Jennie Macfie takes a look at some of the highlights of this year’s Cromarty Film Festival, now in its seventh year, and finds the passion of those involved stronger than ever.
At the heart of this community-run Film Festival are the sessions in which, as director Don Coutts says, “every year we try to unpick a craft”.
In the first one of the seventh festival Coutts, his partner Lindy Cameron, ‘Katie Morag’ author and illustrator Mairi Hedderwick and screenwriter and tutor James Mavor discuss the process of adapting existing works for the screen, with particular attention to Katie Morag, Coutts’ and Cameron’s television adaptation of Hedderwick’s much-beloved illustrated children’s books.
We learn that Hedderwick steadfastly insisted on live action, not wanting Katie Morag to be two-dimensional as “she’s a real girl” so the process took fifteen years of dogged determination which tested but never managed to destroy the collaborators’ relationship.
Funders came and went and eventually CBeebies stayed. Executive Producer and Series Editor Cameron shines a light on the creative process, particularly their team writing technique, the timeline and the series ‘bible’, compiled to simplify life for the writers and keep the series consistent across original and specially written scripts. Perhaps the most shocking revelation of the afternoon is that in her original book is that Granny Island had a sex change!
Katie Morag originally spent a lot of time with her island crofter grandfather, but the US publishers balked at the hidden pitfalls and so Hedderwick “simply changed his head in the drawings”.
The following day the unpicking is done by film editor Colin Monie whose work includes Young Adam, The Magdalene Sisters, NEDS, Midnight’s Children and the filmic self portrait of Scotland We are Northern Lights.
Skilfully prompted by Don Coutts in a comfortably relaxed, wide-ranging conversation, he opens the door to many of the editor’s less obvious tasks including checking the rushes for continuity, consistency and coverage of the script.
Love scenes on the barge during Young Adam were originally shot with full lighting rig, but at Monie’s suggestion the DP (Director of Photography) cut back to “practicals” which in this case was a single paraffin lantern, with the almost tangibly atmospheric results seen on the big screen.
Several times Coutts suggests that Monie ought to fulfil his original ambition to become a director but it’s clear that he’s happier unobtrusively holding things together, maintaining the confessional secrecy of the cutting room, and developing a strangely intimate relationship with people who, in many cases, he never meets.
Kieran Parker, who with his partner Arabella Croft, has given us the low budget horror series Outpost as well as the recent rather larger budget film version of Dundee Rep’s Sunshine on Leith, unpicks film production and financing. To finance the first Outpost they mortgaged their house, and shot the film in Dumfries & Galloway for the sake of a grant which on most films wouldn’t cover the catering, but in their case made all the difference.
Is there another festival which could double as the set of a Dickensian adaptation? Flurries of light snow dust the rooftops around the lighthouse, while in the winter darkness a crowd of people drink mulled wine and warm their hands at a glowing brazier. After some muffled thumps and several calls of “ Are you ready, Dave?”, the beam of a projector shines out through a specially drilled hole in the boathouse attic to wrap the first of the opening night’s selection of short films around the white walls of the lighthouse.
It’s Clare Lamond’s Seams and Embers, stop frame animation of conversations with retired Scottish miners reminiscing about working in the mines. “Imagine being millions of years in the ground and then all of a sudden you’re smashed to pieces and hauled up into the daylight”, says the voice of a miner. Impressive technical skill combined with deeply felt emotion, like everything on show this weekend.
A new venue has been added to the already eclectic mix – the Shed. This is a newly adapted shed on the seashore, large enough to seat a couple of dozen people to watch a selection of student films, chosen at random by Napier tutor James Mavor. Well-made and varied, they show there’s plenty of talent poised on the threshold of an ever-nascent Scottish film industry.
The Cromarty programme is as quirky and eclectic as ever, ranging from opening feature Thelma and Louise via the ‘couthy films’ from the Scottish Screen Archive and their modern equivalent, Still Game – the latter introduced, somewhat riotously, by the affable Ford Kiernan possibly trying out some of his material for his upcoming run at the Glasgow Hydro – to the frankly magnificent finale showing of Untouchable/Les Intouchables. If there’s a common link you could call it a love of authenticity, or a passion for truth.
Few people share that passion more than Mark Cousins, who’s at the Festival to introduce his favourite film, A Moment of Innocence, an intricately multi-layered story structure which asks again and again, “What is true?”, plus his own The First Movie. “The camera became my best friend on this film,” he says, showing us a £120 Panasonic HD camera no bigger than an electric razor.
Cousins took his Panasonic to Kurdistan with some Flipcams which he handed out to the children of a village about the same size as Cromarty (but Cromarty hasn’t recently lost nearly a fifth of its population to gas attacks). The children pick up the cameras, press the red button and they’re off.
It’s an extraordinary sensation watching their films, literally looking at life through their eyes; women cooking the Ramadan meal, men praying in the mosque while waiting for sunset, a continuous, poetic sequence of a child playing with mud as “there’s nothing else to play with”, all unfiltered by adult prejudice.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely to do this every day?” asks Mairi Hedderwick afterwards. Yes, it would.