OK people. try this one on for size: what‘s a Scottish film? I mean what makes Russell Mulcahey‘s Highlander about as Scottish as a Wang computer but allows Killing Dad to be included with Venus Peter. Play Me Something and Conquest of The South Pole as part of the 1989 annus mirabilis of the Scottish film industry? Answers on a postcard please. but only once you‘ve been to screenings ofall four at the 43rd Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Highlander for all its Celtic hokum has done us a great service by demonstrating the the enormous financial benefits the film industry can (even transiently) confer. but it‘s claim to Scottishness needs a closer scrutiny. In the steamy world of pan-continental co-productions a handy guide has been developed to assess the nationality of any given movie. You get two points a skull for the nationality of the writer. director. producer. editor. leading man and woman. studio and locations. then one point per head of department. with an extra bonus point for the source of finance. I‘m sure you get the idea.
With the presence ofConnery. the key Scottish locations. and a fistful of Scottish film people. it‘s almost possible to make a silly argument on a point basis for Highlander. But it just goes to show how wrong you can be. for the film's sensibilities. wherever they are. are clearly not in Scotland.
No such doubts however. about Venus Peter. Conquest and Play Me Something. for although all three have a sprinkling of international talent before and behind the camera. and have found financing from London and beyond. they certainly have specific ties to Scotland. Killing
With four so-called Scottish films on view at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. Penny Thomson. Director of the Scottish Film Production Fund. wonders whether their roots are showing.
Dad is. as they say. une autre h istoi re .
Out ofthese four films. Killing Dad may have the strongest claim to Scottishness. Scripted and directed by Michael Austin: and starring Denholm Elliott. Julie Walters and Richard E. Grant in a black patricidal comedy: it was shot on location at Southend-on-Sea and at Shepperton Studios. Hold on. did someone say Scottishness‘.’ Well yes. you see the film‘s backers are Scottish Television Film Enterprises.
Confused? Let me try to explain. The argument in the bad old days used to run something like the following. Only a very few prescient individuals in London and the US are aware ofthc financial. cultural. religious. economic and social distinctions that make Scotland different from the rest ofthc UK in general. and. in particular. very different from England. Therefore Scots entrepreneurs typically have a more difficult if not impossible time convincing financiers. who tend to be unaware or even unimpressed by what they perceive as ‘product' which is suspiciously different from the usual run ofprojects.
The logic here might lead you to think that Scottish Television Film Enterprises might be just the company to respond to subjects of
particular Scottish persuasion. Alas. not so far. They too are subject to the same economic forces that. broadly speaking. will inevitably prefer tried and tested formula to risk. But Scottish Television‘s entry into the ﬂinty world of film production is to be welcomed. Bit like the talking dog. really. The wonder is not that they do it in England. but that they do it at all.
There are other straws in the wind: ofour four films this year. it is ironic but probably not surprising that Scottish TV have gone for a script that whatever it is. it certainly isn‘t Scottish. whilst the producers of the other trio have managed to make the case successfully for London to invest outside the purlieus of Soho.
ln Venus Peter. Play Me Something and Conquest of The South Pole there is an implicit international aspect that puts them beyond the parochialism ofwhich the Scots often stand accused. It‘s hard to champion the cause of a Scottish cinema without getting into heated arguments about nationalism. I‘d come down myself in favour. not so much of the 100 per cent pedigreed Scottish film. but more for the hybrid vigour of the cross-bred production. where a Scottish film maintains its Scottish sensibilities because there is some entertaining reason to do so rather than simply a ﬂag-flying
Play Me Something
Irishman Ray McAnally‘s performance in Venus Peter adds hugely to the appeal ofthc film. as does Mexican Gabriel Beristain‘s photography. ( ‘onquest of The South Pole was adapted from the stage production of the same name by Berlin Playwright Manfred Karge. Play Me Something has been rewoven from a short story by Englishman (and adopted Swiss) John Berger. and owes much to the camerawork of another Englishman Chris Cox and the Swiss Jean Mohr.
In fact. Venus and Play Me Something have already had a number of successful outings at European Festivals this year. The latter. notably. picked up the Europa Prize at Barcelona last month (nice one this: £160,000 dowry for director Timothy Neat‘s next film). while [an Sellar‘s Venus Peter overturned many British expectations by playing to packed and appreciative audiences at Cannes. As Colin McCabe. ex-chief ofthc British Film Institute Production Board has observed. it‘s typical but not unexpected of the British press that of the two films from the UK at Cannes this year. Venus Peter directed by the Scottish Sellar and Melancholia by German Andi Engel should be construed as ‘no British films at Cannes‘. Perhaps they meant no English films.
Venus Peterscreens at the
Filmhouse I. Lothian Road. on August 18. 7pm; Killing Dad is at the Cameo ( 'inema. Home Street. on August 2] . 7pm .' The ('onquest of The South Pole shows at Film/louse 1 on August27. 7pm. Further details on all three film tn the Film Festival Day By Day Diary.
The List is — 24 August 1989'!)