BEFORE the tenth annual Screenplay Film Festival opened, the organisers said they had tried to make this year the biggest yet, writes Alex Garrick-Wright. Now, as the festivities draw to a close after a full week of screenings, guests, Q&As and events, it’s safe to say they managed just that.
With a programme bursting as never before, Screenplay 10 has really set the bar high in terms of quantity and quality, with more film screenings than in previous years (87, to be precise), covering a wide spectrum of tastes, genres and styles.
What elevates Screenplay from ‘good’ to ‘world-class’ is the calibre of guests in attendance, and 2016’s crop was no exception. With more guests than previous years, Screenplay delivered a wide range of Q&A sessions and presentations to satisfy the curiosity of film fans.
Guests of particular renown were the charming and funny BAFTA-award winning Amma Asante (director of regency-era drama Belle), director Iain Softley (director of quirky sci-fi K-PAX), Sarah Curtis (producer of the hilarious, under-appreciated Hysteria), and more.
One of the most interesting Q&A sessions was for Dreamcatcher, a heart-warming and surprisingly upbeat documentary about a former sex worker trying to turn around the lives of prostitutes in Chicago. Kim Longinotto, the film’s director, was joined by Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, to discuss the issues and themes of the film in a lively and interesting discussion.
Longinotto also presented the unusual Love is All, a film made entirely of archive footage that explored the depiction of ‘love’ in the cinema throughout the ages, set entirely to a soundtrack by English singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, who not only answered questions with Longinotto afterwards, but followed the screening with a top-notch concert in the auditorium.
While highlights are hard to pick, special mention must surely go to the delightful New Zealand comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople. A wonderful, feel-good adventure starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison, which Screenplay managed to secure week ahead of its general UK release. Fortunately for those who missed the opportunity to see it over the past week, Hunt for the Wilderpeople will be back in Mareel once it has been fully released in the UK.
Something that will not be repeated, however, was the incredible spectacle of beat-boxer Jason Singh providing live accompaniment to 1929 silent film Drifters. John Grierson’s groundbreaking documentary about the North Sea herring fleets set to a soundtrack comprised entirely of Jason’s voice was mesmerising and compelling.
The best part of Screenplay 10, as is the case for all previous years, was the films made in Shetland. The Home Made event, open to film-makers from or living in Shetland, was for the first time split into two categories, for 1-4 minute and 7-15 minutes long films. A fantastic 18 shorter films and four longer films were screened, from filmmakers of all ages and ability levels, covering everything from stop-motion LEGO Up Helly Aa to 1920s silent comedy, from thoughtful recollections of an old fisherman to a hand-drawn animation about wereducks.
Two further Shetland-made films were given separate screenings: Havera: The Story of an Island – JJ Jamieson’s documentary about the titular island and its depopulation, which won the Shetland For Wirds prize for best use of Shetland dialect – and Ragnar.
Ragnar, it must be said, was something really, really special. Written and directed by Stephen Mercer, it was filmed on a no-string budget, with basic equipment, local actors, borrowed props, and the collaborative power of the newly-formed Shetland Film Collective, an online group of locals interested in making films. And it’s brilliant.
The biggest and best surprise of the festival, Ragnar wowed its audiences with magnificent visuals and gorgeous, sweeping shots of the Shetland landscape made possible with creative use of aerial drones. The BBC’s Shetland has never made the isles look this good. The writing and characters were compelling, the actors were well-cast and funny, and the direction talented.
Ragnar, in short, is far greater than the sum of its parts, and will surely become a much-loved part of Shetland popular culture.
Shetland News caught up with festival director Kathy Hubbard to see how they felt this 10th anniversary had gone.
“If someone sees a film they normally wouldn’t see, and enjoys it, our job’s done. It’s about surprising the audience,” Kathy said.
“We went out to attract a different audience. We’ve attracted an older audience with Drifters and Havera. How many retired fishermen do you think have listened to beat-boxing?”
Festival curators Mark Kermode and Linda Ruth Williams were similarly pleased with the results:
“Brilliant,” said Linda. “Really full-on and really fabulous…Great guests, and great audiences!”
Mark, however, managed to capture the feeling of Screenplay 10 in a nutshell: “Ten more years!”
Ten more years indeed – we’re looking forward to them already.