Scotland is one of the most exciting places to be whether you’re a creator or follower of radical film, with a rich pedigree and numerous ongoing projects and annual exhibitions. In the second of our radical arts guides – the first being our music guide – editor Jonathan Rimmer picks out some key starting points for those looking to delve into the radical side of Scottish film…
It’s unsurprising that Scotland has such a thriving underground film culture when you consider the country’s history of cinema. Some of our most successful features have a radical undercurrent, expressing thinly veiled political messages and emancipatory statements through the medium of ‘social realism’ – at least, that’s what the critics tend to describe it as.
While Scotland’s private film sector can only be described as an unmitigated mess, there are a great number of exciting grassroots-led initiatives occurring throughout Scotland. David Archibald, of Radical Film Network Scotland, pinpoints Glasgow in particular as the “most vibrant place for radical film in the UK right now”.
Much like with our music guide, this piece is not intended as an encyclopedic guide to every instance of radical film over the past century, but a brief overview of existing radical projects and exhibitions that we hope will inspire readers to make their own connections. Again, we intend to periodically update all our arts guides so they can serve as a useful resource for activists across Scotland. Get in touch if you would like to make additions or assist in some way.
Kicking off this week, the 6818 Festival is a month long multi-venue festival in Glasgow organised by Radical Film Network Scotland. The festival presents a programme of films and discussions that explore and reflect on the legacy of the 1968, a year of revolutionary action, mass civil rights protests and anti-war demonstrations around the globe.
According to the programme: “That year was the tipping point for a series of political, social and countercultural movements which would leave an indeible mark on society. The flashpoint was in Paris where an unlikely coalition of students, strikers and Situationists would rally in the streets, bringing the whole country to a standstill. The zeitgeist was vividly expressed in the cinema of that period, which was a radical and innovative formally as it was politically.”
Films to check out include: Socialist filmmaker Ken Loach’s The Big Flame, which tells the story of 10,000 workers occupying the Liverpool docks; JA Bardem’s Seven Days in January, about the massacre of Atocha; and Salute, a documentary about the famous Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics; 1968: The Day The Troubles Began (above), a documentary about the civil rights marches in Derry.
Femspectives provides a platform for women filmmakers and safe spaces for conversations about feminism, social issues and politics. Their mission statement states that it “brings people together across cultures, acknowledges privilege and barriers, wants to be accessible, emphasises marginalised voices, makes democratic decisions, is individual and collective, prioritises content over aesthetics… [and] listens.”
The first full festival will be hosted next March, but they hold their launch event as part of 6818 on Saturday at Glasgow’s Women’s Library. It reflects on 1972, when the Edinburgh International Film Festival hosted the UK’s first women’s film festival, entirely dedicated to the achievements of women directors.
Two films being revisited will be radical Welsh director Jane Arden’s The Other Side of the Underneath and Sue Crockford’s A Woman’s Place, which immortalises National Women’s Liberation Movement march from 1971.
Havana and Glasgow officially twinned in 2002, which already makes a festival dedicated to Cuban cinema eminently sensible. The fact Cuba has been home to some of the greatest revolutionary movies ever made only makes it more essential. The brainchild of screenwriter and director Eirene Houston, the festival has run for three years now and received Glasgow City Council backing.
Although it’s some way until the next annual festival, the organisers are holding a screening of the classic Memories of Underdevelopment this Friday at the Scottish Trade Unions Centre in Glasgow. The film is narrated by a wealthy aspiring writer who reflects on the revolution and reassesses his experiences in the country as his friends leave.
Other classic Cuban films worthy of attention include classic comedies The Twelve Chairs and Death of a Bureaucrat, music documentary Cuba Feliz (above), and the 2003 documentary Suite Habana.
Other Festivals to Check:
The Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival may not be overtly political at first glance, but the films screened aim to challenge preconceived ideas about mental health and promote a positive and radically inclusive approach.
The Queer International Film Festival is typically held in September and holds multiple spin off events through the year. Its goal is to simply “get people watching, talking about, and making more queer films”.
