Scotland and Film

25/05/2024

A Wave of One's Own

A Wave of One’s Own 

Perhaps what recent Scottish cinema possesses is a misplaced sense of trust: that it believes in middle-management more than in the filmmakers who know what they are doing. Is this why so many projects are micro-managed into production, with constant babysteps under the guidance of the adults in the room, the people deciding which projects should be funded? In a £600,000 allocation for short films by Screen Scotland to support emerging filmmakers in 2021, it provided £15,000 each for nine filmmakers and the rest (almost half) of the money on those guiding the productions. “With an enduring love of Scottish cinema, it is an honour to be working with this new round of Sharp Shorts filmmakers,” Miriam Newman says. "I’m excited to start active development with the teams and provide ongoing creative and practical support to the next generation of Scottish talent.” (Screen Scotland

  This isn’t to attack any individual; more to question production assumptions. Clearly, money shouldn’t be thrown at anybody or anything but if a filmmaker has made fine work as a student, produced a short or two that has shown talent and skill, or written a script that engages, the best thing to do is to have a bit of faith in their talent. If the filmmaker asks to be left alone, doesn’t want middle-managerial meddling, then maybe that needs to be entertained a priori. In other words don’t try and fix something until it’s broken: hovering over someone seeing if they are doing it properly is the most likely way in which a breakage will take place, and this can be anything from a personal breakdown to a general failure in the production. When that high-end master meddler Harvey Weinstein wasn’t happy with director Todd Field’s In the Bedroom, he harassed the filmmaker into a stomach ulcer. Field wouldn’t back down; Weinstein wouldn’t give up. Field eventually made the film he wanted to make but his health suffered as he tried to fend off the advances of a producer who always insisted he could get his own way. 

If Weinstein has now become a byword for all things wrong with the film industry when it comes to power and sexual politics, we should remember too that he ruined many a film in pursuit of profit or just control. Whether in his determination to re-edit and voiceover Snowpiercer, phoning Billy Bob Thornton in the middle of the night to re-edit Slingblade, or threatening to “beat the shit out of” (Grantland) Julie Taymor’s partner if she wouldn’t cut Frida, Weinstein is the hyperbolised version of the middle-management meddling, of people with money telling people with talent how they should make art. 

Let us not exaggerate our case here; but by hyperbolising Scottish cinema’s problems in invoking Weinstein, we can maybe understand why despite money being available to make films in Scotland, very few films of merit are being madeObviously, this depends on what we constitute as merit, but let us say that it ought to impact on the art form or the culture: to engage with aesthetic questions or to answer a cultural need. Bill Douglas was always more rigorous than Bill Forsyth but both My Childhood and Local Hero have equally significant places in Scottish cinema as each reveals the intricacies of Scottish consciousness, whether it be the harsh, Calvinist despair of a boyhood in the mining town of New Craighall, or the wily wisdom of characters who need to find the balance between hard cash and pleasing lifestyles. In the former, Jamie struggles in an environment as austere as the director’s style is rigorous: often fixed shots elliptically offering information that we piece together in our minds. In Forsyth’s film, the more conventional style contains nevertheless numerous idiosyncratic moments, a feeling that Forsyth believes everybody is a non-conformist if you look hard enough. Forsyth’s originality rests more in his sensibility than in his style; Douglas the reverse, even if a division between the aesthetic and the cultural simplifies how the director attends to one or the other. Many of the best Scottish films contribute a little to the form and more than a little to the culture, but surely we expect that a significant work ought to do at least one or the other.

To help us, we can briefly list what might pass for a Scottish cannon thus far. This is not to offer prescription but description: to try and understand what makes a film canon-worthy based on what has been made, well aware that anything new will have its own problematic to explore. But here are more than a dozen titles: The Bill Douglas Trilogy, Blue Black Permanent, Gregory’s GirlLocal HeroTrainspottingBreaking the WavesWhisky GaloreThe MaggieThe 39 Steps, I Know Where I’m GoingThe Wicker ManSmall FacesRob RoyMy Name is JoeUnder the SkinThe IllusionistRatcatcher and Morvern Callar. It is a varied list and some may question how Scottish some of the films are. Breaking the Waves was made by a Dane, Trainspotting by a Mancunian, Whisky Galore and The Maggie by a Boston-born Scot who went on to attend Hillhead High School, and to work in Hollywood. What the list shows is the difficulty in quantifying Scottish cinema, assuming it is based on some intrinsic notion of Scottishness, when instead it seems more a permeating sensibility that captures the imagination of a Hitchcock or a Powell, just as it releases the spirit of a Douglas or a Forsyth.

What matters is whether a film captures Scottishness rather than exploits it – sees it as a problem to be explored or a trade mark to be capitalised upon. If Rob Roy is a much better film than Braveheart it doesn’t rest on the writer and director necessarily being Scottish while Braveheart's are American. It rests more on how, in Rob Roy, Alan Sharp and Michael Caton-Jones are interested in the intricacies of competing interests over the glorification of Celtic bravado. Both films show the central character's wives being raped and in the latter case also murdered but, in Braveheart, it provides the catalyst for mayhem as Wallace takes on the English. In Rob Roy it becomes a proper problematic: the rapist expects the rape to lead Rob Roy to exact revenge but his wife Mary knows this is the plan and persuades his brother, who has witnessed the aftermath of the event, to keep this knowledge from Rob Roy. There is nothing intrinsically Scottish about this nuance and no reason why a filmmaker from elsewhere couldn’t have been as subtle as Sharp and Caton-Jones. NeverthelessBraveheart is what we might call a superimpositional film while Rob Roy remains a suppositional one: Mel Gibson’s movie wants to take the notion of general myth and manipulation and apply it to a Scottish figure. Colin McArthur sees in Braveheart a film that could be appropriated for political, sporting and touristic purposes, and the rape and murder of Wallace’s wife is no more than a precursor. In Rob Roy the rape isn’t just something that happens to Mary and that Rob Roy must avenge; it is a harrowing experience that she must absorb, think about and act upon in her way. 

McArthur notes that the SNP got behind Braveheart (and had little to say about Rob Roybut more troublesomely so did various blood and soil nationalist and crypto-fascist organisations like Siol nan Gaidheal (Seed of the Gael). As McArthur says, Braveheart appealed to those who believed “that Scotland is a Celtic country which ought to to be free of English rule; that Scots of today have lost touch with what the Celtists allege is a particularly Scottish tradition of resistance to oppression; that the ‘true nature’ of Scotland, materially and culturally, lies in the Highlands.” (Brigadoon, Braveheart and the Scots) After the film’s release, anyone from snooker players to footballers were brave hearts, especially during the Euro ’96 competition when even the European press constantly called the Scottish team by that name. The tourist trade also made much of Braveheart as well as other films (including, Rob RoyHighlander and Loch Ness) that could play into the Highland notion as synonymous with Scotland. But Braveheart was the jewel in the crown: “the folk wisdom of the Scottish tourist industry has it that Braveheart is the most important element in the development of film tourism in Scotland.” (Brigadoon, Braveheart and the ScotsRob Roy may too have been dragooned into the Scottish tourist industry but though filmed very much in Scottish locations —unlike Braveheart which was mainly shot in Ireland thanks to to the Irish cultural minister offering more favourable conditions — it lacked Braveheart’s jingoistic manifest destiny. The cry of freedom in Sharp’s script was always going to be contained by situational exigencies that would slow the patriotism down. 

When we say a film offers the suppositional, this can take many forms but the gist of it lies in the determination to explore a given predicament without overly strenuous external expectations. When these expectations take the form of mythic structures that play into Celtic cliche, or financial dictates that propose Scottish film has to contribute to the tourist industry, then the superimpositional is evident. These superimpositions may come from elsewhere or they might come from within Scotland itself. If a Hollywood production arrives in Scotland then it will probably want a broad enough narrative arc to play internationally, and will use Scotland for its local colour and care little for the country’s internal contradictions. But equally, a zealous internal interest in projecting a positive image of the country has its problems tooClearly, filmmakers who have no concern for the financial interests of Scotland can offer a miserable account of the country without feeling that it will impact on their nation’s fiscal budgets. But directors working in Scotland need to share that indifference if it is all well and good for the aesthetics of film. Few people probably visited Romania on the back of a series of films that showed the country as venal, corrupt, rundown and hypocritical. But The Death of Mr Lazarescu12:08 East of BucharestPolice, Adjective and a dozen others put the nation on the cinematic map, even if it didn’t have too many booking a holiday to the country. That isn’t what cinema is supposed to do, despite VisitScotland’s claim, in early 2020, that “Screen tourism is huge in Scotland, with almost one in five visitors saying they were inspired to travel here after seeing the country’s stunning landscapes and heritage on the screen.” This has been vital to modern Scottish cinema’s agenda for some time. Braveheart was deemed so important: “to the extent that an image from the film graces the cover of the brochure produced by the STB on the topic of film tourism…” (Brigadoon, Braveheart and the Scots) The STB is now VisitScotland.

