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  • Laurence Boag-Matthews

The final day of Scarborough Film Festival brought us a programme of short films made by artists focusing on the coast and sustainability, and in the evening a double bill of music-related films: So, Which Band is Your Boyfriend In? a contemporary documentary, and Babylon a 1980 release about London’s reggae scene.

We were based at the SeaGrown boat for our first event, which was the perfect setting in which to view Julia Parks’ Seaweed, a documentary that follows the history and many uses of seaweed as a resource. Webb-Ellis’ For the First Baby Born in Space follows teenagers over the course of a summer in Whitby, using a split screen to show multiple perspectives reflective of the filmmakers’ working as a team rather than a singular viewpoint, which functions in shifting ways over the course of the film. Parks’ film follows, loosely chronologically, the history of seaweed harvesting and farming: the contrast between the care and knowledge of the practice in traditional hand-harvesting versus the efficiency and destructiveness of modern trawling is stark and the film ends hopefully with a glimpse into the more newly developed farming practices. The creation of a synthetic seaweed environment allows for greater control over the crop as well as allowing natural environments to be left alone as there is not enough natural habitat to harvest in a sustainable way, a topic that was explained further by Alice from SeaGrown in her presentation. Parks discussed her use of 16mm film and experiments with developing her film in seaweed. The placement of images of seaweed harvesting within pools of seaweed brings together the way she shoots the plants within the film with her use of archival footage. She discussed how her process was ‘a mixture of long term planning and being in the moment’, having carried out detailed research into the history of seaweed before scouting locations. Many of the defining features of the film were found more coincidentally than they were planned - the gaelic songs featured were discovered while she was working on the film in Scotland, for example.

Webb-Ellis’ film diverged from Parks’ in many ways, but the questions of continuity and looking to preserve for the future remained constant. The film commits to showing the teenagers’ perspectives, allowing them to meditate on universal philosophical questions as well as showing the everyday realities of their lives. Webb-Ellis’ discussed her ability to relate to her personal history spending summers in Whitby, which seems to have aided with a lot of aspects of the making of the film. She discussed the process of building trust with the teenagers, describing that as filmmakers they were ‘drifting around town’ and the camera drew the teens’ attention, she mentioned that the teens’ open and curious nature led to them needing to be more responsible in managing the ethical dimensions around this willingness as opposed to the hard work lying in the building up of trust and relationships. Webb-Ellis touched on her question: ‘is it possible to somehow capture the texture or feeling of a moment’, the use of choreographed dance in conjunction with the normal events of the teens’ lives conveys the sense of the universality of existing in this transitional period. The title of the film in combination with the theme of being in a ‘state of transformation’ expands this transitionality to its larger sense - not just in our own lives but as humanity as a whole. Concerning the dance sequence, Webb-Ellis asked ‘can we capture something that is not able to be communicated with words’, the ‘directness of the present’, which is an interesting link to Complicité’s Can I Live?, in which Fehitini Balougun discussed his desire to achieve the directness of music in the performance.

Alice from SeaGrown delivered a short presentation on the work being carried out on their seaweed farm. Located 4 miles from the coast of Scarborough, SeaGrown’s farm is the UK’s first offshore seaweed farm, and the company is creating new systems of farming seaweed sustainably. Alice mentioned that the seaweed crop absorbs excess fertiliser as well as contributing to the environment by absorbing carbon and releasing oxygen. The labs are located on the SeaGrown boat in Scarborough harbour, they have lots of information on their mission and practices as well as products on sale made with their sustainable seaweed.

In the afternoon, we headed to the Railway Club at Scarborough Station to watch So, Which Band is Your Boyfriend In?, a documentary that discusses womens’ experiences in the DIY music scene, filmed over 2016-2018. This film features an array of female presenting musicians who discuss their personal histories with and hopes for the future of this specific music scene. This documentary covers a wide range of topics, the participants touch on the many systemic ways in which women and girls are discouraged from taking part in music, especially playing instruments; the ‘boys club’ culture and how women can often be assumed to be ‘with the band’ rather than ‘in the band’; the pressures on women to arrive ready made as opposed to men being able to be publicly not as good straight away. Many of the women that speak in the film also discuss confidence and the need to put oneself out there despite being ‘bad’ initially. The spirit of punk clearly encourages musicians to play despite their technical skill levels, the musicians empower women to get out there and play, and for more people within the scene to support girls in their teenage years - ‘the more women there are, the more there will be’.

After this, local band The Hydrogen Trees’ album was played on the big screen before we returned to watch 1980’s Babylon. The film looks into the reggae scene in London at the time and the racism experienced by the central characters. We are firmly situated in the location and the culture of the time, the film becomes a kind of odyssey narrative in which Blue (Brinsley Forde) is tested by a series of tragic circumstances. The last bastion of support is in the community around the sound system to which he retreats. This film shows the power of community in the face of a constant barrage of state violence which encourages and normalises more forms of violence to proliferate throughout society. The state sanctioned violence of the police is intrinsically tied to that of the racist neighbours, the film demands our attention and refuses to gloss over the harsh realities of the characters’ lives. Despite being released over 40 years ago, this film remains relevant at its political core, provoking questions surrounding issues such as what constitutes justice in a system that awards you none, and intersectional privilege and how marginalised identities manage the various degrees of violence inflicted upon them.

Rebel Radics Soundsystem played out the end of Scarborough Film Festival with a set inspired by the film. Music as a medium through which to come together and communicate beyond language has been raised as a theme throughout the weekend’s programme so it was a fitting way to close out a fantastic first festival.

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  • Laurence Boag-Matthews

We had an early start to the day’s festival programme, with a family screening of Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. This film brought up a huge number of connections with other films shown throughout the weekend, some more obvious than others! The film pays tribute to the folklore of Ireland through a heartfelt story that follows a family grieving the loss of the mother. The animation style is beautiful and expressive, the magical elements appear as motifs within the landscape and burst out from their hiding places as the film follows the siblings journey home. The folklore as stories passed on from mother to child and the interconnectedness of people’s lives with the natural world in island life brought up themes raised by the Caribbean Stories programme we saw yesterday afternoon. The power of stories and the collective memory is hugely important to the film, and the overall themes of this festival as a whole, approached in diverse ways by the other films shown so far.

This screening was followed by Terenia Edwards’ animation workshop making Thaumatropes, a very early form of animation which creates the illusion of a moving image by blending two images placed back to back together when spun on a string or stick. Children made a range of Thaumatropes from seascapes to spaceships at this busy event which was free to attend. A local children's book author, Edwards puts on a number of workshops and events, you can follow her on Instagram to stay up to date @terenia_edwards_.

After this, we picked up again at the SJT to watch and award the winners of our short film competition. We were treated to a wide variety of Yorkshire-based shorts that explored the festival’s core themes of coast, community and environment in many different ways. The winner and runner up prizes were awarded by Richard and Louise from LOCL Properties, who sponsored the prizes awarded to Eden our winner and Time and Tide our runner up. The judges: BAFTA award winning director Jordan Hogg, film critic Tim Robey, the BFI Academy’s Zoe Naylor, and resident writer of the festival Laurence Boag-Matthews (me), had the difficult task of deciding the winner and runner up. Watching all the films before awarding the prizes was a fantastic experience that allowed us to appreciate the strengths of each film and the way they linked thematically together and with other events from throughout the festival, and the variety of genres and formats made it tough to narrow down to just two choices. The vibrancy and energy of animation came through in Shaun Clark’s Wish You Were Hereand Neil Baker’s Wish I Were There, which brought a nostalgia for the seaside that echoed the screening of Bait and The Tide on Thursday evening . The energy and experimental creativity behind Sam Henderson’s A Punch from the Sun earned it a healthy discussion in the judging chamber (the bar) while Jemima Stubbs’ Your Voice Their Voice’s focus on Rose as a way into the water pollution protest movement allowed her to confront an audience with the perspective of one of the direct recipients of the current state of our world. The selection included more documentary pieces than any other genre, with The Saw Makers, Eden, Moss of Many Layers, Coast, Time and Tide, and Your Voice Their Voice. Time and Tideand The Saw Makers focused on materials and products, the process of saw making and the nearly extinct labour of seacoaling. Moss of Many Layers and Coast explored aspects of nature and the environment, with Moss of Many Layers diving into the history of Bolton Fell peat bog and the conservation work taking place there, while Coast brought beautiful visuals of the Yorkshire coastline and its wildlife that makes up part of a larger ongoing project. The documentation of seacoaling as a dying industry in Time and Tide and the interesting visual choices made in the film were of particular note in our considerations. The winning films brought us two very unique stories, for a further discussion of Eden check out the blog post about day two of the festival, as the film was also included in the Queer Shorts: Liquid Thoughts selection.

