaped the BBC’s Natural History department, and largely – though not exclusively – narrated by David Attenborough. It’s not that I didn’t know about Jacques Cousteau and his films, but I always knew them second hand, at a distance. Through references in children’s nature programmes, but mostly I think through the filter of Luc Besson’s Atlantis (1991) – which I definitely need to rewatch now, in light of seeing this film. A friend who also saw this film at the festival, enthused to me about having loved Costeau’s films as a child, about how they had shaped her view of the natural world and particularly the underwater parts of it. It very much felt that this film had been made from that perspective, or at least from a place of real affection. That’s not to say that it’s a film which shies away from it’s protagonist’s very real flaws and mis-steps. It just presents them in a very non-judgemental way – probably inevitably given the heavy involvement of the Cousteau Foundation in the film – dealing with them as matter of fact parts of who he was and what he did, without implying that they should undermine his legacy. Which is honestly quite refreshing in these days of extremes in interpretation, many documentaries of this ilk would either completely ignore those flaws, or make them the whole focus of the film. 

In truth, I had no idea how truly groundbreaking those early films were, that time and again they’d had to invent solutions to problems because they were pushing up against the limits of what was previously possible, breaking barriers and records at every turn. How much both marine biology and underwater filming truly owes to Cousteau and his colleagues. That in it’s own way is one of the film’s great strengths, for all it’s a biography of one man, it puts him in context, giving credit to his colleagues and companions without which he couldn’t have achieved so much of what he did. 

This documentary felt both timely and deeply frustrating, with COP 26 taking place down the road in Glasgow, knowing that he spent the last twenty odd years of his life campaigning for environmental protection. 

Film Festival Highlights @Invfilmfest

For once, my favourite films at the Inverness Film Festival were largely in the ‘Highlights’ thread of the festival programme. Given how circumscribed by events beyond my control my film selections were this year, I’m amused to note that my favourites all turned out to be films I’d made a note of during the preview screening, as things I particularly wanted to see.

At some point over the course of this year’s festival I came to realise that the festival had a theme, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not, and that the theme was hope. Back in 2019 I concluded that the festival that year was full of brilliant films, but my goodness they were grim. This year, that was not the case – and honestly after the way the last couple of years have panned out, I don’t think I could have coped if they had been – perhaps this year’s films haven’t been quite as ‘blow you away’ good as the 2019 selection, but no matter how dark or sad things got in any film, there was always hope remaining. I didn’t walk out of any feature film at this year’s festival without hope for the future in my heart.

Petite Maman

When I was child, one of my favourite genres of stories, were time travel fantasies. It’s an oddly specific kind of story that there were a surprisingly large number available. These books involved time travel but no time machines, and weren’t portal fantasies because even if the travel involved going through a particular door or geographical location the other place they arrived in was always this world and not another world. The time travel was usually preceded by some dramatic emotional upheaval, a death in the family, a parental divorce or some other crisis that meant the travelling child and all or part of their family had to leave their home and decamp to an unfamiliar locale. They almost always involved the travelling child befriending another child from the other time and helping them resolve some event that either impacted or mirrored a problem affecting them in the present. The other child almost always turned out to be a relative – an uncle, grand-parent or occasionally a more distant ancestor – of the protagonist child. I loved those stories, and they almost never got adapted into films.

I suspect that Céline Sciamma loved those kind of books too – she is, after all, only a few years older than me – and was likewise disappointed that they never got adapted into films. This film feels like a love letter to those kind of books, almost the platonic ideal because it isn’t an adaptation of any one of those books, more a distillation of the best of them. (Casting a set of identical twins to play the central characters is just perfect.) I’m not sure that you could call it a children’s film – though I think the kind of child who loves those kind of stories would love it and there’s nothing in it that makes it unsuitable for a child – but it is a film for adults who loved those kind of books, and longed for screen adaptations that did them justice. It’s heartwarming and bittersweet, and just perfect at what it does.