   Earlier we wondered just how Scottish some of Scotland’s finest films happen to be but this needn’t be a dismissal of the non-indigenous. It is an acceptance of cosmopolitan consciousness, an aesthetic inclusivity equal to the dictates of the referendum in 2014 that insisted voting be based on living in Scotland rather than birthright. Scots living outside the country couldn’t vote; EU citizens resident in Scotland could. We may notice that about half the films on our list of fourteen significant Scottish works were made by non-Scots — Loach, Powell, Hitchcock, Glazer and Boyle are English; Chomet, French and Lars von Trier Danish. That would be unlikely to be the case in many instances elsewhere. When we look at Romanian, Danish or Argentinean cinema waves, most are made by filmmakers regarded as indigenous. All of the key directors in the Romanian New Wave (Cristi Puiu, Cristian Mungiu, Radu Jude, Corneliu Porumboiu) were born in Romania. In a BFI list of ten great Argentinean films of the 21st century, all the directors were Argentine-born. Any notion of home-grown talent has to acknowledge that much that is great about Scottish cinema rests on the international. Some might argue that it has been a problem of a small nation letting other people tell ‘our stories’ for us. Yet that risks both chauvinism and parochialism, even if one can of course hope for new filmmakers coming out of various parts of Scotland, whether it be a Bill Douglas who was brought up in New Craighall, Bill Forsyth who went to school in Knightwood, Margaret Tait who was born in Kirkwall or Lynn Ramsay who is from Strathclyde. But Douglas lived mainly in England, Forsyth hasn’t made a film in over twenty years, Tait had to wait till she was in her seventies to make her first feature, and Ramsay works in the States. Such talent needs to be nurtured

But even more, Scottish cinema needs filmmakers who are cognizant of cliches, aware of form, and astute to nuance, and here a remark by the Catalan filmmaker Jose Luis Guerin might be useful. Making a film in Ireland about The Quiet Man, he said: “For example, a very funny thing from Innisfree was that in this village the people had caps just like those worn by the fishermen from Flaherty’s Man of Aran. That is to say, from the Aran Islands. This type of cap has no use, no history for the villagers…” Guerin says, “why in this village does everyone now wear this type of hat? Because when John Ford, the director, asked all the people of the village to wear these hats in order to realize his own version of Ireland, they suddenly absorbed this new identity, an identity based on Ford’s imagination. Cinema changed the life of the people in this village for generations. It’s a frontier between imagination and reality, and it’s at the center of village life and at the center of my proposition in Innisfree. (Film Comment

One can simply say that here we have dominant cinema imposing itself on Ireland, and the locals now barely aware of why they are wearing the caps that have no practical function. But that might be too easy: better to see it as a positive and a negative simultaneously. It may be troublesome for a people to find that an aspect of their identity comes from a directorial imposition, yet it can also be deemed a positive as well; that cinema is capable of generating codes and behaviour without being constrained by history or tradition. A film like Gregory’s Girl with its optimistic outlook and romantic sensibility may not reflect the reality of New Town living, where, Andrew McKee notes, “dazzled by the nakedly socialist principles of Brutalism, the planners and architects of post-war Britain merrily bulldozed tenements and terraces (the natural, human-scale, form of urban architecture), ran motorways through city centres and shoved arthritic pensioners and young mothers with prams up to the 28th floor.” (Herald) Yet it envisages a New Town that needn’t fall into the predictability of an oppressive, overly developed environment if you have characters eccentrically adapting to its dictates. The gangly Gregory in Gregory’s Girl acts like he is in a Tati production; not an oppressive social development. Perhaps if enough characters could act originally within these ostensible architectural nightmares, a dream life might emerge. After all, much of the horrible housing in London has become from a certain perspective quite salubrious. As one resident living on London’s Aylesbury estate insisted, she was lucky to find a home, and, as Andy Beckett noted, “all for £110 a week, plus £30 heating and service charge. Her flat is warm, and no one can see into it.” (GuardianFrom one perspective, people are living in council property with a poor reputation; from another people are living in secure homes at low cost. “I couldn’t believe my luck,” Aysen Dennis says. “A council flat in London!” (Guardian)

If town planners in the post-war years made such a hash of things as McKie and numerous others have insisted, then perhaps two ways of resolving this is firstly to have stories that reflect the fortunes and not just the misfortune of those without much at their disposal, and the second is to have filmmakers working on larger budgets in cahoots with town planners, imagining a community in the making as artistic project, one that could then become a living reality. Rather than building studio sets, the filmmaker and town planner work towards imagining a community that is both aesthetic and pragmatic, without the filmmaker obliged to fit into the town planner’s expectations, nor the new residents expected to live within the remit of the filmmaker’s vision. “Film sets are notoriously wasteful places. Big movies can generate 225 tons of scrap metal, nearly 50 tons of construction and set debris, and 72 tons of food waste.” One way of minimising this waste is thanks to people like Chase White. “He owns Recycled Movie Sets, a Los Angeles service that cheaply rents and sells entire sets, individual pieces of lumber and more. His company goes to studios and hauls away construction debris, props and other set pieces. In the last two years, White says, he’s saved about 80 dumpsters’ worth of materials from going to a landfill.” (Green Production GuideInstead of mass dumping we could potentially have directors working with the architects and wondering how the film set could become a housing environment. Our point isn’t to get overly visionary but to make clear that a filmmaker influencing people’s behaviour might not initself be a bad thing. 

Imagine a Scottish film industry based on big-budget sustainable projects, where in return for funding from various Scottish authorities, the films made become part of an envisioned, habitable world? At the moment, the industry is more inclined to fund Hollywood productions that, according to some commentators, do Scottish cinema and local businesses few favours. Grant McPhee reckons, “the vast majority of the Hollywood films that make up this huge Glasgow ‘Spend’ figure of £42m were not using local cast, crew, equipment, facilities or costumes beyond a few hired ‘extra hands’ so the spend was not going to where it should.” The figure rests on claims made by Glasgow City Council but in actuality McPhee says very little money was spent on using Scottish workers or equipment: “one local camera equipment hire company told me that they only received £45 from one of these huge features included in the £42m total.” (BellaCaledonia)  

Instead, one can think of a cinema where modestly large budgets are available to filmmakers in Scotland; in return there are social obligations placed upon the productions that mean they have to think beyond the film they are making: instead of the obligation towards an audience, they have a duty towards society. A film that recoups its budget and turns a nice profit is usually seen as a successful film but has little broader responsibility towards those who aren’t part of its audience. This means at its most absurd that Scottish governments can throw large amounts of money at American films with hope rather than expectation that it will be financially rewarding for Scotland. One such instance was Brave. “A spokesman for VisitScotland said: “The £7m funding was used to market Scotland around the world and convert cinemagoers into visitors to Scotland.” (Scotsman) Audiences ‘around the world’ may love it and, as a by-product, come and see the country represented, even if first seen in animated form. Yet, not everyone was happy. 2013, MSPs heard from the producer Gillian Berrie how “under a deal brokered between First Minister Alex Salmond and VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay, the government provided £5 million in extra funding for the tourism agency provided it ring-fenced £2 million from its own budget.” That was more than twice the total put aside for Scottish films. “She later told The Scotsman that Scotland would be boasting its own film studio by now had the money been invested in much-needed permanent production facilities.” (The Scotsman

What we see here is that governments are willing to help fund films with no need of Scottish money. Brave was made by Pixar on a budget of $185; the company was sold in 2006. “Ultimately, Disney bought Pixar for $7.4b in 2006.” (CNBC) But the rationale was that this was money well spent because the returns could be huge. “When the funding deal was confirmed in June 2012, as Brave was being launched in the United States, VisitScotland predicted that the £7 million campaign would generate an extra £140 million for the tourism industry.” Yet, “the agency admitted in September of this year that it could take a decade before that figure is achieved.” (ScotsmanWhat we have here is speculation that returns might be made instead of focusing on films that could be produced in a manner that may or not impact on the tourist industry but would unequivocally be of use to Scotland. If increasingly films are being produced with tourism in mind and studies commissiones showing that this should be so, then what about thinking not of possible visitors to the country but locals who might benefit from community projects linked to film? When a VisitScotland study reckoned “while word of mouth is an important factor for recommendation of choosing Scotland, between 6% and 8% of visitors were influenced by literature, film or television programmes about or featuring Scotland”, this is the sort of polling that may or may not have results. But who can doubt money spent on a film that creates real buildings rather than sets can be turned into an immediate and tangible asset? 