The presentation was followed by a drinks reception in partnership with Brass Castle brewery, which provided refreshments and attendees were welcome to mingle. We were lucky to be joined by some of the filmmakers and the judges of the competition, many of whom are local to the Scarborough area so this was a great chance to grow and solidify links within the town’s creative community.

To close out the evening, a range of performers with links to Scarborough were asked to perform live pieces in combination with archival footage from the Yorkshire and NorthEast film archive’s Nature Matters project. A majority of the performances confronted the silence of the archival footage, creating a dialogue with them by riffing on what may have been said in the case of Charles Kirby, or responding to the contrast between the ever presence of technology in our current everyday existence and the lack of this in the past as shown in the archival footage as Charlotte Oliver explored. In the post-show Q&A discussion, performers discussed the processes behind their pieces and how they responded to the commissions set by SFF. Tanya Loretta Dee discussed how as she viewed the film, she felt a ‘frustration at where we are with nature’ and felt a need to find hope within the footage. Importantly, she brought up an ability to see ‘the beauty in the mundane’ through the archival materials, which echoed strongly with the themes present in the Caribbean Stories series shown on Friday, in particular Clavia Aaliyah McClain’s Felt but Never Glimpsed. The archival footage as a record of what came before doesn’t simply show what we’ve lost but also a hope for the future, suggesting possibilities of what we have to regain. The title, ‘Revive’ clearly guided the responses and acted as a major theme throughout. The performers were able to respond optimistically despite the archive seeming to show a view of the area that appears almost alien to us, as one of Charlotte Brooke’s pieces put forward - the radical possibilities of silent black and white footage allows an artist to imagine infinite possibilities of their context, dialogue, colour schemes. Intriguingly, Jon Plant managed to combine his own personal musical archive with the archival material, the archival material inspired him to adapt lyrics from an unreleased song he’d written years previously. His second piece set to beach and flood footage was accompanied by a rendition of The Kinks Sunny Afternoon that amplified the discordance of the song. Charlotte Brooke chose to adapt Pulp’s Common People to accompany footage of swimmers which brought a healthy dose of laughter. The mixture of both humorous and thoughtful performances were very well judged, Brooke’s all out comedy and bouncy piano contrasted with Oliver and Loretta Dee’s poetic environmental warnings, while Kirby managed to walk a tonal line balancing dry humour and seriousness to accompany his industrial themed footage. His quote ‘we quickly outgrew our need to survive’ encapsulates the tongue in cheek nature of his performance.

A varied and busy penultimate day of the festival really put the creativity of the local community on show and provided a programme full of both emerging and established talent.

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  • Laurence Boag-Matthews

The second day of Scarborough Film Festival brought us an array of joyful, subversive, and beautiful shorts about environment and identity starting with a collection of Carribean Stories followed by the Queer Shorts: Liquid Thoughts selection shown at the Woodend Gallery. In the evening we returned to our homestead at the Stephen Joseph Theatre to enjoy the recent Ken Loach directed The Old Oak which was excitingly accompanied by a Q&A discussion with the film’s lead actor Dave Turner.

Caribbean Stories

We began the day with a selection of Caribbean based short films curated from the Caribbean International Film Festival by Denyce Blackman to coincide with the themes of coastal and community.