Flee

I saw this film with an extremely select audience – it was playing opposite Mothering Sunday (Husson, 2021) which looked very heritage and Sunday evening literary adaptation, and suffered for it – but that shouldn’t be taken as judgement on the film, it absolutely deserves to be seen by lots of people. I’m not a hundred percent certain whether I should be writing about this film under the category of documentary or not. Officially it’s an animated documentary about the true story of how ‘Amin’, a former classmate of the director, came to arrive in Denmark as an unaccompanied teenage refugee from Afghanistan some twenty years ago. There’s a certain amount of archive footage used to illustrate the historical and political background to events described, but most of the film is animated and necessarily subjective, it’s about the experience of being a refugee. It’s about how it feels on the inside not about how it looks on the outside. Pseudonyms are used and voices disguised – some of the cast are simply credited as ‘anonymous’ – because the film is in it’s way a confession. The story it tells is one that needs to be told, for the sake of Amin’s sanity and peace of mind if nothing else, but it’s one that could destroy the life he has built for himself, so it is one that needs telling with even more care and caution than that which would normally be required in telling a refugee story properly. It’s a strange sort of comfort knowing that Amin co-wrote the film with director Rasmussen, to feel that it really is a collaboration, and that for at least once in his life, Amin gets to be in charge of his own story.

(Amin is about my age. There are a lot of tiny little cultural references in his story and in the archive pictures that are familiar from my own vastly different childhood. In many ways time moves strangely in this film, but nonetheless, that stuck with me throughout the film: he’s about my age.)

The film reminded me initially just superficially, but as the film went on more substantially, of the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir (Folman, 2008). There’s something about the way the animation technique foregrounds the necessarily constructed nature of the reality the documentary is portraying, at once creating an intimacy and a necessary distance that wouldn’t be available otherwise. All memory is subjective, being at once intensely personal and collective. Combine that with trauma and the kind of lies people have to tell – whether to themselves or other people – to stay alive, and it becomes difficult to imagine how you could tell the story in a other way.

Apparently there’s going to be an English language dub of the film – possibly with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Riz Ahmed who were both executive producers for the film – but I feel it would lose something in the process. There’s something about how Danish Amin sounds in the film that works on a subconscious level, reminds you throughout that Amin has been in Denmark for twenty years, that it has become his home as well as his refuge, the place where he belongs.

Adam

This was a beautiful tender, heartbreaking film, about family and community, love and grief, pregnancy and motherhood.

There is so much unspoken in this film. At the start both woman are very emotionally closed off – one because of grief, the other from the stress of being heavily pregnant and homeless – and slowly, cautiously, with many fits and starts and a couple of outright regressions, they begin to open up to each other. Food sits at the heart of the film, Abla runs a bakery and while her grudging and eventually wholehearted allowing Samia into the kitchen might sound like a clumsy and awkward metaphor for opening up her affections to Samia, it practice it is both fitting and entirely natural in execution.

Most of the talking in the film is done by Wardia, Abla’s young daughter. It’s Wardia who first takes an interest in Samia, who acts as go between and says all the things that otherwise cannot be said with a child’s clear eyed honesty. The relationship that evolves between Wardia and Samia is one of the film’s great strengths, with Samia becoming something between older sister and aunt to Wardia as the film progresses. It’s a remarkably restrained performance from the young actress, being both charming and blunt enough to be believable as an actual child – the unspoken asides and facial expressions are priceless and joyful – and helpful to the plot without being either cloying or irritatingly wise beyond her years.

The film may largely be about the importance of having relationships where you can say all the things that society pressures us not to say – about life, death, pregnancy, love, grief and society – and how freeing it can be to finally speak those things out loud, but a great deal remains unspoken in the film. Right up to the last moment you can feel the pressure of all the things that Abla and Samia aren’t saying to each other, perhaps could never say to each other. (It feels like there’s a ghost of another film within this one, where the four of them stay together and form a new family, where the relationship between the two women, whether platonic or romantic is the centre of the film, where it is enough for them both. However I don’t know enough about the practicalities of life in Morocco to know whether either of those outcomes would be remotely practical or believable.) The ending is deeply ambiguous for both women, will Samia give Adam up or keep him, will Abla continue the work of unwinding enough to let in Slimani? Will they ever see each other again? Perhaps that’s the best ending director Maryam Touzani could give the audience, there could be no ending to this story that satisfied every audience, so perhaps it is kinder to leave it open to interpretation, and let every audience member invent their own afterwards for the characters, choose whichever fate makes them happiest.

Three cinema tickets, alternating between blue and yellow.

Afternoons in Iran @Invfilmfest

I noted in my review of the Film Festival Preview, that I was most excited for the ‘Afternoons in Iran’ thread at the festival. Annoyingly, I wasn’t able to manage the whole season of them, but the ones I saw, did not disappoint. I’m particularly hoping that today’s film The Wasteland comes back again at some point in the future.