  There have been precedents, however slow in their development or gimmicky in their execution. In Malta, we have the Popeye village, “a string of 20 or so ramshackle wooden buildings on a cliffside overlooking Anchor Bay, an inlet on the northwest end of the island of Malta. Although it resembles a down-at-the-heels 1900s New England fishing town, it was actually built from scratch in late 1979 as the set for Robert Altman’s film Popeye.” (Medium.Com) The Maltese government’s contract with the film producers allowed them to keep the set and convert it into a village. We also have Emir Kusturica’s hamlet: “Drvengrad has a church, a library, a cinema, a couple of restaurants and shops, but it’s not a real town. Drvengrad was built by the enigmatic filmmaker Emir Kusturica in 2004 for his film Life is a Miracle.” (Amusing Planet

Both are tourist sites more than fully developed towns, but the potential is there for filmmakers, architects and town planners to work together and create potentially interesting visions that needn’t just imagine how people might live in a project created. It would allow for a narrative rehearsal that would be the film, to have some idea of how it might work in reality. One of the many reservations about the post-war architectural utopianism was that it created an abstract idealisation that didn’t match with people’s living reality. “Continental Europe sparkled with white concrete and flat roofs created by architects for whom form followed function and the house was, as Le Corbusier put it, ‘a machine for living’ and Britain adopted such housing too.” “But, as Lara Feigel says “the vertiginous streets did not foster a neighbourly environment. They became easy pickings for muggers and quickly fell into disrepair. It is hard to feel house-proud of a machine.” (Guardian) It could have been a lot worse. Michael Fry notes how one professor Colin Buchanan “proposed [in Edinburgh] an inner ring road…on the southern side it would have passed over the Meadows, half a mile from the High Street, on an elevated motorway.” (Edinburgh: A History of the City) For those who don’t know this Edinburgh green space, there are plenty analogies available: a motorway above Parc Luxembourg, London’s Hyde Park, Berlin’s Tiergarten: any urban park that people utilise to seek tranqulility rather than bustle.  

By insisting on the sort of questions filmmakers might ask when creating plausible and liveable environments, the notion of a planned living space can take on more nuanced form. If film is expected to be more than just an aesthetic object, as VisitScotland and others believe, then why shouldn’t it be used not just for the hope that viewers will be seduced by the locale, and be persuaded to take a trip, but as a basis for thinking about how people in Scotland would choose to live? It seems a bit of a misplaced sense of priorities fretting over potential tourists rather than focusing on actual residents, especially when a recent report noted that “Scotland was suffering from a chronic housing shortage of about 100,000 new homes…” (Independent) We wouldn’t wish to turn Scottish film into a sub-category of town planning; it is merely to say that if so much attention is going into thinking how potential visitors might feel about the country, what about putting some thought into how people living in Scotland might choose to dwell? If public funding is going into film projects, better they be Scottish ones that could play a little like imagined versions of Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero. If the former was filmed in Cumbernauld in a Scottish New Town built in 1956,  Local Hero was a fictionalised combination of two very distinct spaces masquerading as one: Pennan on the East coast; Morar and Arisaig on the West. But it wouldn’t be impossible to have created an altogether New Town for Gregory’s Girl nor a coastal village for Local Hero. If new places are designed with people fictionally populating them initially, it might give planners a better understanding of the reality of people’s lives, however paradoxically based on the fictional 

One needn’t claim that filmmakers in Scotland ignore their creative individuality for a social demand, though the latter may still be better than trying to make films for potential tourists. Filmmakers still need the freedom to experiment and improvise. Guerin reckoned when making In The City of Sylvia he had to forego public finance “It’s a choice I made not to demand a lot of public funding, not to pursue these formal avenues for financing. At the same time, the film was born in this exact context because there was no obligation to deliver the finished movie on an exact date, or even to deliver a movie at all.” (Film Comment) But filmmakers needn’t go so far as to eschew any public help; perhaps they would just need to accept very small sums of money in return for the sort of creative freedom Guerin invokes. Such works might not be likely to make the returns the Scottish industry wishes to seek when it helps a Hollywood blockbuster, with many seeing the purposes of Scottish cinema as an opportunity for a lot of people to make money. A recent Screen Scotland brochure on Screen Scotland in Cannes said that “Scotland also offers a range of financial, production and location support, including production incentive funds, and access to the UK tax reliefs for film and High-End TV.” 

However, while funding bodies might pay much attention to bigger budgets and thus hope for bigger returns in either films made in or about Scotland or by Scots, no less important is making sure that filmmakers needn’t fret too much about the financial benefits later accruing if they work initially on a small enough budget. Writing in 1993, Colin McArthur reckoned “getting budgets under £300,000 would not only make profitability more likely for individual films, but would see many more Scottish films emerging…” and thus to the sort of movement we have found in recent years in Greece and Romania. McArthur might wish to up the figure for the 2020s (especially with very recent inflation), but we should remember that Dogtooth cost €250,000; The Death of Mr Lazarescu €350,000, even 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days only €600,000, making $10,174,839 according to Box Office Mojo. Most of the films in a Scottish low-budget wave probably wouldn’t make much money but the odd one could break even and the very occasional one break the box office. Gregory’s Girl was “…made on the proverbial shoestring [around £200,00] – but turning 64,000 percent profit…” (Film ForumThat sounds like a gross, or net, exaggeration, but there is little doubt that after initial small returns, Gregory’s Girl entered the culture. It “…ended up grossing about £25m around the world and played in some London cinemas for over a year.” (BBC) It is the sort of success story that Brave can never be, with Forsyth’s film a low-budget home-grown work shot entirely in Scotland that becomes part of the Scottish consciousness. As one of the actors Clare Grogan said forty years later, “I had no clue I would have this all my adult life. How can you not feel touched by that? It just genuinely overwhelms me, the constant affection for it.’ (BBC)

What matters isn’t the success of Gregory’s Girl, though it is a wonderful thing, but the freedom that went into creating it. Speaking of his previous film, That Sinking Feeling, whose modest critical regard gave him the opportunity to make Gregory’s Girl, Forsyth said: “‘I’m going to make this film, who wants to help me?’ Everyone in the spirit of the times said: ‘I’ll give you a camera’ or ‘I’ll give you three weeks of my time’ and we went and did it.” (From Limelight to Satellite) On Gregory’s Girl, the budget was bigger and the financial returns eventually impressive, but the purpose was the same. “The story “wrote itself”, he says. He had originally planned to make it on 16mm film for £29,000 but ended up with £200,000 and shooting on 35mm. “There were five million people living in Scotland who had rarely seen their lives on the cinema screen, and I figured if only half of them saw it, and paid two quid a ticket, that was still £5 million.” (The TimesHere were films that weren’t for an international audience but primarily for Scots to see themselves more directly. This isn’t an unimportant point in a country that had numerous films made about it. But  these  were often utilising Scotland for its general imaginary, for how it was seen beyond its own borders. Many fine films have come out of this imaginary, including some we have included in the canon, like Whisky GaloreThe MaggieThe 39 Steps, and I Know Where I am Going, and then of course there was Brigadoon, and also Disney’s Rob Roy, various versions of Kidnapped, and even a Laurel and Hardy film, Bonnie Scotland. But Forsyth reckoned “…in terms of narrative cinema, I think That Sinking Feeling was the first indigenous Scottish feature film. There had been nothing before then. Film crews had used Scotland as a location, but as far as I know we kind of instigated cinema in Scotland.” (Mubi) Filmmakers weren’t ignoring Scotland; they were just ignoring Scottish filmmakers and thus there was little to show Scots as they saw themselves but many examples of others showing Scots how they were perceived.

This was partly why in 1982, McArthur, Murray Grigor, John Caughie and others came up with Scotch Reels, and Grigor made Scotch Myths, a 90-minute film about images imposed upon Scottish culture. It is both flattering and insulting to have so many with a perception of one’s country without having too much of an opportunity to express how one feels about that perception, and the eighties saw an astonishing breadth of new work in art, music and literature, with Ken Currie, Peter Howson, Steven Campbell amongst the artists, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Janice Galloway in fiction, and The Blue Nile, Simple Minds and The Jesus and Mary Chain in music. However, film in the eighties still often felt impositional: Chariots of Fire, Restless NativesThe Girl in the PictureAnother Time, Another PlaceHighlander. A couple of the films were good and others rather less so but, apart from Forsyth, there was no one coming through with a vision as they were in other areas of the arts. To speak in the eighties of a Scottish cinema as one could speak of Scottish literature, music or art made little sense. 

       Nevertheless, perhaps a lateral and retrospective understanding of the other arts in the eighties rather than predictive proclamations might be useful. A relatively recent Screen Scotland brochure talked of its intentions. It wished to “increase the range and number of Scottish screen titles or projects produced annually for domestic markets.” It also wished to “increase the range and number of Scottish screen titles or projects produced annually for international markets.” It hoped that these [would] feed into achieving the Collaborative Proposal (2017) target of a 100% increase in production spend by 2022/23 (from a baseline of £69.4m in 2016/17). This will include developing the methodology to identify production spend in film and television.” In fairness, the document was a business plan, but sometimes modelling and spreadsheets are of less use than comprehending past experiences to understand the possibilities in future ones. Few would doubt there were thriving music, art and literature scenes in Scotland in the eighties. Such environments needn’t be replicated but they might usefully be understood, especially when they were movements that were about Scots presenting Scotland to the world rather than the world presenting a version of Scotland. 