The films both individually and perhaps even more so when viewed together, are intensely focused on the community and uniqueness of cultural practices on their respective islands. Felt but Never Glimpsed uses poetic language layered over sweeping visuals of the Bahamas to concentrate on finding beauty in the everyday. Quotes such as ‘life's rhythm dictated by sun and sea’ are particularly impactful alongside the wider selection within the festival as a whole. Clavia Aaliyah McClain challenges the usual outsider’s perspective on the Bahamas as an extraordinary place that we may visit as tourists, seeking to connect people through their everyday interactions with the environment. The landscape of Martinique, however, is presented as anything but mundane. In Behind God’s Back nature is immediately introduced as a clear and present danger to its inhabitants. The filmmaker paints a portrait of the island as complex: Mount Pelée - an active volcano - looms above the island, threatening to engulf the residents in pyroclastic flows, however, the volcano doesn’t simply threaten the island with sudden death but in its wake enriches the soil, the minerals present in the eruption and in the soil following brings the promise of good crops. The film also explores how the community itself is entwined with their environment - one speaker discusses how there is a ‘paradoxical relationship between people and the volcano’, how people may be ‘psychologically structured by their environment’, The psyche of Martiniqe’s inhabitants is tightly tied to colonial history, the shadow of slavery like the shadow of the volcano looms over them. The strength of the residents to reside in their environment imbues the whole film, strength as a theme is picked up many times throughout - the island is referred to as ‘an environment that carries strength within it’, the residents ‘have to be strong to live there’. This is true in multiple ways, on one hand it requires immense courage to live in the shadow of an active volcano, furthermore the existence of ‘Martinicians’ as a national identity doesn’t technically exist - the inhabitants of Martinique are counted as french citizens which grants them political and legal rights in France. Some interviewees and inhabitants are returners, the ability to freely move to and live in France can be seen as an alluring choice and returning to the island after living a vastly different lifestyle must be an adjustment that demands a great deal of strength.

A theme of objects and the way they become entwined with the rituals and traditions of everyday life is represented most strongly in two of the films presented, with the Moko Jumbie tradition in Stick is Life and the centrality of bicycles to life in Cuba in Bicycle Island. The representation of the residents' discussions of their connection to the stilts and to their bicycles is so layered and meaningful. Stick is Life blends the islanders testimony with footage of the stick walking, archival footage, and music represents the joyful experience of stilt walking and how it is more than an activity, a way of enriching the social and providing spaces for the community to come together. In this film the Moko Jumbies are shown coming together in a Jab Circle for the first time and celebrating how they ‘are all one’ despite the various differences between the groups spread across the island. Bicycle Island shows us the complex layers in the bicycle culture in Cuba, the experience of cycling as the bicycle becoming a part of oneself and the practice as a way of expanding ones possibilities and expectations. Though it doesn’t shy away from involving discussions of the political and how it must affect every aspect of life in the country, the filmmaker focuses on the culture of cycling and how the USA’s economic control over Cuba has affected the cycling culture over time. The discussion of the interrelation between the political and the personal is an important theme central to many of the films on show throughout the festival, presented through different lenses and various perspectives.

The use of music to evoke feeling and convey tone in the viewer is an important element of all of these shorts. Homecoming, taken from the filmmaker’s audio visual album, uses music to convey his relationship to Jamaica and how he interacts with it as a home state to which he is returning. In contrast to some of the other shorts which focus on those who stayed despite many of their peers leaving their islands, this compact short explores the experience of returning. Bicycle Island also uses music to great impact - the Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana create music with bicycle parts to accompany the film, which highlights the versatility and complexity of bicycle culture on the island. Stick is Life is also concerned with music as a driving force to bring people together and find joy. The practice of the Moko Jumbies is entwined with music, near the end of the film we follow one Jumbie as he races to get his stilts on as fast as he can, driven by hearing the music he is about to join.

Queer Shorts: Liquid Thoughts

For the next event we descended upon the Woodend Gallery to take in Martha Cattell’s hand selected queer themed shorts. These shorts straddled a range of genres from animation to documentary but were tied tightly together by the themes of queerness and water. Queer joy and beauty in the margins was a centrally important aspect. Eden explores a trans woman’s evolution with cold water swimming that she intitially started in order to regain the fertility of her sperm but has grown into a daily ritual that she yearns for. Further to Eden; A Float, Pools, and Ripples most prominently centre on queer joy and its radical possibilities through water and swimming. A Float is imbued at every level with pure energy and joy, from the style and movement of the animation to the dream scenarios the protagonist displays we get a glimpse at the possibilities for an imagined future. Barbara Hammer’s Pools engages with the place of the pool as an architectural space designed by the first woman to graduate in architecture from the School of Beaux-Arts in Paris, and engages with the space bodily, being allowed to transgress the usual restrictions on swimming in the pools, as well as cinematically - Hammer’s hand painting of the film creates something new from her footage of the pools. Dylan Mitro’s project Ripples is committed showcasing Trans Joy in cinema, and this film shows the joy in the natural world with its characters escaping the urban space and taking to the beach. The film engages with the sometimes difficult work it can take to claim one's happiness and joy, it pays homage to the ability and necessity of the queer community to create their own new spaces of radical joy outside of the status quo.

