Cristina Ertze – 14th October 2022
The mention of film festivals brings up the image of a pageant of ‘in’ celebrities squinting into flashes from a sea of cameras. That’s what the mass broadcast of glamorous red-carpeted award ceremonies has embedded into our collective memories. But that is very far from my own memories of participating in or attending film festivals.
It is those experiences which make me so horrified at Scotland’s self-sabotage in failing to support two of its most important cinema theatres which are about to close, and in the failure to protect the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Scotland will feel the loss more than you might think if these go ahead.
A few years ago my partner and I were fortunate to have a short film we made screened in one of the strands of the Cannes Film Festival. Nerves aside, it was an incredible experience, but I remember how, having gone ahead a couple of days before him to ‘market’ our film, he found me in a state of near madness caused by the content overload.
He could not, for the life of him, understand why anyone would willingly spend a whole weekend rushing from one dingy dark room with squeaky seats and no leg-space to the next one with only enough time in between to drink or eat as many of whatever the sponsors would offer while queuing for the next screening.
For me it was bliss. I suppose the fact that we were in the middle of the Cote d’Azur in the gorgeous weather of late spring was distracting, but nope. All my focus resided on my carefully drafted screenings schedule, which allowed for no such things as exposure to sunshine or proper sustenance. The man actually wanted to go and walk on the beach! You could fit a whole Q&A session with directors and crews you never heard about before in that time! … not on my watch!
But that’s the thing. Film is an awkward kind of art. You showcase it in venues designed for a collective experience and yet, you’d be damned if you attempted to interact with anyone within the same space while the purpose of your visit is fulfilled. And yet, there is no feeling like the one you get when you realise that the whole collective body of humans in attendance are enjoying what is being projected as much as you are, that your heart rates are in sync and that a good proportion of you reached for a hanky to wipe that wee tear at the same time or snorted while ugly-laughing at an unexpected joke.
The complicity in simply ‘liking’ someone else’s creative work as a collective of spectators is an incredibly wholesome experience. And now imagine what it is like to be given the opportunity to live that experience with folk who are not just there to be entertained, but who are mostly there in the hope of getting discovered. Because aye, there’s a big chance that you’ll watch some not-so-great work when you go to a festival, but then again, there’s a chance that you’ll be one of the first people to be blown away by something amazing, something uniquely inspiring something that will touch your soul as nothing ever has before.
And now imagine what it is like for a young filmmaker to be the creative talent behind what is dazzling a theatre-full of you to that degree. Imagine how this moment could reinforce your trust in yourself, in your vision and your style. How it would help your work (and yourself) be discovered by others who you might want to collaborate with in the future. How it might attract funding to allow you to work in what you love doing without being a permanent resident of your parent’s spare room.
But wait. That’s not all. Indulge me just once more and imagine not being involved in filmmaking or actually being particularly keen on non-commercial films. Imagine you have absolutely no interest in ever attending a film festival. You wouldn’t even know where or when to find such a thing, and to be honest, it might not be the kind of thing you would do for fun anyways.
But imagine also that whoever you are and whatever your situation, you are going through a tough time. You have sat down in front of the telly and it’s late. You browse watching options and you notice a film or a documentary or a new TV series which looks like it’s made in Scotland. You check it out and the blurb sounds interesting enough, you can recognise some of the names and places mentioned. You give it a go. What you ended up watching is not your story, but it connected with you, you could relate to the characters, you could see yourself reflected in their actions and dilemmas, you were allowed to project your own hopes and fears onto their narrative and right there on screen, as you were watching, they offered a perspective that you maybe hadn’t considered.
For me personally, sometimes that connection to a common narrative has helped me to reframe my own thoughts and feelings. And I honestly believe that film has that power. It can bring joy, fear, exhilaration and pure awe to our hearts in one of the most enveloping of experiences. Many of the films which end up being accessible to us when we most need them (say during a stress-induced sleepless night when we have been at our loneliest) would have never made it to us without a platform that allowed for the grit and talent behind them to create and experiment and fail and then try again until they got it just right.
Just right for them to feel confident to share it, just right for funders to back it up, just right to touch your emotional strings. Right enough that it would be appreciated by a number of people and would allow that talent to grow and re-group and create more content, refine their art, travel and be exposed to how other such talents create and appreciate their art.
To believe that cutting off one of the very few such platforms from Scotland’s arts and culture environment is of no consequence is very short-sighted. To be influential or in charge of funding for the arts and culture in Scotland and not to do everything in your power to save two of our small country’s main independent film cinemas is incomprehensible. To risk the downfall of the world’s oldest continually running film festival by appointing (and paying ridiculously disproportionate salaries to) a corporate elite who run the arts and culture in Scotland as a business venture to market and brand onto a keychain like any product is simply criminal.
We all know that times are tough, that people need to make a living, how cruel the cost of living crisis is to anyone other than the elites. Jobs and revenue, right? Those things are what will feed mouths, not pretty pictures and compelling stories. Right? Ok. How many jobs and livelihoods were just destroyed in an instant but the sudden closures of the Edinburgh Filmhouse and the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen? Box office, caterers, cleaners, designers, curators, etc.
How many people behind the films which would have been shown there will now never get revenue from the would-have-been screenings of their films? Depending on the budget and complexity of a film, you can have anything from dozens to thousands of people involved and dependent on a production’s success, from artists, performers, musicians, writers, builders, drivers, technicians, caterers, electricians, researchers all the way to the director and producer.
How will any young people in a small country like Scotland manage to showcase their films without the support of a local but well established and internationally recognised film festival? Not just through its screenings, but through the programmes that it supports and encourages. Why on earth would anyone choose one of Scotland’s excellent film or animation programmes at our art schools when the cultural desert outside will make them feel isolated from any other similar film student experience in the world? How many talented people will decide to leave to places with better opportunities?
How will filmmakers, writers and creatives pitch their ideas to potential funders? How will they network and meet collaborators? Will we revert to where we were 15 years ago, back to when the only way you could make a living as a new-start filmmaker was if you were willing to spend half of your time in London or Manchester, because nothing was being produced here due to lack of infrastructure and trained workforce. What happens when those creatives and the people supporting them realise that Scotland is a place where talent is not valued and where funding will only be awarded to bailout multinational event-production corporations with sketchy ethical practices and no interest in local culture and impact?
I am not saying that bailing out a couple of cinema theatre venues is a solution to all Scotland’s filmmaking problems. I am, like many others, pointing out that the closure of these two venues and the Edinburgh International Film Festival is happening against the backdrop of the long-term mismanagement of public arts funding in Scotland.
If we keep on treating and assigning value to all of Scotland’s cultural assets, including our creative arts and arts infrastructure, based on the same corporate-led, trickle-down system that is strangling the Edinburgh Festival, we will continue to rely on someone else’s vision and narrative. This is a very alienating way to determine a nation’s cultural life.