Scots Whay Hae!

Talking About Scottish Culture So You Don't Have To

Talking Movies At GFF17 – #3: An Interview With Bodkin Ras Director Kaweh Modiri…

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The third of our interviews with directors at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival is with Kaweh Modiri, a Dutch filmmaker of Iranian descent. Strange then, perhaps, that his film Bodkin Ras is set in the town of Forres in the north of Scotland, but such movement of people and place has been a feature of the films we have been highlighting at at this year’s festival, and those who have made them.

Our previous interviews have been with David Graham Scott, whose film The End Of The Game begins in Caithness and then moves to South Africa, and Hope Dickson Leach, who wrote The Levelling in Glasgow but filmed it in Somerset. You could make the claim, so I will, that they typify the Glasgow Film Festival in that they mix home with the international.

Bodkin Ras shows a part of Scotland which is rarely seen on screen, and it has been critically lauded wherever it has played. Kaweh Modiri kindly took time out from a very busy festival schedule to speak to Scots Whay Hae!

SWH!:  Could you give a brief synopsis of Bodkin Ras?

KM: It’s the story of a young boy. We don’t know who he is, where he’s from or who he is escaping, but he is on the run. He turns up in a small town in the north of Scotland called Forres. In the film, all the ‘actors’ play themselves, and many of the men spend all their days in a bar, The Eagle, which has a reputation as a rough place. As the film progresses we learn many of these men have tragedies which overshadow their daily lives.

Once the stranger arrives into this small town, one where everyone knows each other, slowly the locals begin to project their desires on this fictional character. His story intermingles with theirs.

SWH!: Why have Bodkin arrive in Forres – why that setting?

KM: I had visited the town a few times going back to 2007, and I got to know some of Unknownthe locals, including Red James (see right) who is in the film. I walked out of the pub and from a distance he said, “As-Salaam-Alaikum”. He called me over and we started talking. He made such an impression on me, as had the town, as had other characters from the town, that I wrote the story called ‘Bodkin Ras’ in which a stranger much like myself, who is clearly not from that place, arrives.

The town had been an inspiration. On one hand there was the banter and humour – the wit of the people I got to know. On the other hand it felt like the last destination in Europe, you can’t go much further than that point. It was a combination of things, but it was always going to be set in Forres.

SWH!: At a time, in the UK at least, when it seems that suspicion of ‘outsiders’ has never been higher. Is that something you wanted to examine?

KM: Definitely. You know, it’s something that is playing in the UK, but also else where in Europe, and in the States. It is something which is defining our times, the way people see a stranger, the person who wants to come in, as an intruder. There is fear, a threat that they represent, but at the same time there is a sense of excitement, of expectation almost, and there is tension between these two things, these two connotations – that a stranger can bring a sense of threat but also the potential for change and acceptance. The film plays with these tensions.

SWH!: It sounds, from your description, that you found this mix of suspicion and acceptance in Forres yourself, would that be fair?

KM: Definitely, definitely. And therefore as well as these thematics, there is also a wink there, because the people Bodkin gets to know are full of acceptance, and there is also lots of humour to be found, often in unexpected things. This plays a great part in the film as well.

SWH!: I’ve seen Bodkin Ras described elsewhere as “docu-fiction”. How would you describe the style of film?

KM: (Sighs) You know, it’s a film. I used documentary elements and fiction elements, because that, for me, was the best way to tell the story I wanted. So the local characters, like Eddie Paton and Red James, they are such an inspiration to the film that I wanted to have them, their characters, in the film. I wanted them to be themselves and then infuse the documentary storyline with the fiction. For me, it was very natural to use the real elements, the documentary elements, and I didn’t really make the distinction. We certainly didn’t make the distinction when we were shooting, or in the edit.

SWH!: Do you think that an audience shouldn’t worry about what is real and what is fictionalised, just take the film as a whole?

KM: Exactly, and once you start working with the story it becomes all about the characters, and for the audience it is fiction. Because once you start believing in the characters you follow their story. As with any characters in any film, there are parts we, as filmmakers, keep and parts we leave out. I think the difference between a fictional film and a documentary is very small.

SWH!: There are well-worn stereotypes about the north of Scotland, and towns such as Forres rarely fit into that image. Did you have ideas about how that part of Scotland would be before you visited?

