As That Sinking Feeling arrives on Blu-ray, the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s archivist, Marc David Jacobs, gives ReelScotland an exclusive look at how the film was promoted and received in 1979.
Bill Forsyth’s involvement with the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) began in 1969, when his experimental film, Language, announced him as a major new experimental Scottish filmmaker.
Although lauded in the Festival’s programmes as part of a ‘fresh new wave’ and even as ‘that most independent of Scottish filmmakers’ in the years just before Bill Douglas appeared on the scene, Forsyth himself has repeatedly claimed since that these early films only alienated audiences and that he literally cleared an entire packed George Square Theatre with his 1970 film Waterloo, which finished with only four audience members remaining.
After an headlining appearance in the 1971 programme (with a film which he says may not have actually screened), it was eight years before he returned to the Festival with his first feature: the now-legendary That Sinking Feeling, which has finally (and none too soon) just been rereleased in its original form.
The rare Film Festival archives shown here document its arrival, initial reception and sudden and almost unanimous acclaim at the Film Festival’s 33rd edition in 1979.
Below: early appearances for Bill Forsyth in EIFF programmes:
Forsyth’s earliest appearances at EIFF were not forgotten even ten years on; the Festival’s own programme notes for That Sinking Feeling describe his earlier works as ‘strongly personal attempts to unite abstract film structuring with narrative [that] revealed a stern and very Scottish intellectual approach to film making’.
Below: A programme page for the film recently signed in Glasgow by (clockwise from top) Forsyth and former members of the Glasgow Youth Theatre, Douglas Sannachan, John Hughes, Rab Buchanan and Gerry Clark.
Below: The programme notes distributed at That Sinking Feeling’s world premiere on 29th August 1979; the former, according to Forsyth, were mimeographed from his own typescript [click to enlarge].
The advance press hardly promised anything overwhelming or game-changing; merely a film ‘about a gang of Glasgow children who plan a robbery’. The first rave reviews were capped by the Observer likening Forsyth to Alexander Mackendrick and Woody Allen and describing That Sinking Feeling as ‘Rififi rewritten by Billy Connolly’.
The film survived the EIFF, was screened at the Glasgow Film Theatre, was invited to the London Film Festival and garnered its first international notices.
Within a few weeks of the screening, there was already talk of what Forsyth wanted to do next. Having mentioned in his EIFF programme notes that he had ‘spent two years wooing the BFI Production Board with a script’ to no avail, he suddenly found himself with the chance to make it.
As the Daily Record reported, Forsyth was ready ‘to do another comedy with the Glasgow Youth Theatre, called Gregory’s Girl. […] With the success of That Sinking Feeling, I’m hoping it will be that bit easier to get the next film off the ground.’
The rest, as they say, is a well-known fact…
Thanks to Marc David Jacobs and the Edinburgh International Film Festival for sharing these files.