Three rewarding paths in a strand of Scots movie-making
FILM-MAKER Karen Guthrie wrote about it in The Herald Magazine a fortnight ago, so I hope many of you were prompted to take the opportunity to see her beautiful and profound personal documentary The Closer We Get on BBC2 Scotland last Saturday evening. She began the project to tell the story of how her family was affected by the discovery that her father had secret child and another partner in Djibouti, in East Africa, but after her mother suffered a devastating stroke and her father returned to the family to help care for her, it acquired another dimension altogether.
As her mother died before it was completed, it has become, on one level, a memorial to her – and especially to the wit she displays on screen in the face of her disability. If you missed it, you can still catch up via the BBC iPlayer for another two weeks, and the film will be available as a DVD and video on demand are available from August 31 via www. thecloserweget.com. I whole-heartedly recommend that you do not miss it.
It is, of course, a quite singular and unique piece of work – how could it be otherwise? – and yet I was also struck by similarities between Guthrie’s movie and others I have seen, and admired, recently, all of them made on a low budget in Scotland. On August 16 at The Hub, as part of the new “contemporary music” strand Edinburgh Festival director Fergus Linehan has introduced, there is a chance to see Where You’re Meant To Be, singer and songwriter Aidan Moffat’s collaboration with filmmaker Paul Fegan, followed by a live set from Moffat. Fegan’s movie is also exquisitely crafted, and, like Guthrie’s, became something else in the course of its creation.
Moffat brought his reworked Scots songs to the attention of Sheila Stewart, the last remaining member of a travelling family respected as keepers of the traditional music canon, and received a robust and somewhat scathing reception – so much so that the film becomes, on one level, a memorial to Stewart, a former recipient of a Herald Angel award for her work at the Edinburgh Festival, who did not live to see the completed film.
Both of those films somehow also chimed in my mind with The Possibilities Are Endless, Edward Lovelace and James Hall’s documentary about former Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins, whose creative memory was effectively wiped by a stroke.
Taking their title from one of the two phrases he could say when he awoke after the trauma (the other being the name of his wife, Grace Maxwell), Lovelace and Hall’s impressionistic movie makes the most of both the Helmsdale location to which the couple moved, and, of course, music, that being the stuff of Collins’s life and the fuel of his recovery.
It would be daft to suggest that these three constitute any sort of a school of film-making, but the fluid way in which they tell there stories might point to one rewarding 21st century direction for the artform.
It is also patently obvious that none displays any need of a vast studio, which some people seem to think is essential to the future of the industry in Scotland, despite the fact that the best contemporary Scottish films revolve around great location work and clever use of computer software.
Oddly, the three have an onscreen Herald connection too. There is a cameo from Karen Guthrie’s brother Sean, a colleague, in her film, and music writer Nicola Meighan appears in Fegan’s film. And greybeards like myself recall Grace Maxwell in our advertising department when she began seeing the Postcardlabel star.