I’m writing this after a day of tending my little patch of urban garden while reflecting on ‘Voyageuse’ and how 2018 has been an almost perfect balance of ups and downs. Finally I can allow myself to take pride in what I’ve accomplished having set out from such a low base – no funding, virtually no crew and no support apart from my husband, Owen whose endless patience and wise guidance still astounds me.
The year began quietly enough. Until now I’ve been too discreet to mention this but in February I was nominated for the Margaret Tait Award, a prize aimed at those working in artist’s film/video. At the jury’s request I sent a statement about my work and my Filmography. In the realm of art film perhaps there was a more worthy nominee but that I received no reply from the publicly-funded organisers was disappointing if not plain discourteous; I only learned about the final shortlist on social media.
Overlooked in her prime, Tait made her first, only feature, ‘Blue Black Permanent’ aged 71, a reminder to me of the urgency of making independent films. It’s ironic that 2018 heralded the Margaret Tait 100, a series of events in celebration of what would have been her 100th birthday. Elsewhere in this blog I’ve described the affinity I feel for Tait whom I’m certain had she hailed from another place might have been celebrated in her lifetime.
Tait’s not alone. While living in Erica’s house in Edinburgh, my next door neighbour informed me that John Greirson, the great originator of British documentary, once lived at his address yet there’s no plaque dedicated to him. It’s an omission only possible in Scotland, a country so culturally in thrall to others and – some might say – betters: England, say, or the US. It’s heartbreaking how Scottish filmmakers have been so poorly served by our cultural arbiters and commentators.
The UP of screening in March at the Glasgow Film Festival was offset by the DOWN of the freak storm, the Beast from the East. Inevitably this impacted on the audience but thanks to the GFF’s co-director, Allan Hunter our Q&A went well. Later I was especially moved to talk to an elderly man, a long-term festival volunteer, who told me how much he loved my film. I’m grateful too to those who braved the snow that night and to the many people who watched it on Vimeo and whose positive comments made all the difference to how the film was perceived.
Another UP was the GFT’s request to programme the film in August, with a Q&A on its last night, hosted by Siobhan Synnot who has long supported my work. And kudos goes to Allison Gardner at the GFT for inviting the film to screen at the Light House in Dublin in October.
One more UP came in June when V. was selected for Distribution Rewired at the EIFF, a chance to meet industry reps specialising in getting films released. Here I made some useful contacts: Martin Myers of Miracle Communications, who facilitated the Bristol screening, Chiara Marañón at MUBI who at the time of writing is considering V. for their platform and Paul Williams of Burning Bridges/LUSH Film Fund who tells me he’s planning to get V. into cinemas in 2019. Time will tell.
UP. A one-off screening at Picturehouse Central, London in mid-September came about through the efforts of my friend, Johanna Blair who previously worked at PH as a programmer. Jo introduced me to Paul Smith who did publicity for the outing who, despite his great efforts, admitted how tough it is for any indie film to get attention, hence another DOWN: a painfully low turnout on a Friday night in Central London, especially with Dame Siân Phillips taking part in a Q&A hosted by the lovely Anna Smith, whose husband’s take on my film is amongst the most lucid and incisive I’ve heard.
September also brought a massive UP when Siân was nominated for a BAFTA Scotland award in the Best Actress (Film) category – quite an achievement given she doesn’t appear onscreen. The one DOWNside was no nomination for my screenplay which, to the writer in me, seemed a strange omission. As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s perverse that most people see V. as a documentary when it’s entirely an authored piece of work. But, when read out of context, perhaps the screenplay I submitted to BAFTA Scotland seemed either dull or confusing; shame they only do ‘Factual’ or ‘Fiction’ awards.
On Halloween I travelled to the Watershed in Bristol for a screening, the last outing for the film for the foreseeable, apart from a showing at the Brechin Community Cinema who requested V. as part of their first-ever film festival which sadly I couldn’t afford to attend. En route to Bristol I got the news that the film had been nominated for the Discovery Award at the British Independent Film Awards – another UP – one of five films selected from a longlist of fifteen.
UP. Shortly after the Bristol screening came the wonderful review by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, adding to the positive write-ups by Alistair Harkness at The Scotsman, Alison Rowat at the Herald and Jennie Kermode at Eye for Film. And of course, Siobhan Synnot, whose fulsome feature in the Sunday Times Scotland (paywalled, sadly) helped to spread the word
Anyone following my fortunes on the blog already knows that the last two weeks have been, frankly, crazy. On December 2nd I travelled to London for the BIFA ceremony where, twenty minutes in and much to my astonishment, ‘Voyageuse’ was announced as the winner of the Discovery Award, a huge UP for the film. My one regret was that Siân, laid low with a cold, couldn’t attend, so I texted her with the news to which she replied, ‘Omigod! May! Nothing you don’t deserve but sometimes people don’t always see the OBVIOUS. That you are unique. And wonderful. I couldn’t be more pleased.’
Hangover-free (well, just about), the following morning I went to the BFI Stephen Street to meet their Head of Data, Stephen McConnachie. After a year of to-ing and fro-ing about their methods, I was there to discuss my inclusion in the BFI Filmography. That I had won the BIFA helped, I think, to persuade him that my films are worthy of listing. This week I received an email confirming my inclusion that places me among the ten most prolific female film directors in the UK – ever. More importantly this also means a listing for everyone – every member of cast and crew – who has worked with me over the last 18 years. This is a major UP, possibly the biggest, because it will last way longer than any award.
This week brought more welcome news when I learned ‘Voyageuse’ made it onto Peter Bradshaw’s ‘Braddies’ in the Guardian – his list of top films of 2018. That he categorises the film as a documentary didn’t matter to me. What matters is that one of the UK’s most prominent film critics chose the film. During a radio interview on BBC Scotland’s Afternoon Show this week, I was invited to mention this happy news, even though I was more concerned about how inarticulate I felt as I sat alone in a tiny studio for a down-the-line interview, a first for me.
Ups and downs. Over the last four years, through all my efforts, the thought of what Erica would make of the film is never far from my mind, though I have a fairly good idea. My guess is she would be both bemused and critical. She would pick up on the most trivial inaccuracies while in denial over major incidents and her private disappointments and deeper traumas. While perhaps she would admire the craft I brought to the film, she would stop short of praising it outright.
Erica would not gush, nor would she embrace me. Rather I’m certain she would present me with a cutting from some journal or newspaper praising a six-degree separated academic’s latest and occult research involving insects, leaving me to make tea because somehow she forgot the kettle she switched on twenty minutes ago. Erica may have been hard to understand, even to love, but I do love her. Without her, I would never have met my husband and…
As the year draws to a close, I have no idea what the prospects are for V in 2019. I try not to think too hard about the future. What I do know is many people – some I’ve met, others I’ve yet to – have come to this blog, read my story and wound up rooting for me. You know who you are. I hope your faith in me was rewarded.
People have strange perceptions about filmmaking. Most see it as a glamorous occupation, bound up in money, fame and ego. Others see it as a business measured only in commercial terms and the bottom line. Only a minority see making films for their own sake as a craft where visual and aural expression work at the service of storytelling. Some people see it as a form of madness. They’re usually the makers.
To be continued…
Thanks for reading. I wish all my readers a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year. If you want to know more about my next project then please follow my progress on www.elementalfilms.eu
The above image is of Erica in the garden of Colentina, her parents’ home, shortly after it was built in the mid-1950s.