Hit the Road

Our first Iranian offering is a road trip across Iran, with a family stuck inside an increasingly claustrophobic borrowed SUV not helped by their number including a small child who is necessarily oblivious to the very serious errand they’ve set out on, and the sickly family dog in the back. The family patriarch having his leg in a cast so being unable to drive – and therefore unrepentantly backseat driving – doesn’t help much either. It’s not entirely clear why they’ve had to set out on this road trip, other than that the oldest child needs to be smuggled out of the country – though quite why is kept, perhaps deliberately unclear. Big brother is largely stoic and tense except when the tension occasionally gets to him and mostly takes the form of him resentfully exclaiming that he’s not a child – which of course are the moments when he seems most like one. He keeps trying to convince the rest of the family to turn back, to let him go to meet his fate alone, which he considers safer for both them and him. Perhaps he also feels like he cannot help but fall into this child role on this family road trip, that it would be easier for him to be brave and face the dangers to come, if he were alone.

I saw another review describe the smugglers in their sheepskin balaclavas as comical, but honestly I found them pretty creepy emerging from the mist – if they’d been in the hills of the Lake District instead of Iran, I’d have fully thought we’d side steeped into some strange folk horror film.

This film contained was one of many excellent child actor performances at this year’s festival. Little brother is a vivacious unsurpressable bundle of joy, a much needed antidote to the tension between the rest of the characters on the road trip, but also a complete liability on the very serious errand that the rest of them have embarked upon. There are some deeply surreal moments in the film – including some references to 2001: A Space Odyssey some of which are sublime and some of which are downright bizarre. However little brother provides a handy excuse for these, as it feels as though at those points in the film we – and perhaps, reluctantly, the rest of the characters too – are being pulled into his point of view and being forced to see the world through his eyes, with all it’s strangeness, passions, joys and confusion.

The Iran of this film is also a very different Iran from the one I’ve previously seen on film. The Iran of other films has been a very urban Iran, mostly Tehran but sometimes other cities or large towns. Films were the claustrophobic presence of others – others who you couldn’t be certain if you could trust – close by was part of the atmosphere. This is a film about wide open space, highways through small towns, and villages hidden in the hills, where the absence of other people is the real threat. Our protagonists are in themselves very urban – even the shininess of their borrowed SUV seems to mark them out as outsiders and make them look suspicious.

There is No Evil

This is a film about what it means to live in a country with the death penalty with compulsory military service and where ‘criminal’ can mean anything the powers that be deem it to be. The film is told in four episodes, each one a different perspective on what it means to execute someone

The first episode is a real study on the concept of the mundanity of evil. (The opening in particular really plays with your expectations, and the mundane anonymity of the underground car park, of the urban space that could be anywhere really emphasises the whole ‘this could happen anywhere with a few wrong turns’ element.) Following this man as he brings home his extra ration of rice, collects his wife and daughter from school, his salary from the bank, bickers with his wife in the car, does grocery shopping for the family and his mother in law – the tender care for his mother in law as he takes her blood pressure and helps her back to her seat – eats pizza in a chain restaurant that could be anywhere in the world. The mundanity of his night shift as we struggles with the early hour, makes his coffee and presses the buttons that control the machines that do his job, and then the grim revelation of what that actually is all the worse knowing that this is just a normal day at the office for him.

The second episode involves half a dozen men sharing a bunk room, at first it seems as though they are prisoners, condemned men, and in a way they are. They are all on military service but the duty that they have been assigned, and which they are taking seemingly arbitrarily assigned turns, is to be the one who pulls the stool away at executions. (For which they are rewarded with three days of leave.) All the men are archetypes in their way and the arguments between them run the philosophical gamut of those around the death penalty, military service, the nature of crime and punishment, how the personal and the law collide, free will and personal responsibility. (Added to the mix and the tension is the part where one of the men had previously refused to do it and has been punished with the doubling of his service, something that has visibly traumatised him.) What will he do when the call comes in the morning? Ah, well, that would be telling.

The third episode revolves around a soldier on leave – significantly three days leave – visiting his girlfriend intending to celebrate her birthday, and ask her to marry him, only to find the family preparing a funeral for a family friend and neighbour. The friend, a beloved and respected part of the community, was a political activist who had been been in hiding from the government for many years, and until his death the family had hidden his existence from the solider. (Whether because they didn’t trust him or because they wanted to protect him from having to make a difficult moral choice is left ambiguous.) This one also features a very different Iran, a lush rural landscape, of forests in which someone could disappear and hide from the state for a long time. This, of course is an episode about consequences, where the soldier has to face that the people he has ‘pulled the stool away’ in return for extra leave, were all real people with real families who miss them and are devastated by their loss. And also for his girlfriend who cannot help but count all the times he’d had three days leave with her and what that might mean for who he truly is as a person.

