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 the 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.
Bodkin Ras is on at the CCA on Friday 24th Feb and Saturday 25th Feb.
Here’s the trailer: