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  • Writer's pictureLaurence Boag-Matthews

SFF 2023 Final Day

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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