The final episode is about the long term impacts of these actions, and relies for our sympathy for our protagonist on what we have learned about the system. (He could conceivably be the same man as in the second film, twenty years later.) Unlike the young woman he is trying to make his peace with, the audience knows why he has no drivers license and cannot leave the country, why he lives in the middle of nowhere, practicing as a doctor only to villager who don’t have the luxury of caring that he has no clinic only that his treatments work, and must rely on his pharmacist wife for medicine for his illness. How circumscribed not having completed his military service has made the rest of his life and all the things that he has sacrificed to make a decision that even in the face of her wrath and condemnation, he cannot wish to take back.

Take One Action Returns! #TOAFF21

To my delight, the Take One Action film festival arrives in Inverness and breaks with tradition by not taking place on a weekend that I’m working. Actually it also breaks with tradition by arriving in Inverness at the tail end of October rather than in the latter part of November. I presume this was so that it could be part of Eden Court’s wider ‘Climate of Hope’ season but could equally have been with the aim to catch the audience when they were thinking about environmental issues in the run up to COP26 and were not yet jaded by all the coverage and compromises. Whatever the reason, it meant that I could actually have seen all five films if I wanted. (I only didn’t go to see The New Corporation because – as it’s subtitle an unfortunately necessary sequel implies – it’s really dispiriting to go see a sequel to a documentary you saw twenty years before and know that so little has in fact changed I saw it in a freezing cold and mostly empty screening in the MacRobert Centre when I was a student. Though I imagine its even more depressing to need to make said film.) It was a bit of a treat to be able to be picky and prioritise films based on preference – I usually pick the environmentally themed films, but they were all on that theme this year – rather than when I wasn’t working.

Living Proof

This was an interesting film, that made excellent use of it’s archive source material from the National Library of Scotland. It uses the archive – mostly public information and marketing films with some news reports and community donated footage – to tell the story of the economic and industrial development of Scotland and the Highlands in particular since the Second World War.
The part that fascinated me the most is that the vast majority of the footage is from films that were made with some sort of agenda, whether establishment or corporate, to change minds or otherwise sell some sort of idea – the anti nuclear campaigners are the most explicit in trying to influence their audience, but some of the others are about as subtle as a brick in their own efforts to get their message across. It was definitely interesting to see how large the dreaded issue of ‘development’ has loomed across this whole period, both in the Highlands and across the wider Scottish landscape.

The film came with an introduction from director Emily Munro so I know there was a lot of other subtler stuff going on in the film that I don’t feel really came through on screen. However, it was in it’s own way an inditement of just how male dominated Scottish public life was during the twentieth century – grey men in grey suits indeed.

Living Proof (Trailer) | TOAFF21 from Take One Action Film Festivals on Vimeo.

The Ants and the Grasshopper

In some ways this film reminds me quite a bit of Thankyou for the Rain, which I saw as part of Take One Action back in 2017. About a Kenyan farmer turned climate activist and his work changing life in his community and taking his story and experience to the Paris 2015 Climate Change Conference.

Something that I liked better about this film was that Anita and Esther felt more embedded in their communities than the other film’s protagonist Kisulu. While he felt more like a lone force of nature changing his community around him, they felt more woven into a wider community of people striving to change their own locality for the better, and the wider world in turn. In many ways Esther is a similar kind of force of nature person, but we mostly follow Anita’s perspective and we see Esther’s impact filtered through her perspective and through the impact that Anita knows Esther had on her own life and work.

There’s no cathartic moment of achieving major change in this film. There are small victories certainly but mainly it is a film about the slow steady work of changing hearts and minds. The drip, drip, drip of a thousand small conversations with neighbours and colleagues, day in day out, to slowly change attitudes and build communities for change. It’s there that Anita’s greatest victories are achieved and in a way that’s the real message of the film, I think. That the rest is up to us, the audience to take up the work and do the slow grinding work of changing hearts and minds one conversation at a time.

The Ants and the Grasshopper (Trailer) | TOAFF21 from Take One Action Film Festivals on Vimeo.

The Last Forest

First up, this film came with an accompanying short film that’s worth noting. Sky Aelans is a film from the Solomon Islands that seems to have been made largely to celebrate the Solomon Islands government acknowledging the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples who live in their rainforests stewardship over their own land and putting appropriate environmental protections into place. It was nice to have, for once, a good news story about rainforest protection. To see joy and triumph on their faces, rather than anger or stoicism in the face of great injustice.

