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Features / Film attendances up at ‘tremendous’ Screenplay

Bill Nighy during a Q&A at Screenplay on Saturday night. Photo: Dale Smith.

TEN DAYS and over 80 screenings later, the 11th Screenplay festival came to an end on Sunday, writes Patrick Mainland. As ever, the programme has been a diverse one – highlighting local and international filmmakers, featuring quizzes, workshops, dramas, animation, cats, dogs, and a certain time-travelling cyborg.

For Mark Kermode and Linda Ruth Williams, who curate Screenplay alongside Shetland Arts’ Kathy Hubbard, it’s the way that the festival is so inclusive of its audience that keeps them coming north year after year. “It really belongs to the community – I hope that’s what the festival celebrates,” said Kermode, one of Britain’s leading film critics.

In their eyes, the festival is first and foremost about showing great films, but is also important as a social event, encouraging discussion and interaction with the festival’s line-up of guests.

Among the line-up this year was star name Bill Nighy, who hopped on a plane to Shetland for the screening of gory thriller The Limehouse Golem, which began showing UK-wide the night before. And after the film screened here on Saturday, he seemed to enjoy himself in the bar chatting away with a number of avid fans.

Karen McKelvie of Shetland Women's Aid, which worked with Daniel Gear on an animation highlighting domestic abuse. It won best short film in the Home Made section of Screenplay. Photo: Dale Smith.

Another actor who made the most of his time in the isles was George Mackay, with acting credits in two of the films shown, one being 2014 film Pride. It explores the unlikely connection between striking miners and gay activists in the 1980s, and was one of the most moving and funny films on this year’s programme. He spoke of the “genuine warmth” he had felt immersing himself in Shetland’s culture – and seemed to have a pretty good grasp of the Eightsome Reel by Saturday night.

Director Hope Dickson Leach was another guest. Her debut feature The Levelling was Kermode’s standout pick for the festival. Subtle and highly intimate, it explores the aftermath of a harrowing trauma on a family, who live on a flood-soaked dairy farm in Somerset.

The director hoped her film, in particular the rural setting which accentuates the drama, would engage with the audience – and it seemed to from the reaction on Friday night’s showing.

Amnesty International Shetland were instrumental in bringing the BAFTA-winning Hillsborough to the big screen on Sunday – following it up with a Q&A with Professor Phil Scraton, the film’s factual consultant.

Phil Scraton, factual consultant on an inspiring documentary about the Hillsborough disaster. Photo: Dale Smith.

The documentary does a remarkable job of leading the audience through the details of such a deeply upsetting and complex disaster. Scraton, who authored Hillsborough: The Truth, was inspiring and informative in the Q&A, giving insight on a subject on which so much has been said over the course of nearly 30 years.

On a lighter note, there was plenty for families to enjoy – short-film screenings for children, voiceless animation The Red Turtle and charming Turkish cat documentary Kedi to name just a few. And for those slightly older, the one-off showing of the sci-fi classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a big hit, as was as ever the Film Quiz, which happened to be the 50th such quiz held in Mareel, with no signs its popularity diminishing.

But no review of Screenplay would be complete without paying tribute to the local films on offer, and this year there were dozens. The Home Made showcases, for both short and longer films, are always among the most popular pick on the programme.

In part this must be simply down to the staggering mix of different films on offer, from totally oddball comedy to reflective dialect-focused films, and much more.

George Mackay's starring role in 2014 film Pride was one of over 80 screenings this year. Photo: Dale Smith.

This year’s audience short film pick was the sobering Wolf In My Home, a very well-made animation highlighting domestic abuse, made by Daniel Gear in association with Shetland Women’s Aid. Also of note was JJ Jamieson’s sold-out documentary on the history of Shetland’s old cinema the North Star. The festival finished up with the cross-dressing classic Some Like It Hot.

The final word goes to tireless curator Kathy Hubbard: “We’ve had a tremendous festival. Attendances were up, and the feedback on the films has been 100 per cent positive.

“The guests have been marvellous – George Mackay threw himself into the island experience (and I had to rescue him more than once from several scrums of female fans), Bill Nighy was charming, and must have had his photo taken with half the population of Shetland. Hope Dickson Leach and her family have fallen in love with Shetland, as did the legendary Phil Scraton, who delivered one of the most powerful and affecting Q&A sessions I’ve ever experienced.”

“Other films that went down particularly well with the audience were The Eagle Huntress and A Man Called Ove – we’ve even had requests to bring those back later in the autumn.  My favourite film was the wonderful Donkeyote but the most important film we screened was undoubtedly Dan Gordon’s deeply moving Hillsborough, which drew tears from audience members.”

“But the truly unexpected joy of this year’s Screenplay for me was the education element, which ran every morning, with over a thousand school pupils in to see some of the best of world cinema – and loving it! So it’s now time to get our breath back … then start thinking about next year.”

Patrick Mainland