   By pumping millions into Bravethis is a completely oblivious way of replicating impositions rather than generating fresh representations. It falls completely into what is known as Tartanry: an image of Scotland that plays up the Highlands as the basis for perceptions of the country. Tom Devine noted that during the 19th century “the Highlands, the poorest and most underdeveloped of all [regions]…provided the main emblems of cultural identity for the rest of the country. An urban society had adopted a rural face.” (The Scottish Nation) Such a myth helped create a misapprehension. The sort of images that Brigadoon played up, and that many years later Brave would replicate, had real-world consequences. McArthur talks about the Scottish Development Agency’s determination to emphasise Scotland’s scientific and engineering traditions in an attempt to promote inward investment. Top German executives, asked about their image of the country, “overwhelmingly …described Scotland as a good place to fish and shoot in, but not to build factories in.” (Brigadoon, Braveheart and the Scots) There is more than potential irony in the Scottish government spending millions on an American film that insists on the Tartanry as it tries to bring in the tourists but as a consequence dissuades businesses from investing in a country that they see as antithetical to an advanced urban society. “VisitScotland launched its biggest ever global marketing campaign to help promote Brave, which was set in the Highlands and featured a host of big-name Scottish actors, like Billy Connolly, Kelly Macdonald, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson.” (Scotsman) But while this might be good for VisitScotland it leaves not only producers like Berrie furious, but may leave Scottish Enterprise wondering why more people aren’t investing in the country. 

This suggests that Scottish cinema should ignore attempts at representing the country to people from elsewhere in a desire to cultivate the tourist industry, since the knock-on effect might be to deter investment elsewhere. Better perhaps to move away from the famously predictable images of Kailyard (which we will explain) and Tartanry, for the sort of nuanced art that the wider world will be oblivious over but that needn’t hamper business money. This is potentially a wonderfully paradoxical argument where the Scottish filmmaker insists that they are protecting Scottish business interests by refusing to turn art into a branch of it. The filmmaker must work in some ways to counter the cliches all the better to allow Scotland to be an advanced Western economy instead of a backward part of the UK. These two traditions — Kailyard and Tartanry — have been creations within the United Kingdom, as we have noted with Tartanry already. But it is true of Kailyard as well, a term used in the late 19th-century to describe works by JM Barrie, Ian Maclaren, S.R. Crockett and others. Britannica describes the Kailyard school as a late 19th-century movement in Scottish fiction characterized by a ”sentimental idealization of humble village life. Its name derives from the Scottish “kailyard,” a small cabbage patch usually adjacent to a cottage.” George Douglas Brown’s novel The House with The Green Shutters was a critique of the tradition, and the Scottish Renaissance (Hugh MacDiarmid, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Neil Gunn) was antithetical to it.  

Yet just because a film is set in the Highlands or in a village, this needn’t negate the quality of the work unless one feels the images are processed for a particular perception of Scotland. Some critics were sceptical of Local Hero, with McArthur wondering if the film was too near the “elephant traps’ of the old discourse”, but Scott L Malcolmsen, quoting McArthur, reckoned that was part of Forsyth’s brilliance: “the film jumps in and out of the traps laughing and dancing.” (Film QuarterlyLocal HeroThe IllusionistWhisky Galore and The Maggie may absorb the conventions and play with them, while Breaking the Waves, Morvern CallarRatcatcher and The Bill Douglas Trilogy reject them, but this is more a question of sensibility rather than sentimentality. Scottish film is under no obligation to present despair in its determination to reject bathos. Indeed, despair and bathos can easily go together, as we often find in Douglas Stuart’s recent novel, Shuggie Bain. McArthur and others involved in Scotch Reels were seeking a radical cinema, but when we look at most of the best Scottish films, budget seems less important than creative autonomy. As Forsyth said, producer David Puttnam said to him: “I don’t know what you’re doing next but if you can find an idea in Scotland that would involve one or two American characters so we could have a couple of Yanks in it then I could finance it.” (The Arts Desk) Forsyth had little problem imagining a project with a couple of Americans coming to Scotland as the country was in the middle of an oil boom. Puttnam may have known that to have American characters would help secure the relatively high budget (around £3m), next to the cost of Forsyth’s first two features, but Forsyth wasn’t compelled to cast against his instincts. Michael Douglas showed interest in the role but Forsyth was determined to go with Peter Riegert. 

Have we not arrived at a contradiction; seeing that a Scottish cinema might need far more low-budget films to produce a wave, and at the same time to see that many of the films in the canon we proposed are often made for millions and cast stars, frequently from outside Scotland: Burt Lancaster and Riegert in Local Hero; Liam Neeson in Rob Roy, Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin? But these bigger-budgeted films can still be made as the broader film industry continues to draw on Scotland for subject matter, just as it could have several large-budgeted home-grown films based on the sustainability model we proposed. But if it is to have a wave like the Danish cinema of the late nineties, the Romanian, Argentinean and Greek cinema of the new millennium, it has to believe in a notion of local talent, filmmakers who wish to live and work in Scotland, and who feel that their abilities are intrinsically associated with either where they come from or where they are choosing to live. This has nothing to do with narrow notions of nationalism but perhaps closer to a paradoxical international regionalism: filmmakers from all over the world may wish to come to Scotland and be part of this low-budget wave, or will have studied elsewhere and yet returned to Scotland to make films that undeniably reflect a Scottish sensibility and deflect the sort of cliches accumulated in Tartanry and Kailyard. Margaret Tait studied in Centro Sperimentale di Fotografia in Rome. Lynne Ramsay went to the National Film School in London and Bill Douglas was involved in Joan Littlewood’s “Theatre Workshop’ before enrolling in the London School of Film Technique. Some of the major cinematic waves in smaller countries have come about partly through their participants working or studying elsewhere initially. Cristi Puiu went to École Supérieure d'Arts Visuels in Geneva for example; Rachael Tsengari graduated with an MFA in Film Directing from the University of Texas in Austin. 

        Any movement would be antithetical to the parochial but at the same time resistant to the impositional. It is one thing for a filmmaker from elsewhere to come to Scotland and try to understand an aspect of the culture; quite another for a director to take from Scotland an international notion of local flavour and flog it wholesale. The latter has often been the problem and it is even worse when millions of pounds that could have been invested in an indigenous industrygoes into massive splurges on Hollywood produce masquerading as inward investment or tourist boosterdom. If in 1982, McArthur, Grigor and others could show up the notions that generated a nation from the outside, then how much worse is it when thirty years later the very material it was railing against walks off with millions of pounds in funding (Brave)? 

What is perhaps finally rather odd about the accumulation of publicly funded, Hollywood-oriented stale images of Scotland is that unlike most other countries that have new waves, they aren’t in the process of possibly becoming a new nation. Yet Scotland had a referendum in 2014 that the independence movement narrowly lost, and may have another in a few years’ time, with the (now-ex) SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon signing an agreement in 2017, after “the Scottish Parliament voted by 69 to 59…in favour of seeking permission for another referendum.” (BBCThis was centrally because she believed that Scotland was taken out of the European Union against its will, with Scotland voting 62%-38% to stay in. But what is the point of an independent Scotland if it doesn’t produce independent images? A nation that wishes for self-determination and yet allows other countries to impose its audio-visual assumptions upon it is a nation in name but not entirely in practice. In the eighties, Scottish music, art and literature weren’t obliviously producing work for the international market; they were interested in understanding what a post-industrial, neo-liberal Thatcherite Britain was going to look like. In the eighties, Scotland was as left-wing as it is presently anti-Brexit, even more so by the mid-to-late eighties. In 1987, Labour got 50 seats to the Conservative’s 10, yet across the UK the Tories had a third more seats than Labour. Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr said “Everyone in Scotland voted Labour” (Guardian), while during the 1980s, [Ken] Currie’s art celebrated a romanticised red Clydeside of heroic shipyard workers and firebrand shop stewards and was a political response to the policies of Margaret Thatcher, who he believed was destroying the culture of labour.” (The Essential School of Painting) For Alasdair Gray, post-war Britain ‘was a socialist democracy” and it was this “that Thatcher started dismantling.” (Contemporary Literature

There was a very strong resistance to what was becoming a prevailing ethos. This is not at all to ask for images of socialist revolution, for filmmakers to become part of a political cause. But it is to propose that they fight for something bigger than their own career furtherance, to see in the world they produce more than a commodified product looking to sell to the highest bidder. That highest bidder will often wish for images that simplify the director’s vision and create a flattened version of Scotland. Maybe the resistance, in the first instance, need be no more than filmmakers insisting to those micro-managing their projects that nobody knows the work better than they do. Perhaps the people on the funding bodies may claim to know the market but that is an abstract notion against the concrete fact of the film being made. As William Goldman said: nobody knows anything. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.” (Adventures in the Screen Trade) If that is so in Hollywood it is surely no less likely in the context of the Scottish film industry. But if anybody might just know a little about what they are doing, it must surely be the filmmaker. A cinema that takes this as a basic assumption might just have a chance of producing a wave of its own. 

