Country Focus

15th Country Focus
Scotland

Alba gu bràth!

Just two years before Brexit – which 62% of the approximately five million Scots voted against, more than any other country in the UK – Scotland decided upon their independence from England in a referendum that the majority of Scots did not vote in favour, either. These circumstances, in contrast with England’s more favourable endorsement of Brexit seems to have opened a new chapter in Scotland’s feud with England. Independence, in spite of its non-existence in terms of sovereignty, is deeply rooted within Scotland’s identity. But what exactly makes Scotland so independent, so unique?

During this year’s country focus, we would like to pursue this question with Scottish short films from the past few years. Three separate film programmes present a country which boasts an impressive cultural density and tradition, despite its relatively low population. We are going to stake out the landscape of social issues as much as the hills and mountains of the Highlands – the humour and creativity of Scottish filmmakers will serve us as a compass.

Scottish cinema begins with films about national heroes and events, such as the animation film "An Incident in the Boer War" (1900) or two competing "Rob Roy" productions (1922) about the Scottish Robin Hood. These films, though they were produced and filmed in Scotland, only garnered lukewarm reception. Scotland’s filmmakers were not equipped against the competition from England and the US and so, Scotland’s relevance for film devolved into a location for foreign productions, which still drew on Scotland’s rich history and talented authors. Among such films are "Bonnie Prince Charlie" (1923) about the famous Jacobite pretender, and "Lady of the Lake" (1928) adapted from a story by Sir Walter Scott. Scottish documentary filmmaker John Grierson ("Drifters", 1929) is of the utmost importance for film history for coining the term "documentary" in the first place.

Scotland’s double-edged relationship with film has continued to this day. While Scottish filmmakers such as Kevin Macleod ("The Last King of Scotland", 2006) or Alexander Mackendrick ("Whisky Galore!", 1949) are fairly popular, Scotland’s reputation in the film world as a shooting location is quite unmatched. Among the long list of films shot in Scotland are: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), "Trainspotting" (1996), a number of "Harry Potter" films (2001-2011), and "Under the Skin" (2013). Meanwhile, many Scottish actresses and actors need no introduction: Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor, Karen Gillan, James McAvoy, Gerard Butler, Rose Leslie, and David Tennant are only the most well-known among those who rose to international fame.

The potential of Scotland as a film country should most decidedly not be limited to export. The thirty films that will be shown in this country focus are thirty good reasons for that. Apart from their aesthetic and narrative virtue, they express a sensibility for national and international matters. In the programme "Your Wee Bit Hill and Glen," we show short films which focus on Scotland's timeless myths and magnificent nature. In contrast, the central theme of "The Configuration of a Land" is the Scots’ psyche and the cityscapes of Scotland. The programme "The Man of Independent Mind" addresses the culture and creativity of this unique country. A retrospective of Glaswegian filmmaker Bryan M. Ferguson presents us with a very special insight into current Scottish short film; Bryan will also talk about his experience as a filmmaker in a master class.