KM: I knew the area before we started filming, and I had done a lot of travelling there, so it wasn’t unexpected to me. But of course I zoom in on only a part of Scotland, and even only a part of this town, those which were of interest to me. There were aspects which surprised me, though. The humour, but also the talent for drinking, and the stories behind both. The men of The Eagle Bar – once they are in there they are all laughing and dancing like they are the happiest people in the world. But, once you talk to them outside, they are also open, intimate and honest, and the difference was very striking.

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Bodkin Ras is on at the CCA on Friday 24th Feb and Saturday  25th Feb.

Here’s the trailer:

You Have Been Watching…The End Of The Game

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Our first film review of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival is of David Graham Scott’s The End Of The Game. And what a place to start. When documentary is at its best it trumps fiction every time as it gives us stranger and more telling tales. It is certainly the case that if someone was to write a character such as ‘Sir’ Guy Wallace, the focus of The End Of The Game, then an editor would dismiss him as being unbelievable. But when faced with the real thing, he is impossible to ignore.

He is a man whose story needs a film-maker as fair and even-handed as Graham Scott for audiences to see behind the facade and try to understand just what makes the man who he is. It would have been all too easy for the director to hold his subject up to ridicule. There is a lot of humour in the film, but it is as much pointed to the man behind the camera as to the one it is trained on, and much of it comes from their two very different  worlds colliding. But, as with the likes of fellow documentarian Jon Ronson, Scott tries to understand the personality and the driving passion of his subject. It is the result of an inquisitive mind, and one which is keen to see the best in people, even when initial evidence may prove otherwise. Other filmmakers could learn a lot in terms of approach and perspective

There will be people who bring their prejudices to the film, in fact it would be almost impossible to do otherwise, but as you see Guy through Graham Scott’s lens you share his empathy, if not exactly sympathy. For as much as this is a film about the realities of hunting big game it is also about ageing and trying to remain relevant in a world you no longer recognise as your own. I’m sure everyone can think of someone they know for whom that description is apt. They may not spend their life savings on a last great buffalo hunt, but they are certain that “things ain’t what they used to be” and we are all the worse for it.

I should also say that the film is quite beautifully shot. From the wilds of Caithness to the dusty landscape of the South African reserve, the camera paints beautiful and epic pictures which give a sense of the transient and ultimately insignificant lives on-screen, both human and animal. There are also some stunning black and white stills near the end which are incredibly powerful due to the juxtaposition of their beauty and their subject matter.

The End Of The Game is an honest and brave film to make, but is also funny, bittersweet, sad and poignant – it is all those things because it is an intrinsically human story which has been told, highlighting failings, pride, guilt, embarrassment and ego not only from its central character but from the film maker as well. This can be seen in moments such as when David Graham Scott protests his innocence in the undertaking to a local woman, then in voice over admits feeling guilt at his complicity, or when Guy tries to show off by talking about “Kaffirs” to the white hunters, then realises he has been overheard by a black African and appears mortified and contrite, or at least embarrassed.  It is in these moments that you will recognise yourself, not in the specifics, but in men trying to present a front but deep-down knowing they are flawed. For all of the above reasons and more The End Of The Game is an unforgettable film, and one which I urge you not to miss.

If you’re quick you can get tickets for today’s (21/2) 15.45 showing at Glasgow CCA, and you can go here to read the SHW! interview with director David Graham Scott.

..and here is the trailer:

Talking Movies At GFF17 – #2: An Interview With The Levelling Director Hope Dickson Leach…

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The Glasgow Film Festival offers something for everyone, but each year there are films which arrive having  created a buzz through word-of-mouth and critical reception. This certainly applies to The Levelling which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and it has been earning rave reviews wherever it has been shown.

The film’s writer and director Hope Dickson Leach was kind enough to take time before the festival to talk to Scots Whay Hae! about the film.

SWH!: Could you give a brief synopsis of The Levelling?

HDL: The Levelling is a drama which plays out as a thriller about a young woman (Ellie UnknownKendrick – see right) who returns to the family dairy farm to confront her father (David Troughton – see bottom of page) about the death of her brother. She had been told it was an accident but it soon becomes apparent that it was a suicide. So the story is her trying to work out why her brother would take his own life and this investigation leads to a change in her life and in the relationship with her father.

SWH! Why did you want to tell this story?