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

Scotland and Film

A Wave of One's Own

A Wave of One's Own

Perhaps what recent Scottish cinema possesses is a misplaced sense of trust: that it believes in middle-management more than in the filmmakers who know what they are doing. Is this why so many projects are micro-managed into production, with constant babysteps under the guidance of the adults in the room, the people deciding which projects should be funded? In a 600,000 allocation for short films by Screen Scotland to support emerging filmmakers in 2021, it provided 15,000 each for nine filmmakers and the rest (almost half) of the money on those guiding the productions. "With an enduring love of Scottish cinema, it is an honour to be working with this new round of Sharp Shorts filmmakers," Miriam Newman says. I'm excited to start active development with the teams and provide ongoing creative and practical support to the next generation of Scottish talent." (Screen Scotland)

This isn't to attack any individual; more to question production assumptions. Clearly, money shouldn't be thrown at anybody or anything but if a filmmaker has made fine work as a student, produced a short or two that has shown talent and skill, or written a script that engages, the best thing to do is to have a bit of faith in their talent. If the filmmaker asks to be left alone, doesn't want middle-managerial meddling, then maybe that needs to be entertained a priori. In other words don't try and fix something until it's broken: hovering over someone seeing if they are doing it properly is the most likely way in which a breakage will take place, and this can be anything from a personal breakdown to a general failure in the production. When that high-end master meddler Harvey Weinstein wasn't happy with director Todd Field's In the Bedroom, he harassed the filmmaker into a stomach ulcer. Field wouldn't back down; Weinstein wouldn't give up. Field eventually made the film he wanted to make but his health suffered as he tried to fend off the advances of a producer who always insisted he could get his own way.

If Weinstein has now become a byword for all things wrong with the film industry when it comes to power and sexual politics, we should remember too that he ruined many a film in pursuit of profit or just control. Whether in his determination to re-edit and voiceover Snowpiercer, phoning Billy Bob Thornton in the middle of the night to re-edit Slingblade, or threatening to "beat the shit out of" (Grantland) Julie Taymor's partner if she wouldn't cut Frida, Weinstein is the hyperbolised version of the middle-management meddling, of people with money telling people with talent how they should make art.

Let us not exaggerate our case here; but by hyperbolising Scottish cinema's problems in invoking Weinstein, we can maybe understand why despite money being available to make films in Scotland, very few films of merit are being made. Obviously, this depends on what we constitute as merit, but let us say that it ought to impact on the art form or the culture: to engage with aesthetic questions or to answer a cultural need. Bill Douglas was always more rigorous than Bill Forsyth but both My Childhood and Local Hero have equally significant places in Scottish cinema as each reveals the intricacies of Scottish consciousness, whether it be the harsh, Calvinist despair of a boyhood in the mining town of New Craighall, or the wily wisdom of characters who need to find the balance between hard cash and pleasing lifestyles. In the former, Jamie struggles in an environment as austere as the director's style is rigorous: often fixed shots elliptically offering information that we piece together in our minds. In Forsyth's film, the more conventional style contains nevertheless numerous idiosyncratic moments, a feeling that Forsyth believes everybody is a non-conformist if you look hard enough. Forsyth's originality rests more in his sensibility than in his style; Douglas the reverse, even if a division between the aesthetic and the cultural simplifies how the director attends to one or the other. Many of the best Scottish films contribute a little to the form and more than a little to the culture, but surely we expect that a significant work ought to do at least one or the other.

To help us, we can briefly list what might pass for a Scottish cannon thus far. This is not to offer prescription but description: to try and understand what makes a film canon-worthy based on what has been made, well aware that anything new will have its own problematic to explore. But here are more than a dozen titles: The Bill Douglas Trilogy, Blue Black Permanent, Gregory's Girl, Local Hero, Trainspotting, Breaking the Waves, Whisky Galore, The Maggie, The 39 Steps, I Know Where I'm Going, The Wicker Man, Small Faces, Rob Roy, My Name is Joe, Under the Skin, The Illusionist, Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar. It is a varied list and some may question how Scottish some of the films are. Breaking the Waves was made by a Dane, Trainspotting by a Mancunian, Whisky Galore and The Maggie by a Boston-born Scot who went on to attend Hillhead High School, and to work in Hollywood. What the list shows is the difficulty in quantifying Scottish cinema, assuming it is based on some intrinsic notion of Scottishness, when instead it seems more a permeating sensibility that captures the imagination of a Hitchcock or a Powell, just as it releases the spirit of a Douglas or a Forsyth.

What matters is whether a film captures Scottishness rather than exploits it - sees it as a problem to be explored or a trade mark to be capitalised upon. If Rob Roy is a much better film than Braveheart it doesn't rest on the writer and director necessarily being Scottish while Braveheart's are American. It rests more on how, in Rob Roy, Alan Sharp and Michael Caton-Jones are interested in the intricacies of competing interests over the glorification of Celtic bravado. Both films show the central character's wives being raped and in the latter case also murdered but, in Braveheart, it provides the catalyst for mayhem as Wallace takes on the English. In Rob Roy it becomes a proper problematic: the rapist expects the rape to lead Rob Roy to exact revenge but his wife Mary knows this is the plan and persuades his brother, who has witnessed the aftermath of the event, to keep this knowledge from Rob Roy. There is nothing intrinsically Scottish about this nuance and no reason why a filmmaker from elsewhere couldn't have been as subtle as Sharp and Caton-Jones. Nevertheless, Braveheart is what we might call a superimpositional film while Rob Roy remains a suppositional one: Mel Gibson's movie wants to take the notion of general myth and manipulation and apply it to a Scottish figure. Colin McArthur sees in Braveheart a film that could be appropriated for political, sporting and touristic purposes, and the rape and murder of Wallace's wife is no more than a precursor. In Rob Roy the rape isn't just something that happens to Mary and that Rob Roy must avenge; it is a harrowing experience that she must absorb, think about and act upon in her way.

McArthur notes that the SNP got behind Braveheart (and had little to say about Rob Roy) but more troublesomely so did various blood and soil nationalist and crypto-fascist organisations like Siol nan Gaidheal (Seed of the Gael). As McArthur says, Braveheart appealed to those who believed "that Scotland is a Celtic country which ought to to be free of English rule; that Scots of today have lost touch with what the Celtists allege is a particularly Scottish tradition of resistance to oppression; that the 'true nature' of Scotland, materially and culturally, lies in the Highlands." (Brigadoon, Braveheart and the Scots) After the film's release, anyone from snooker players to footballers were brave hearts, especially during the Euro '96 competition when even the European press constantly called the Scottish team by that name. The tourist trade also made much of Braveheart as well as other films (including, Rob Roy, Highlander and Loch Ness) that could play into the Highland notion as synonymous with Scotland. But Braveheart was the jewel in the crown: "the folk wisdom of the Scottish tourist industry has it that Braveheart is the most important element in the development of film tourism in Scotland." (Brigadoon, Braveheart and the Scots) Rob Roy may too have been dragooned into the Scottish tourist industry but though filmed very much in Scottish locations unlike Braveheart which was mainly shot in Ireland thanks to to the Irish cultural minister offering more favourable conditions it lacked Braveheart's jingoistic manifest destiny. The cry of freedom in Sharp's script was always going to be contained by situational exigencies that would slow the patriotism down.

When we say a film offers the suppositional, this can take many forms but the gist of it lies in the determination to explore a given predicament without overly strenuous external expectations. When these expectations take the form of mythic structures that play into Celtic cliche, or financial dictates that propose Scottish film has to contribute to the tourist industry, then the superimpositional is evident. These superimpositions may come from elsewhere or they might come from within Scotland itself. If a Hollywood production arrives in Scotland then it will probably want a broad enough narrative arc to play internationally, and will use Scotland for its local colour and care little for the country's internal contradictions. But equally, a zealous internal interest in projecting a positive image of the country has its problems too. Clearly, filmmakers who have no concern for the financial interests of Scotland can offer a miserable account of the country without feeling that it will impact on their nation's fiscal budgets. But directors working in Scotland need to share that indifference if it is all well and good for the aesthetics of film. Few people probably visited Romania on the back of a series of films that showed the country as venal, corrupt, rundown and hypocritical. But The Death of Mr Lazarescu, 12:08 East of Bucharest, Police, Adjective and a dozen others put the nation on the cinematic map, even if it didn't have too many booking a holiday to the country. That isn't what cinema is supposed to do, despite VisitScotland's claim, in early 2020, that "Screen tourism is huge in Scotland, with almost one in five visitors saying they were inspired to travel here after seeing the country's stunning landscapes and heritage on the screen." This has been vital to modern Scottish cinema's agenda for some time. Braveheart was deemed so important: "to the extent that an image from the film graces the cover of the brochure produced by the STB on the topic of film tourism..." (Brigadoon, Braveheart and the Scots) The STB is now VisitScotland.