Radical possibilities are encapsulated by the use of the mediums of film and animation across this collection of shorts. Hunting for Hockney and Wave combine live action with animation to show the natural world while using animation which creates a sense of distance from the characters and their stories. The two are more melancholy explorations of queer identity and grief that focus on the central characters' detachment from their situations and identities and combine the two mediums to convey their themes very effectively. Upwards Tide also experiments with its medium, using analogue film and blending footage of Scottish and Austrian landscapes with silhouetted bodies to create a magnetic visual poem. Finally, Swim explores the way swimming and being in water can anonymise and lead to connection. The encounters between the two characters are genuine and sweet, leading to a devastating betrayal. The short doesn’t focus on Sid’s pain in the light of this, rather suggesting his strength and the way true self expression and being seen by others can feel like jumping in at the deep end. It is not Sid that we return to at the end of the film but Luke waiting at the pool disappointed that Sid will not return due to his inability to accept him in public.

The Old Oak

The Old Oak once again situates us in a coastal community, and focuses on the questions of change and continuity as new inhabitants arrive and interact with the community they encounter. Ken Loach’s film focuses more directly on the political through its exploration of a particular community. The film portrays ways in which both individually and on a community level, people are impacted by governmental and policy changes and shows how collective acknowledgement of common struggle through the community have a the capacity to challenge mechanisms of power, but also how such mechanisms of power work to divide and conquer, community can also operate as systems of ingrouping and outgrouping that harbour and exacerbate tensions that ultimately obscure the goals of collective action.

The film’s focus on the refugee crisis and the identification of our main character TJ, a layered and sensitive performance from Dave Turner, with the refugees’ struggles and pain on a personal level is refreshing. The titular pub’s regulars are perhaps the closest we come to encountering villainy in the story, however their racism and prejudice against the newly transplanted immigrants is portrayed in a manner that shows them to be vicious and cowardly but also as victims of the same systems of oppression. Questions of superiority on the axes of gender, race, and class are raised by their interactions, through their portrayal Loach reveals the ways in which individuals will cling to any scrap of power and influence they feel they possess even as it is clearly illusory, and pales in comparison to the vibrant renewal of the community that is being built between the refugees and other inhabitants of the town through the events at The Old Oak.

Following the screening, Liz Boag hosted a discussion with Dave Turner that focused heavily on his experiences working on the film. We received many insights into Ken Loach’s process and Turner’s personal experience of filming. Loach’s use of non actors within his film manages to achieve a realism in the performances, and his choice to shoot in sequence which is very rare in filmmaking, allows a natural progression of character as the actor matures into the character as the film progresses. The going is clearly not entirely smooth sailing, however. Turner touched on the difficulty of handling serious imposter syndrome and anxiety at the beginning of the process, as well as the difficulty of receiving scripts only a night in advance of filming, another anachronistic element of Loach’s process. While Turner discussed that working on the film was ‘life altering’, his experience on I, Daniel Blake, Sorry We Missed You, and The Old Oak, and best actor win at Valladolid International Film Festival ultimately haven’t convinced him to take on acting as a full time profession. His discussion of the kindness and compassion of the cast and crew was lovely to hear, and this warmth radiating from the production is conveyed clearly in the film itself. The authenticity of the people behind the performances and the reality of the setting are huge elements of The Old Oak, and Turner touched on the elements of the actors’ real lives that match up to details present in the film. Turner spoke powerfully on his experience with audiences’ reactions to the portrayal of suicidal ideation, and clearly takes pride in the hopeful power of the films ending, diverging from Loach’s more downbeat offerings within the unofficial trilogy of his recent films (I, Daniel Blake, Sorry We Missed You, The Old Oak). The themes of the radical possibilities of collective action and finding joy in the community unites many of the works shown so far in the festival and we look forward to seeing further connections that may be made over the rest of the weekend.

This feature wrapped up the expansive themes present throughout the day’s programme, bringing us back to the North of England after a busy day that covered universal themes of community and struggle from perspectives across the world and across binaries. These films centre the interconnectivity of our political and personal identities and offer possibilities for how we can act through our communities and as individuals.

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