Handily for my Nablopomo aspirations, this month does appear to be filled with interesting events for me to write about. Which does make me wonder, is autumn a particularly good season for the arts in Inverness or have I missed all sorts of gems other months because I wasn’t hunting for blog material? Clearly I need to be paying more attention…
It’s the Inverness Film Festival this week! No, until a month ago, I didn’t know they had one either but they do and this year is in fact the 13th Inverness Film Festival. The theme this year is those “who are brave enough to move away from their comfort zones and embark on an adventure, whether that be by choice or circumstance.” Given that moving to Inverness in the first place was about leaving my comfort zone and seeking adventure, it feels particularly fitting to me that this one should be the first I got to attend.
Early mornings at film festivals are usually the territory of short films, and the IFF is no exception. Short films from the UK, short films from around the world, short films for kids of different ages and, most relevant to my interests, short documentaries.
Half the films in the selection were products of the Scottish Documentary Institutes’ Bridging the Gap initiative and the correlation between those and my favourites in the screening was pretty close. They were all really interesting and different documentaries, which is something I associate with – and value in – the output of the SDI. Embarrassingly I was late and missed the first film in the screening, so I’ll stick to talking about my favourites of the films I did see rather than reviewing them all.
Mining Poems or Odes
This was the film that least caught my fancy in the program but which utterly captured my imagination and heart in the screening. The central concept of the film a poet and ex-Shipyard welder, Robert, talks about how being a welder shaped his writing, his worldview and his relationship with words and philosophy. The film is poetic and mesmerising, and Robert’s words and screen presence are compelling – that face, that voice, those words – I could have listened to him for hours. His descriptions are economic but paint vivid pictures of a world lost and an education at the hands of a type of men that seem to have vanished with it. Big burly men, of few words, who taught him to weld and badgered him into reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and Das Kapital, who swung great big hammers for fun but could put more care into asking ‘alright son?’ than other people put into saying ‘I love you’. For all that the film is presented in quite a stylistic fashion, it feels more honest and authentic to its subject than many a more earnest documentary.
(You can view the film’s trailer here to get a feel for it.)
The Banana Republic
Is a charming wee film about the Banana Flats – officially Cables Wynd estate – in Leith. It follows a photographer who grew up in the flats, as he works on a photography project, documenting the people who live in the flats now. It’s a film about community and what home means to different people. (Also the idiosyncrasies of flat numbering, I spent enough of my childhood traipsing up and down blocks of council flats leafleting with my dad to truly appreciate the frustration and triumph of their search for flat 69!) It’s a slight film, without any great pretensions of grand messages, just a slice of life – lives that those who don’t live them seldom see. Which to me, is the core of what documentary, especially in short form, should be about.
United We Will Swim…Again
This was probably the film in the selection that I was most interested to see. It follows the long-running campaign to save the Calder Street baths in Glasgow. The longest film in the selection at 26 minutes, it nonetheless felt about half its length, packing in 100 years of history and 13 years of activism. For the uninitiated, back in 2001 Glasgow City Council decided to close the public baths in Govanhill. They were a popular and well-used public service, the focal point for a lot of community activity both water based and not, and in the wake of the closure of many local amenities it became the line in the sand that the community rallied round and said no more closures. In many ways it’s a heart-warming tale of a diverse community (traditionally it has been a working class and immigrant community, one of the interviewees claims it as one of the most diverse communities outside of London) coming together to protest and campaign. Of a community buy out of a local amenity to return it to its proper role as a central community hub. Of their on-going campaign to be able to afford to use them as an actual swimming pool again. But it’s also a story of institutional greed and power corrupting officials. The aerial footage of the mounted police officers advancing on protesters sitting in the street, tells its own story. Over and over during the film, especially during the section about the removal of the protesters occupying the baths, I wondered why? What made the council so fixated on closing the Govanhill Baths? In the face of the campaigning and protesting, why were they so set on closing an amenity so well-loved by its community that they would organise sit-ins and marches, would practically riot in the streets to keep it? What did they even use the money they got for selling it for? Because it certainly wasn’t improving the substandard housing that makes a Victorian bathhouse remain necessary for its original purpose in the 21st century. There’s scope for a longer and more in depth film about the wider issues, because you can’t help but wonder how many other communities – especially in these less economically sunny times – have lost their vital amenities in quieter and less well-known battles.
It’s a long way to go for a swim, but if they do get the pools open again, I think I’ll be making the effort nonetheless.