Seeking to represent Scotland’s black history, Edinburgh’s Africa in Motion is also an important festival on the calendar that kicks off again this October.
Document Film Festival is Scotland’s longest running human rights festival, initially created in response to the discrimination faced by asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow. Organisers will present two Syrian short films at the STUC on Friday.
Other Projects & Collectives
Based in Glasgow, this community-based, voluntary collective of filmmakers, artists and activists work together to make documentaries about issues relating to human rights, welfare and social. Since 2003, the collective has made over 20 films, investigating huge topics such as war protests, detention centres and the nuclear weapons programme at Faslane, as well as local issues such as the Govanhill Baths. Founding member Fran Higson (interviewed above) has been nominated for BAFTA and European film awards for her work.
At first glance, Blueprint’s aim to showcase independent Scottish films in association with the Glasgow Short Film Festival is a noble enough aim. But their official mission statement offers a more scathing critique of how the film industry is run, as it purports to “promote independent film makers and challenge the hegemony of established educational, economic and industrial practice”. Organised by filmmaker Hans Lucas, the group run regular exhibitions and support creative people who ordinarily lack the funds or resources to make films.
Other Projects to Check:
The Scottish Trade Unions Congress have funded several films (see above) and continue to support Scottish filmmakers. This Saturday, a programme of short films made by members of the Better Than Zero and the Communication Workers Union will be screened at the STUC building.
Transit Arts is an ‘itinerant organisation for the exhibition of artists’ moving image’, meaning they travel around Scotland to support filmmakers and their projects (Atlas Arts, a community-oriented organisation promoting rural film in the Isle of Skye being one example).
Radical Home Cinema is “an experimental programming and exhibition event where Glasgow personalities and film lovers invite you to watch radical films in their home, studio or garden shed”. Though initially held in 2016, it remains an open-ended project. The Cinema Up Collective behind the project will be hosting an exhibition at the Fourwalls Housing Co-Op as part of 6818.
To discover upcoming filmmakers for collaborations, it would be best to reach out to some of the aforementioned collectives, who will be able to provide greater knowledge and insight (as well as advice on how to DIY). The following is just a starting point, listing notable writers, directors and producers making films through a class-conscious lens.
A former SSP activist and Yes campaigner, Peter Mullan is best known for his appearances in Trainspotting, Harry Potter and other globally known franchises. As well as writing several short films, he also directed Neds, a vivid exploration of working class youth culture in the 1970s told from a compassionate point of view.
Best known as a television playwright, McDougall’s best works were his Play For Today features in the 1970s. Just Another Saturday remains the most nuanced depiction of Orange walk culture in Scotland,
Helen Biggar & Norman McLaren
A communist sculptor, filmmaker and theatre designer in the early 20th century, Biggar collaborated with pioneering artist and animator Norman McLaren to make Hell UnLtd in 1936, which remains a hugely influential anti-war film over 80 years later.
An anarchist, trade unionist and fiercely political filmmaker, John Samson films dealt directly with issues of class, alienation, radical politics and subversive sub-cultures. His TV documentary The Skin Horse explored issues of sex and disability at a time when they even more were massively unrepresented.
Most people are familiar with Ken Loach, who has directed a slew of radical class-oriented films over the years including I, Daniel Blake, Bread & Roses and Land and Freedom. But Scottish scriptwriter Paul Laverty has been an influential part of many of these films – providing an excuse for us to encourage readers to check out pretty much everything they’ve made.
A Scottish-Yemeni filmmaker who has done much to promote important humanitarian causes in Yemen, Palestine and elsewhere. Her short film Karama Has No Walls is a superb example of brave on-the-ground film.
Most people will know of Ramsay due to her new hitman thriller You Were Never Really Here, but her most striking works, such as Morvern Callar and Ratcatcher, deal directly with mental health and the parameters that lead to young people feeling trapped and isolated as a result of oppressive capitalist structures.