HDL: I’ve always been very interested in stories about grief – about the response to tragic events and how they in turn have the potential to affect your life. I think there is a period of time after such events when you have to examine what happened and also yourself and decide whether or not to make changes as a result. But I think it is a very brief window and often we let the chance for change go by. I wanted to find a character who would really wrestle with the reasons this specific event has happened and try to prevent it from happening again.

She is part of a family who don’t talk, who don’t communicate. She wants to challenge this, and has to face the possibility that she may be part of the problem as well. That was something that interested me. Being British, a story about a family who can’t communicate or talk about their emotions was one which felt immediate and recognisable.

SWH!: The background of the floods makes a big impact on the film. Why did you choose this as a setting?

HDL: When I was developing the family story the flood story was happening. I went to meet some of the farmers who had been affected and saw how their lives had been turned upside down by the floods, something which could have been prevented. It felt like the perfect setting –  an appropriate context for the family story because there is a similar scenario being played out, but on a bigger scale. It was also a story which needed attention. Both sides of the story would serve each other well.

I had seen the photos of Matilda Temperley which focused on the Somerset floods. I got in touch with her and she introduced me to some of the people who had been flooded. As I looked into it I realised that this was something that had come about because of a lack of understanding and communication between the people making the decisions and the people working on the land. It felt like an apt metaphor for the family story. I think that is very cinematic – finding a context that fits with the drama in a way that makes the smaller story relatable on a wider level.

SWH!: The film is beautifully shot, and really engages with the landscape and nature. How did you approach the style of the film and how you wanted it to look?

HDL: Because the setting is such a big part of the story I wanted to give it character. So, the cinematographer, the location manager and I scouted a lot of places to really tell the story of not only a broken family but also a broken community and even a broken landscape, but one which was coming together and going through a process of rebirth. It was about finding the right locations – those farms which were at a certain point in their lives. They looked as if they were falling apart but there was hope for their future, that they would come alive again. That was really important.

We also looked at a lot of Belgian cinema, such as the Dardenne brothers, and the French cinema which deals with rural life and does so in a straightforward manner. These aren’t stories we see in British cinema that often. But we were very much led by the real world. Authenticity is so important to me. To make the film emotionally authentic I knew we had to get the true story around what farming life is like, and what that part of the world is like, absolutely right. We had to look at the way people lived, but also the colours and character of the landscape and have those feeding into the story we were trying to tell.

There’s a hare in the film which appears as a motif and that came about from a story a farmer told me about evacuating his farm at two in the morning, in the pitch black, when he had to get his 400 cattle to safety. He saw a hare in the water and wanted to save it but he knew he couldn’t, and that was such a striking image to me. It became a metaphor for the boy who died, what he was up against, how he was fighting to stay alive and keep his farm afloat. It was about trying to embrace the poetic as well as nail the authenticity.

SWH!: You said the film is partly about telling stories rarely told, and when we see broken communities on film in this country it’s often in urban settings, so to have a rural setting is unusual, and I’m sure there are many stories like this which just haven’t been told.

HDL: Absolutely. I think rural stories in British cinema are often told in a bucolic “Nanny McPhee” kind of way, which are lovely, but lots of people live in the country and if we don’t start listening to one another and understand each other’s lives this is what happens. Bad decisions get made, and I think that is something which is increasingly applicable to food production. Most of us take for granted where our food comes from. But there are the farmers and this is their livelihood, and understanding what they are up against might make us feel OK about paying a little bit more for a pint of milk. That’s the sort of thing which might make a difference with regard to sustaining these farms.

SWH!: Are you looking forward to the Glasgow Film Festival?

HDL: I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Mark Cousins’ film Stockholm, My Love, but it’s going to be great just to be back in Glasgow because that’s where I wrote the film, in the An Clachan Cafe in Kelvingrove Park every day, so for me it feel like the film is coming home.

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Here’s the trailer:

You can read our interview with End Of The Game director David Scott Graham here.

The SWH! Preview of the Glasgow Film Festival has some suggestions as to what to see.

Singing On The Train: A Review Of Four Singers & A Pianist – Scottish Opera’s Highlights Show…

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Scottish Opera is hitting the rails, and they’ll be doing so at a venue near you from 16th Feb – 18th Mar, traversing the Borders to the Highlands and Islands, and moving from the west coast to the east. The show is Four Singers & A Pianist and it is their annual Highlights show which has gained a reputation for being an essential event for music lovers.

