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Reviews / Local filmmakers set the bar high

ONE OF the strengths of Shetland Arts’ Screenplay film festival, which got underway this weekend, is the opportunity it provides for local film makers’ work to be shown. Traditionally that work has been featured in a “home made” section, but as Louise Thomason found out for Shetland News, burgeoning local talent led to the pieces being shown in their own right this weekend. 

Saturday’s offerings came in the form of Ebb Tide, a series of six films commissioned by the Shetland Moving Image Archive in association with the Shetland Heritage Association. 

The ambitious project, which initially included a chartered fishing boat (a detail which funding restrictions meant was cut out), saw local film makers create films using an object or artefact which once belonged to a Shetlander who left the isles either through emigration or to work on ships, as inspiration.The resulting six films were shown at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where many of the ships the emigrating islanders left on were made and, screened at the Tall Ship, the stories were taken full circle.

The first film shown was Ria Moncrieff and Simon Thompson’s A Portrait – in landscape. This beautiful piece features shots of a timelessly dressed Clair Thomason interspersed with shots of Shetland landscape – images of the two at times overlaid to emphasise the protagonist’s connection with the land – as well as creative use of archive footage: of seabirds, a fisherman in a boat, a croft house, to striking effect.

Lines of poetry from Bruce Eunson (whose film Dis Quiet Moncrieff also played a part in) appeared on the screen, representing letters written to Thomason’s character, the author away, perhaps at sea. The poetry was inspired by the artists’ artefact – a diary of a Burra man who had emigrated to Australia.  With wonderfully atmospheric music from London John, aka Loudon Bruce, the film is a thoughtful interpretation of the wait those left at home faced while their partners and loved ones travelled away to Shetland, some never to return.

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Historian and media artist Robert Gear’s documentary, Da Old Rock’ll Do Me explores the struggle people faced in considering emigration. Using modern day interviews and archive footage, and with narration from Marjolein Robertson, the film ponders what drove some to leave, and some to stay, and the constant push-pull of head and heart that many islanders continue to face today.

A small decorative box with butterfly-wing iridescent finish was the inspiration behind The Butterfly Effect, by Tirval Scott. This light-hearted film looking at the chance occurrence of small objects and the journeys they travel, featuring some canny special effects and a cast which included a reluctant scorie.  

Fierce Work, the creative output of artists Floortje Robertson and Harry Witham, takes the idea of the commonwealth full circle in exploring why folk went away, the hard work they faced, the folk they left behind, and finally, with shots of athletes training for the commonwealth games, I felt, the idea of life continuing, perhaps a life in part made possible by the struggles and choices our forebears faced.

Rich in texture, the film combines shots of actors in period dress with modern day footage of artefacts at the museum and archives. With a soundtrack by Tim Matthew, the team’s attention to detail and repetitive, rhythmic sounds make for a stimulating and thought-provoking piece.

Filmmaker and writer Clint Watt’s dark film Flotsam is a dramatic short centred on a wooden bowl, taken home to Shetland from Baltic countries, and said to be used by witches to conjure up stormy seas to sink ships. Flotsam portrayed the fate of a witch attempting just this. Played by Izzy Swanson, supported by a convincing cast of local actors, the witch is then hanged for her attempts. The looming spectre of real gallows against Shetland’s hill and the actor’s costumes, blowing in the wind, made for an eerie atmosphere.

A variety of inventive methods were used to create Greg McCarron’s film, Elysia. It takes its name from a passenger ship of the same name which was torpedoed during the war.  

Sandwick man Cecil Smith was onboard and presumed dead, but survived and made his way back to Shetland and his wife, Gracie, played by grand-daughter and development officer for Shetland Moving Image Archive, Helen Smith.  McCarron’s use of a range of mediums, with photographs combined with filmed footage and animation, proved an effective and fun method for storytelling.

These films were tied together with a central theme, but work individually just as well. Variously sensitive, in places witty and executed with professionalism, they have set the bar high for local filmmaking.

Louise Thomason

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