Earlier we wondered just how Scottish some of Scotland's finest films happen to be but this needn't be a dismissal of the non-indigenous. It is an acceptance of cosmopolitan consciousness, an aesthetic inclusivity equal to the dictates of the referendum in 2014 that insisted voting be based on living in Scotland rather than birthright. Scots living outside the country couldn't vote; EU citizens resident in Scotland could. We may notice that about half the films on our list of fourteen significant Scottish works were made by non-Scots Loach, Powell, Hitchcock, Glazer and Boyle are English; Chomet, French and Lars von Trier Danish. That would be unlikely to be the case in many instances elsewhere. When we look at Romanian, Danish or Argentinean cinema waves, most are made by filmmakers regarded as indigenous. All of the key directors in the Romanian New Wave (Cristi Puiu, Cristian Mungiu, Radu Jude, Corneliu Porumboiu) were born in Romania. In a BFI list of ten great Argentinean films of the 21st century, all the directors were Argentine-born. Any notion of home-grown talent has to acknowledge that much that is great about Scottish cinema rests on the international. Some might argue that it has been a problem of a small nation letting other people tell 'our stories' for us. Yet that risks both chauvinism and parochialism, even if one can of course hope for new filmmakers coming out of various parts of Scotland, whether it be a Bill Douglas who was brought up in New Craighall, Bill Forsyth who went to school in Knightwood, Margaret Tait who was born in Kirkwall or Lynn Ramsay who is from Strathclyde. But Douglas lived mainly in England, Forsyth hasn't made a film in over twenty years, Tait had to wait till she was in her seventies to make her first feature, and Ramsay works in the States. Such talent needs to be nurtured.

But even more, Scottish cinema needs filmmakers who are cognizant of cliches, aware of form, and astute to nuance, and here a remark by the Catalan filmmaker Jose Luis Guerin might be useful. Making a film in Ireland about The Quiet Man, he said: "For example, a very funny thing from Innisfree was that in this village the people had caps just like those worn by the fishermen from Flaherty's Man of Aran. That is to say, from the Aran Islands. This type of cap has no use, no history for the villagers..." Guerin says, "why in this village does everyone now wear this type of hat? Because when John Ford, the director, asked all the people of the village to wear these hats in order to realize his own version of Ireland, they suddenly absorbed this new identity, an identity based on Ford's imagination. Cinema changed the life of the people in this village for generations. It's a frontier between imagination and reality, and it's at the center of village life and at the center of my proposition in Innisfree. (Film Comment)

One can simply say that here we have dominant cinema imposing itself on Ireland, and the locals now barely aware of why they are wearing the caps that have no practical function. But that might be too easy: better to see it as a positive and a negative simultaneously. It may be troublesome for a people to find that an aspect of their identity comes from a directorial imposition, yet it can also be deemed a positive as well; that cinema is capable of generating codes and behaviour without being constrained by history or tradition. A film like Gregory's Girl with its optimistic outlook and romantic sensibility may not reflect the reality of New Town living, where, Andrew McKee notes, "dazzled by the nakedly socialist principles of Brutalism, the planners and architects of post-war Britain merrily bulldozed tenements and terraces (the natural, human-scale, form of urban architecture), ran motorways through city centres and shoved arthritic pensioners and young mothers with prams up to the 28th floor." (Herald) Yet it envisages a New Town that needn't fall into the predictability of an oppressive, overly developed environment if you have characters eccentrically adapting to its dictates. The gangly Gregory in Gregory's Girl acts like he is in a Tati production; not an oppressive social development. Perhaps if enough characters could act originally within these ostensible architectural nightmares, a dream life might emerge. After all, much of the horrible housing in London has become from a certain perspective quite salubrious. As one resident living on London's Aylesbury estate insisted, she was lucky to find a home, and, as Andy Beckett noted, "all for 110 a week, plus 30 heating and service charge. Her flat is warm, and no one can see into it." (Guardian) From one perspective, people are living in council property with a poor reputation; from another people are living in secure homes at low cost. "I couldn't believe my luck," Aysen Dennis says. "A council flat in London!" (Guardian)

If town planners in the post-war years made such a hash of things as McKie and numerous others have insisted, then perhaps two ways of resolving this is firstly to have stories that reflect the fortunes and not just the misfortune of those without much at their disposal, and the second is to have filmmakers working on larger budgets in cahoots with town planners, imagining a community in the making as artistic project, one that could then become a living reality. Rather than building studio sets, the filmmaker and town planner work towards imagining a community that is both aesthetic and pragmatic, without the filmmaker obliged to fit into the town planner's expectations, nor the new residents expected to live within the remit of the filmmaker's vision. "Film sets are notoriously wasteful places. Big movies can generate 225 tons of scrap metal, nearly 50 tons of construction and set debris, and 72 tons of food waste." One way of minimising this waste is thanks to people like Chase White. "He owns Recycled Movie Sets, a Los Angeles service that cheaply rents and sells entire sets, individual pieces of lumber and more. His company goes to studios and hauls away construction debris, props and other set pieces. In the last two years, White says, he's saved about 80 dumpsters' worth of materials from going to a landfill." (Green Production Guide) Instead of mass dumping we could potentially have directors working with the architects and wondering how the film set could become a housing environment. Our point isn't to get overly visionary but to make clear that a filmmaker influencing people's behaviour might not initself be a bad thing.

Imagine a Scottish film industry based on big-budget sustainable projects, where in return for funding from various Scottish authorities, the films made become part of an envisioned, habitable world? At the moment, the industry is more inclined to fund Hollywood productions that, according to some commentators, do Scottish cinema and local businesses few favours. Grant McPhee reckons, "the vast majority of the Hollywood films that make up this huge Glasgow 'Spend' figure of 42m were not using local cast, crew, equipment, facilities or costumes beyond a few hired 'extra hands' so the spend was not going to where it should." The figure rests on claims made by Glasgow City Council but in actuality McPhee says very little money was spent on using Scottish workers or equipment: "one local camera equipment hire company told me that they only received 45 from one of these huge features included in the 42m total." (BellaCaledonia)

Instead, one can think of a cinema where modestly large budgets are available to filmmakers in Scotland; in return there are social obligations placed upon the productions that mean they have to think beyond the film they are making: instead of the obligation towards an audience, they have a duty towards society. A film that recoups its budget and turns a nice profit is usually seen as a successful film but has little broader responsibility towards those who aren't part of its audience. This means at its most absurd that Scottish governments can throw large amounts of money at American films with hope rather than expectation that it will be financially rewarding for Scotland. One such instance was Brave. "A spokesman for VisitScotland said: "The 7m funding was used to market Scotland around the world and convert cinemagoers into visitors to Scotland." (Scotsman) Audiences 'around the world' may love it and, as a by-product, come and see the country represented, even if first seen in animated form. Yet, not everyone was happy. 2013, MSPs heard from the producer Gillian Berrie how "under a deal brokered between First Minister Alex Salmond and VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay, the government provided 5 million in extra funding for the tourism agency provided it ring-fenced 2 million from its own budget." That was more than twice the total put aside for Scottish films. "She later told The Scotsman that Scotland would be boasting its own film studio by now had the money been invested in much-needed permanent production facilities." (The Scotsman)

What we see here is that governments are willing to help fund films with no need of Scottish money. Brave was made by Pixar on a budget of $185; the company was sold in 2006. "Ultimately, Disney bought Pixar for $7.4b in 2006." (CNBC) But the rationale was that this was money well spent because the returns could be huge. "When the funding deal was confirmed in June 2012, as Brave was being launched in the United States, VisitScotland predicted that the 7 million campaign would generate an extra 140 million for the tourism industry." Yet, "the agency admitted in September of this year that it could take a decade before that figure is achieved." (Scotsman) What we have here is speculation that returns might be made instead of focusing on films that could be produced in a manner that may or not impact on the tourist industry but would unequivocally be of use to Scotland. If increasingly films are being produced with tourism in mind and studies commissiones showing that this should be so, then what about thinking not of possible visitors to the country but locals who might benefit from community projects linked to film? When a VisitScotland study reckoned "while word of mouth is an important factor for recommendation of choosing Scotland, between 6% and 8% of visitors were influenced by literature, film or television programmes about or featuring Scotland", this is the sort of polling that may or may not have results. But who can doubt money spent on a film that creates real buildings rather than sets can be turned into an immediate and tangible asset?