Having been lucky enough to be in attendance at Easterhouse’s Platform for their first night I can confirm that this reputation will only be enhanced this year. The structure of the show is that four singers are on a train about to undertake a tour of Scotland, visiting the lesser visited corners of the country to spread the word and the music, when problems beset them. Taking classic and lesser known works, they weave them together to show off not only the breadth of music opera has to offer, but also allowing the performers’ to shine.

The four are mezzo-soprano Emma Kerr, soprano Roisin Walsh, Tenor Elgan Llyr Thomas, and Baritone Adam Gilbert. They all get the chance to make their mark individually, and they seize it with brio, but it is when they are together in duet, trio and quartet that they soar, working together as a small but perfectly formed company. They are more than ably backed on piano by musical director Jonathon Swinard, and the sense of ‘let’s do the show right here’ only adds to the evening’s charm. Regular patrons of Scottish Opera will be used to lavish, clever and intricate sets, but the simplicity and ingenuity of this production allows the voices and performances to be the undeniable stars of the show.

The selection of music is reliably well judged offering something for everyone, from opera aficionados to the more casual fan. Puccini, Handel, Verdi, Mozart and Schubert are all represented to please the traditionalist, as well as Quilter, Weill, Ravel and Cilea for those who prefer their opera more 20th century. We are even offered a taste of Scottish Opera’s Composer In Residence Lliam Paterson’s latest work, Bluebeard’s Castle, which promises to marry Bartok and Bake-Off to great effect. A forthcoming co-production with independent theatre company Vanishing Point, Bluebeard’s Castle will open alongside The 8th Door in Glasgow and Edinburgh this Spring.

But to get you in the mood for that, and the imminent and eagerly awaited production of Pelléas and Mélisande, you should try and catch Four Singers & A Pianist when they are in town, starting in Maybole, Ayrhsire this evening (16th Feb). They are then stopping off at many points around the country, from Banchory to Brodick, Dumfries to Durness. You can see the full schedule here where you can also book tickets. Of course it is for opera fans, but will also interest those who know Franz Ferdinand and Kurt Cobain better than Franz Lehar or Kurt Weill. If you have a music fan in your circle who has never given opera a try, this is the perfect introduction for them. All aboard.

Here’s a taste of what to expect:

And stills from the show…

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Stranger Than Fiction: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Documentary Maker Lou McLoughlan…

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The latest podcast has Ali talking to director and cinematographer Lou McLoughlan. We could pretend that it has been perfectly timed to coincide with the first week of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, but in all honesty it’s an interview we’ve been trying to organise ever since watching Lou’s fantastic feature documentary 16 Years Till Summer, one of the best films of 2016.

You can read the Scots Whay Hae! review here, and see the trailer at 16-years-till-summerthe foot of this post, but it’s worth listening to the director talk about the making of it first as it will add to the viewing experience, and spoilers are carefully avoided.

The two also talk about the practicalities and difficulties of making documentaries, and then with getting them to an audience, particularly a Scottish one.

There is also chat about Scottish storytelling, the Highlands and Islands as a ‘seductive space’, the importance of music to a film, how filming real life will always offer up the unexpected, and much, much more.

It was recorded in Glasgow’s Project Cafe (without Ian to keep a professional ear on such things), which means there is quite a bit of “ambient noise”, particularly at the very beginning, but hopefully not enough to affect your enjoyment of what is a must listen for anyone involved with, or interested in, film and film-making.

There is plenty other film related content elsewhere on SWH! at the moment, including our preview of Glasgow Film Festival 2017 and an interview with another Scottish documentary maker, David Graham Scott,  and there will be further interviews and reviews throughout the festival’s run.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS. You can also download it by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on

SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

And, as promised, here is the trailer for 16 Years Till Summer:

With another podcast already in the bag, we know it’s going to be good, and we’ll hopefully see back here for that very soon…

Talking Movies At GFF17 – #1: An Interview With The End Of The Game Director David Graham Scott…

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David Graham Scott’s The End Of The Game is described as “A bizarre journey to Africa with a vegan filmmaker and an old colonial big game hunter.” In truth, that description just scratches the surface of what may prove to be the most controversial film at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, most probably for people who only engage with it on the most simple and perfunctory level. Those who are willing to look beyond the perceived stereotypes which that description suggests will discover a layered and complex picture of a man out of time facing his own mortality, and the disappearance of all that he once held as certain.