The Last Forest itself follows the intertwining story of Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa – who co-wrote the film – and his campaigning work to protect their forest and the every day struggles and conflicts of other Yanomami people. The film mixes an observational style that feels almost documentary-like with what are clearly staged dream sequences that illustrate both the creation story of the Yanomami people and the major role that the spirit world still has on their day to day lives. The film mixes both elements together with ease – at one point a young woman waits patiently for spiritual guidance while Davi discusses the incursions of prospectors into land further up the river with other community leaders over a ham radio. Mostly though it is an ode to community, to their achievements large and small and what they might yet do together. At it’s heart it is a film that deals with what all minority communities deal with in the face of an increasingly global world, what to take from the new world and what to keep from the old one, and whether a compromise is even possible.

The Last Forest (Trailer) | TOAFF21 from Take One Action Film Festivals on Vimeo.

IFF21 @EdenCourt – Film Festival Preview

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.

Iorram (Boat Song)

There’s always something about people from outside making films or art about the islands that makes me feel a little on edge before engaging with it. The phrase ‘the first Gaelic x’ – in this case feature length cinematic documentary – is almost always one to be eyed with caution. It’s either lovely or painful to watch with very little middle ground, though there’s definitely a your mileage may vary element. There’s often an unfortunate tendency to romanticise island life, to create a picturesque and elegiac vision of a ‘lost’ way of life. This film is not that. (An Iorram is a boat song, more precisely, a rowing song, to keep the rowers in time. A work song, so more practical than romantic, but no less lovely for it.) If anything this a film which uses the past – recordings made across the mid twentieth century by field workers from the School of Scottish Studies – to contextualise the present. There’s a particularly lovely sequence, where the archive recordings talk about how they used to build lobster pots on Mingulay, contrasted with some young fishermen sitting together in a shed hand repairing their modern lobster pots – the technology has changed but it remains part of the same continuity. There’s also a horribly sad sequence of oral histories of the clearances – greed, exploitation, sectarian violence and dehumanisation – over pictures of abandoned crofts. I could certainly have done with some more contemporary fishermen telling their own stories in Gaelic, but I appreciate that the point of the film was to tell a story solely with the audio archive and modern imagery and consider that both to be a worthy aim and a well realised one. The film avoids the temptation of trying and failing to be all things to all people and there is in fact a nice little aside in the film where two modern fishermen are talking to each other over the radio in Gaelic to remind the audience that this is still a living language for those working in fishing both at sea and on land.

The film is beautifully shot, just gorgeous camera work. I haven’t previously encountered director/cinematographer Alastair Cole’s work and I was a little surprised to find out that he’s originally from New Zealand rather than from the islands. There’s a care and attention to detail in the camera work that speaks of long familiarity and affection. It was shot over three years, which explains it somewhat, but I see that the director has made films about minority languages in several other cultural contexts so it’s equally likely to be skill and experience in not exoticising or patronising his subjects and maintaining a light touch. (I know from experience that it’s easy to make the islands beautiful in Summer but it’s a much more impressive to capture that beauty in mid-Winter and mist. The colours are rich and vibrant, when it is all too easy to make them washed out and grey.) I was reminded a little of Polaris another documentary film – though a short one – about the Scottish fishing industry, though that one was about the east coast industry and the migrant workers that now come halfway around the world to work in it. (A shared thread between both films, some of the oral histories were recollections of former herring girls and their experiences of freedom and struggles with culture and language differences in the different fishing ports of the east coast including the Broch – A’ Bhruaich being the Gaelic for Fraserburgh where Polaris is set.) I’ve seen quite a few observational style documentaries over the last few years and this is definitely one of the better examples, the oral histories and images have clearly been carefully curated to create a narrative through line while allowing the film to seem to unfold entirely naturally.

I need to take a moment here to express the my appreciation for Aidan O’ Rourke’s excellent scoring work here. It feels organic, stitching together traditional pieces with new compositions, never overwhelming the archive recordings – seeming to weave itself into them in places – nor getting lost under the actuality of the contemporary scenes, helping to tie past and present together into a coherent whole. In one interview I read with the director, he expressed the hope that they’d be able to screen the film with a live band performing the score and I hope that eventually comes to pass. One of the last concerts I saw before the first lockdown back in March 2020 was a screening of From Scotland with Love with King Creosote – and friends – performing the score live and I think this film would really benefit from that kind of experience.

View from the window of a boat down a narrow natural channel.
View from the boat – a still from Iorram.