There have been precedents, however slow in their development or gimmicky in their execution. In Malta, we have the Popeye village, "a string of 20 or so ramshackle wooden buildings on a cliffside overlooking Anchor Bay, an inlet on the northwest end of the island of Malta. Although it resembles a down-at-the-heels 1900s New England fishing town, it was actually built from scratch in late 1979 as the set for Robert Altman's film Popeye." (Medium.Com) The Maltese government's contract with the film producers allowed them to keep the set and convert it into a village. We also have Emir Kusturica's hamlet: "Drvengrad has a church, a library, a cinema, a couple of restaurants and shops, but it's not a real town. Drvengrad was built by the enigmatic filmmaker Emir Kusturica in 2004 for his film Life is a Miracle." (Amusing Planet)

Both are tourist sites more than fully developed towns, but the potential is there for filmmakers, architects and town planners to work together and create potentially interesting visions that needn't just imagine how people might live in a project created. It would allow for a narrative rehearsal that would be the film, to have some idea of how it might work in reality. One of the many reservations about the post-war architectural utopianism was that it created an abstract idealisation that didn't match with people's living reality. "Continental Europe sparkled with white concrete and flat roofs created by architects for whom form followed function and the house was, as Le Corbusier put it, 'a machine for living' and Britain adopted such housing too." "But, as Lara Feigel says "the vertiginous streets did not foster a neighbourly environment. They became easy pickings for muggers and quickly fell into disrepair. It is hard to feel house-proud of a machine." (Guardian) It could have been a lot worse. Michael Fry notes how one professor Colin Buchanan "proposed [in Edinburgh] an inner ring road...on the southern side it would have passed over the Meadows, half a mile from the High Street, on an elevated motorway." (Edinburgh: A History of the City) For those who don't know this Edinburgh green space, there are plenty analogies available: a motorway above Parc Luxembourg, London's Hyde Park, Berlin's Tiergarten: any urban park that people utilise to seek tranqulility rather than bustle.

By insisting on the sort of questions filmmakers might ask when creating plausible and liveable environments, the notion of a planned living space can take on more nuanced form. If film is expected to be more than just an aesthetic object, as VisitScotland and others believe, then why shouldn't it be used not just for the hope that viewers will be seduced by the locale, and be persuaded to take a trip, but as a basis for thinking about how people in Scotland would choose to live? It seems a bit of a misplaced sense of priorities fretting over potential tourists rather than focusing on actual residents, especially when a recent report noted that "Scotland was suffering from a chronic housing shortage of about 100,000 new homes..." (Independent) We wouldn't wish to turn Scottish film into a sub-category of town planning; it is merely to say that if so much attention is going into thinking how potential visitors might feel about the country, what about putting some thought into how people living in Scotland might choose to dwell? If public funding is going into film projects, better they be Scottish ones that could play a little like imagined versions of Gregory's Girl and Local Hero. If the former was filmed in Cumbernauld in a Scottish New Town built in 1956, Local Hero was a fictionalised combination of two very distinct spaces masquerading as one: Pennan on the East coast; Morar and Arisaig on the West. But it wouldn't be impossible to have created an altogether New Town for Gregory's Girl nor a coastal village for Local Hero. If new places are designed with people fictionally populating them initially, it might give planners a better understanding of the reality of people's lives, however paradoxically based on the fictional

One needn't claim that filmmakers in Scotland ignore their creative individuality for a social demand, though the latter may still be better than trying to make films for potential tourists. Filmmakers still need the freedom to experiment and improvise. Guerin reckoned when making In The City of Sylvia he had to forego public finance "It's a choice I made not to demand a lot of public funding, not to pursue these formal avenues for financing. At the same time, the film was born in this exact context because there was no obligation to deliver the finished movie on an exact date, or even to deliver a movie at all." (Film Comment) But filmmakers needn't go so far as to eschew any public help; perhaps they would just need to accept very small sums of money in return for the sort of creative freedom Guerin invokes. Such works might not be likely to make the returns the Scottish industry wishes to seek when it helps a Hollywood blockbuster, with many seeing the purposes of Scottish cinema as an opportunity for a lot of people to make money. A recent Screen Scotland brochure on Screen Scotland in Cannes said that "Scotland also offers a range of financial, production and location support, including production incentive funds, and access to the UK tax reliefs for film and High-End TV."

However, while funding bodies might pay much attention to bigger budgets and thus hope for bigger returns in either films made in or about Scotland or by Scots, no less important is making sure that filmmakers needn't fret too much about the financial benefits later accruing if they work initially on a small enough budget. Writing in 1993, Colin McArthur reckoned "getting budgets under 300,000 would not only make profitability more likely for individual films, but would see many more Scottish films emerging..." and thus to the sort of movement we have found in recent years in Greece and Romania. McArthur might wish to up the figure for the 2020s (especially with very recent inflation), but we should remember that Dogtooth cost 250,000; The Death of Mr Lazarescu 350,000, even 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days only 600,000, making $10,174,839 according to Box Office Mojo. Most of the films in a Scottish low-budget wave probably wouldn't make much money but the odd one could break even and the very occasional one break the box office. Gregory's Girl was "...made on the proverbial shoestring [around 200,00] - but turning 64,000 percent profit..." (Film Forum) That sounds like a gross, or net, exaggeration, but there is little doubt that after initial small returns, Gregory's Girl entered the culture. It "...ended up grossing about 25m around the world and played in some London cinemas for over a year." (BBC) It is the sort of success story that Brave can never be, with Forsyth's film a low-budget home-grown work shot entirely in Scotland that becomes part of the Scottish consciousness. As one of the actors Clare Grogan said forty years later, "I had no clue I would have this all my adult life. How can you not feel touched by that? It just genuinely overwhelms me, the constant affection for it.' (BBC)

What matters isn't the success of Gregory's Girl, though it is a wonderful thing, but the freedom that went into creating it. Speaking of his previous film, That Sinking Feeling, whose modest critical regard gave him the opportunity to make Gregory's Girl, Forsyth said: "'I'm going to make this film, who wants to help me?' Everyone in the spirit of the times said: 'I'll give you a camera' or 'I'll give you three weeks of my time' and we went and did it." (From Limelight to Satellite) On Gregory's Girl, the budget was bigger and the financial returns eventually impressive, but the purpose was the same. "The story "wrote itself", he says. He had originally planned to make it on 16mm film for 29,000 but ended up with 200,000 and shooting on 35mm. "There were five million people living in Scotland who had rarely seen their lives on the cinema screen, and I figured if only half of them saw it, and paid two quid a ticket, that was still 5 million." (The Times) Here were films that weren't for an international audience but primarily for Scots to see themselves more directly. This isn't an unimportant point in a country that had numerous films made about it. But these were often utilising Scotland for its general imaginary, for how it was seen beyond its own borders. Many fine films have come out of this imaginary, including some we have included in the canon, like Whisky Galore, The Maggie, The 39 Steps, and I Know Where I am Going, and then of course there was Brigadoon, and also Disney's Rob Roy, various versions of Kidnapped, and even a Laurel and Hardy film, Bonnie Scotland. But Forsyth reckoned "...in terms of narrative cinema, I think That Sinking Feeling was the first indigenous Scottish feature film. There had been nothing before then. Film crews had used Scotland as a location, but as far as I know we kind of instigated cinema in Scotland." (Mubi) Filmmakers weren't ignoring Scotland; they were just ignoring Scottish filmmakers and thus there was little to show Scots as they saw themselves but many examples of others showing Scots how they were perceived.

This was partly why in 1982, McArthur, Murray Grigor, John Caughie and others came up with Scotch Reels, and Grigor made Scotch Myths, a 90-minute film about images imposed upon Scottish culture. It is both flattering and insulting to have so many with a perception of one's country without having too much of an opportunity to express how one feels about that perception, and the eighties saw an astonishing breadth of new work in art, music and literature, with Ken Currie, Peter Howson, Steven Campbell amongst the artists, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Janice Galloway in fiction, and The Blue Nile, Simple Minds and The Jesus and Mary Chain in music. However, film in the eighties still often felt impositional: Chariots of Fire, Restless Natives, The Girl in the Picture, Another Time, Another Place, Highlander. A couple of the films were good and others rather less so but, apart from Forsyth, there was no one coming through with a vision as they were in other areas of the arts. To speak in the eighties of a Scottish cinema as one could speak of Scottish literature, music or art made little sense.

Nevertheless, perhaps a lateral and retrospective understanding of the other arts in the eighties rather than predictive proclamations might be useful. A relatively recent Screen Scotland brochure talked of its intentions. It wished to "increase the range and number of Scottish screen titles or projects produced annually for domestic markets." It also wished to "increase the range and number of Scottish screen titles or projects produced annually for international markets." It hoped that these [would] feed into achieving the Collaborative Proposal (2017) target of a 100% increase in production spend by 2022/23 (from a baseline of 69.4m in 2016/17). This will include developing the methodology to identify production spend in film and television." In fairness, the document was a business plan, but sometimes modelling and spreadsheets are of less use than comprehending past experiences to understand the possibilities in future ones. Few would doubt there were thriving music, art and literature scenes in Scotland in the eighties. Such environments needn't be replicated but they might usefully be understood, especially when they were movements that were about Scots presenting Scotland to the world rather than the world presenting a version of Scotland.