It is also as much about the director himself and his growing relationship with his leading man and his beliefs, and how they appear to directly oppose his own. Scott avoids bringing his own preconceptions to the making of the film, and that’s the way an audience should approach it as well.

I was lucky enough to talk to Scott about The End Of The Game, and it’s clear that while this is different in terms of place and people from his previous films, which include Iboga Nights and the brilliant Wireburners, it became as personal as any other, which is arguably the defining feature of all his work. He is a director who makes films not because he simply wants to, he simply has to.

SWH!: Hi David, could you give a synopsis of The End Of The Game?

DGS: The film follows a man called Guy Wallace as he prepares to go on his last big game hunt and fulfil his ambition to bag the Cape buffalo. It’s Guy’s last chance to relive his glory days in the African bush and finally lay down his guns. At its core The End of the Game is about the relationship between myself as director, vegan, and animal rights supporter, and the ageing hunter, which is how Guy Wallace defines himself. It is the central drive of the film, exploring the ethics of big game hunting and which had me questioning my own animal rights stance when faced with the realities of a hunt.

SWH!: Why make this film in particular?

DGS: I had been working on another documentary called  Arcadia which was set on a hunting estate in Caithness, although the film itself is more to do with wind farms. But when I was filming on the estate I met this incredible character who lived in this ramshackle caravan. He seemed to me, at first sight, like an old, British colonial relic. It was like finding a prehistoric fossil or similar.

SWH!: This turns out to be the man you call “Sir Guy” Wallace (see below). From the CeMK6AoXIAEQQ9goutside it’s difficult to imagine two more different people; the liberal, vegan film-maker and the colonial big-game hunter. How did your relationship with him, and the film, unfold?

DGS: As with most of my films what develops is more than you imagine initially, and circumstances affect this as well. I actually started filming about eight years ago but I had no funding. Then Hopscotch Films and Creative Scotland offered funding, and this allowed me to go to Africa. I then had to film everything I could to make it work as people’s lives can’t be put on hold to suit your documentary.

In the meantime, Guy kept changing his mind about where he wanted to do his hunt. I should point out that he was funding the hunt himself. This was money which may arguaby have been better spent elsewhere as he was living in the most ramshackle, cobweb-infested caravan while his croft crumbled. But, one moment it was Tanzania, the next somewhere else – he couldn’t settle. Eventually we ended up near Kruger Park in South Africa. So it was a long waiting game, and a getting to know you period. It wasn’t constant, though, as in that time I also made Iboga Nights, but eventually everything tied together nicely and we went to Africa in 2015.

There is a build up to that as around a third of the film is shot in Caithness, and that is the initial getting to know you period, for the audience as well as me. There will be people who think I am pandering to a man who holds what can be seen as reactionary views, and which I don’t agree with, but I genuinely feel that this is a an individual from another era. There will be those who will write him off, but I couldn’t and would not do that. I don’t see the world in this black-and-white way.

SWH!: The film is as much about Guy raging against the dying of the light – about his own mortality. He says, “Inside this 73-year-old bloke is a 33-year-old hooligan trying to fight his way out”. Is this something which you also wanted to explore?

DGS: It’s a vital part of the film – an integral moment. You can’t plan it, you just try and capture these things. It shows the vulnerable side of him when he talks about being an old man in decline, but it can also be seen, if you like, as the end of the age of Empire. The last colonial standing. That may seem a bit cliched, but from the outside Guy is a walking cliche. The last big game hunter.

SWH!: Did making this film change your view on hunting?

DGS: I have been vegan for the vast majority of my life and am a supporter of animal rights, so by all rights should be against the whole undertaking. However, I have to admit the intricacies of the hunt and hunting were fascinating, and I did get drawn into the process on a primitive level. But the film is about complicity as well – my complicity at being drawn in to the hunt, and also building a bond with this man. In both cases, the story was not as simple as it first appeared, and I had to explore that. This is one man’s story, I’m not making any sweeping statements about hunting just as I’m not about him. I’m ready for those who will attack me for making it, and making it in this way, but it was the only way the film was going to work for me.

***

The End Of The Game is on Mon 20th Feb (18.30) and Tue 21st Feb (15.45), at the CCA.

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Here’s the trailer:

The SWH! review of The End Of The Game can be read here

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