By pumping millions into Brave, this is a completely oblivious way of replicating impositions rather than generating fresh representations. It falls completely into what is known as Tartanry: an image of Scotland that plays up the Highlands as the basis for perceptions of the country. Tom Devine noted that during the 19th century "the Highlands, the poorest and most underdeveloped of all [regions]...provided the main emblems of cultural identity for the rest of the country. An urban society had adopted a rural face." (The Scottish Nation) Such a myth helped create a misapprehension. The sort of images that Brigadoon played up, and that many years later Brave would replicate, had real-world consequences. McArthur talks about the Scottish Development Agency's determination to emphasise Scotland's scientific and engineering traditions in an attempt to promote inward investment. Top German executives, asked about their image of the country, "overwhelmingly ...described Scotland as a good place to fish and shoot in, but not to build factories in." (Brigadoon, Braveheart and the Scots) There is more than potential irony in the Scottish government spending millions on an American film that insists on the Tartanry as it tries to bring in the tourists but as a consequence dissuades businesses from investing in a country that they see as antithetical to an advanced urban society. "VisitScotland launched its biggest ever global marketing campaign to help promote Brave, which was set in the Highlands and featured a host of big-name Scottish actors, like Billy Connolly, Kelly Macdonald, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson." (Scotsman) But while this might be good for VisitScotland it leaves not only producers like Berrie furious, but may leave Scottish Enterprise wondering why more people aren't investing in the country.

This suggests that Scottish cinema should ignore attempts at representing the country to people from elsewhere in a desire to cultivate the tourist industry, since the knock-on effect might be to deter investment elsewhere. Better perhaps to move away from the famously predictable images of Kailyard (which we will explain) and Tartanry, for the sort of nuanced art that the wider world will be oblivious over but that needn't hamper business money. This is potentially a wonderfully paradoxical argument where the Scottish filmmaker insists that they are protecting Scottish business interests by refusing to turn art into a branch of it. The filmmaker must work in some ways to counter the cliches all the better to allow Scotland to be an advanced Western economy instead of a backward part of the UK. These two traditions Kailyard and Tartanry have been creations within the United Kingdom, as we have noted with Tartanry already. But it is true of Kailyard as well, a term used in the late 19th-century to describe works by JM Barrie, Ian Maclaren, S.R. Crockett and others. Britannica describes the Kailyard school as a late 19th-century movement in Scottish fiction characterized by a "sentimental idealization of humble village life. Its name derives from the Scottish "kailyard," a small cabbage patch usually adjacent to a cottage." George Douglas Brown's novel The House with The Green Shutters was a critique of the tradition, and the Scottish Renaissance (Hugh MacDiarmid, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Neil Gunn) was antithetical to it.

Yet just because a film is set in the Highlands or in a village, this needn't negate the quality of the work unless one feels the images are processed for a particular perception of Scotland. Some critics were sceptical of Local Hero, with McArthur wondering if the film was too near the "elephant traps' of the old discourse", but Scott L Malcolmsen, quoting McArthur, reckoned that was part of Forsyth's brilliance: "the film jumps in and out of the traps laughing and dancing." (Film Quarterly) Local Hero, The Illusionist, Whisky Galore and The Maggie may absorb the conventions and play with them, while Breaking the Waves, Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher and The Bill Douglas Trilogy reject them, but this is more a question of sensibility rather than sentimentality. Scottish film is under no obligation to present despair in its determination to reject bathos. Indeed, despair and bathos can easily go together, as we often find in Douglas Stuart's recent novel, Shuggie Bain. McArthur and others involved in Scotch Reels were seeking a radical cinema, but when we look at most of the best Scottish films, budget seems less important than creative autonomy. As Forsyth said, producer David Puttnam said to him: "I don't know what you're doing next but if you can find an idea in Scotland that would involve one or two American characters so we could have a couple of Yanks in it then I could finance it." (The Arts Desk) Forsyth had little problem imagining a project with a couple of Americans coming to Scotland as the country was in the middle of an oil boom. Puttnam may have known that to have American characters would help secure the relatively high budget (around 3m), next to the cost of Forsyth's first two features, but Forsyth wasn't compelled to cast against his instincts. Michael Douglas showed interest in the role but Forsyth was determined to go with Peter Riegert.

Have we not arrived at a contradiction; seeing that a Scottish cinema might need far more low-budget films to produce a wave, and at the same time to see that many of the films in the canon we proposed are often made for millions and cast stars, frequently from outside Scotland: Burt Lancaster and Riegert in Local Hero; Liam Neeson in Rob Roy, Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin? But these bigger-budgeted films can still be made as the broader film industry continues to draw on Scotland for subject matter, just as it could have several large-budgeted home-grown films based on the sustainability model we proposed. But if it is to have a wave like the Danish cinema of the late nineties, the Romanian, Argentinean and Greek cinema of the new millennium, it has to believe in a notion of local talent, filmmakers who wish to live and work in Scotland, and who feel that their abilities are intrinsically associated with either where they come from or where they are choosing to live. This has nothing to do with narrow notions of nationalism but perhaps closer to a paradoxical international regionalism: filmmakers from all over the world may wish to come to Scotland and be part of this low-budget wave, or will have studied elsewhere and yet returned to Scotland to make films that undeniably reflect a Scottish sensibility and deflect the sort of cliches accumulated in Tartanry and Kailyard. Margaret Tait studied in Centro Sperimentale di Fotografia in Rome. Lynne Ramsay went to the National Film School in London and Bill Douglas was involved in Joan Littlewood's "Theatre Workshop' before enrolling in the London School of Film Technique. Some of the major cinematic waves in smaller countries have come about partly through their participants working or studying elsewhere initially. Cristi Puiu went to cole Suprieure d'Arts Visuels in Geneva for example; Rachael Tsengari graduated with an MFA in Film Directing from the University of Texas in Austin.

Any movement would be antithetical to the parochial but at the same time resistant to the impositional. It is one thing for a filmmaker from elsewhere to come to Scotland and try to understand an aspect of the culture; quite another for a director to take from Scotland an international notion of local flavour and flog it wholesale. The latter has often been the problem and it is even worse when millions of pounds that could have been invested in an indigenous industry, goes into massive splurges on Hollywood produce masquerading as inward investment or tourist boosterdom. If in 1982, McArthur, Grigor and others could show up the notions that generated a nation from the outside, then how much worse is it when thirty years later the very material it was railing against walks off with millions of pounds in funding (Brave)?

What is perhaps finally rather odd about the accumulation of publicly funded, Hollywood-oriented stale images of Scotland is that unlike most other countries that have new waves, they aren't in the process of possibly becoming a new nation. Yet Scotland had a referendum in 2014 that the independence movement narrowly lost, and may have another in a few years' time, with the (now-ex) SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon signing an agreement in 2017, after "the Scottish Parliament voted by 69 to 59...in favour of seeking permission for another referendum." (BBC) This was centrally because she believed that Scotland was taken out of the European Union against its will, with Scotland voting 62%-38% to stay in. But what is the point of an independent Scotland if it doesn't produce independent images? A nation that wishes for self-determination and yet allows other countries to impose its audio-visual assumptions upon it is a nation in name but not entirely in practice. In the eighties, Scottish music, art and literature weren't obliviously producing work for the international market; they were interested in understanding what a post-industrial, neo-liberal Thatcherite Britain was going to look like. In the eighties, Scotland was as left-wing as it is presently anti-Brexit, even more so by the mid-to-late eighties. In 1987, Labour got 50 seats to the Conservative's 10, yet across the UK the Tories had a third more seats than Labour. Simple Minds' Jim Kerr said "Everyone in Scotland voted Labour" (Guardian), while during the 1980s, [Ken] Currie's art celebrated a romanticised red Clydeside of heroic shipyard workers and firebrand shop stewards and was a political response to the policies of Margaret Thatcher, who he believed was destroying the culture of labour." (The Essential School of Painting) For Alasdair Gray, post-war Britain 'was a socialist democracy" and it was this "that Thatcher started dismantling." (Contemporary Literature)

There was a very strong resistance to what was becoming a prevailing ethos. This is not at all to ask for images of socialist revolution, for filmmakers to become part of a political cause. But it is to propose that they fight for something bigger than their own career furtherance, to see in the world they produce more than a commodified product looking to sell to the highest bidder. That highest bidder will often wish for images that simplify the director's vision and create a flattened version of Scotland. Maybe the resistance, in the first instance, need be no more than filmmakers insisting to those micro-managing their projects that nobody knows the work better than they do. Perhaps the people on the funding bodies may claim to know the market but that is an abstract notion against the concrete fact of the film being made. As William Goldman said: nobody knows anything. "Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one." (Adventures in the Screen Trade) If that is so in Hollywood it is surely no less likely in the context of the Scottish film industry. But if anybody might just know a little about what they are doing, it must surely be the filmmaker. A cinema that takes this as a basic assumption might just have a chance of producing a wave of its own.


© Tony McKibbin