Intriguing blend of films entertains audiences across isles

I had been keen to see Scottish film The Inheritance since this year’s Screenplay line up was announced. It is directed by Charles-Henri Belleville and the words “Scottish road movie” were the initial draw. A road movie in Scotland? Ingenious (although I’m sure someone will correct me if there is another, or other, Scottish road movies I’m neglecting to mention).

Writer, producer and actor Tim Barrow introduced the film, his first, which was shot on mini DV in 11 days on a budget of £5,000.

Barrow plays David, who returns home to Edinburgh for his father’s funeral and meets his brother Fraser (Fraser Silverwright), who he has not seen in some years.

The differences in the brothers is immediately apparent – David has an aggressive urgency about him, the way he walks, the way he talks and he wants to get whatever inheritance there is and leave.

When we first meet Fraser he is a beleaguered survivor – tired from the battle of a life with a cantankerous father and disappointed in his brother for not being there to shoulder the burden of caring for their father when he was ill.

A key holds the only clues to David and Fraser’s inheritance with instructions from their father to go to Skye, to a place called Kilchrist, and once they unlock the door the rest will become clear.

Fraser is bolstered at the idea of a trip with his brother in the family’s old camper, but David is angered that the dues are not so easily attained and it is with complete reluctance that David agrees to go to Skye.

The cinematography is something special in The Inheritance. It’s a given that the landscape the filmmakers are working with is going to be spectacular in places, but some of the more “ordinary” scenes stand out too. The scene where David and Fraser, still in their suits, are sitting on a wall at South Queensferry, eating chips, with the Forth bridges in the background is one such scene that is beautiful yet bleak and stayed with me long after the film finished.

With the journey shot from the backseat of the campervan, the viewer feels as if they were another passenger on the journey and experiencing the taut relationship between the brothers – David silently brooding for much of the journey with Fraser filling the awkward silence with nervous conversation. When David is not brooding he talks down to Fraser, cutting him with acerbic jibes.

Because the viewer is permitted on this journey too we get to experience the scenery. Living in Shetland we can appreciate how changes in light and dark, from rain to shine, can dramatically change one view in moments; Scotland’s ever-changing weather and its effect on the landscape has been expertly captured and the contrast between the light and dark goes to symbolize the differences in the brothers.

One of the standout scenes occurs when the camper breaks down and David and Fraser are forced to spend time together with no distractions. Fraser has a real need to connect with David – to find out who he really is under the tension and ferocity and find reconciliation, but when David opens up his revelation only manages to show his ineptitude for communicating human emotion and the gap grows further between them. It was interesting to learn after the film that this scene came about due to a real breakdown; a long wait for roadside assistance produced a scene that, for me, the rest of the film hinges on.

When Fraser picks up hitchhiking artist Tara the dynamic changes and becomes more fraught. What was a reluctant journey for David becomes heightened; he develops a new sense of urgency and desperation to get to Kilchrist, and he does not want another person to waylay them. Still, David’s attraction to Tara is evident. Fraser is more obviously drawn to her, but his attempts at getting to know her better are childishly ridiculed by David.

When Tara disappears with the van David’s anger erupts – the scene of him stouring along a bleak heather-lined road, his body almost rigid with fury with Fraser following him bewilderingly behind, almost scared to catch up to him, is another powerful image.

When the brothers arrive at Kilchrist all they find is a derelict graveyard and a barren shore – Fraser explains that their legacy was meant to be reconciliation – something their father never managed when he was alive, but that which he wished for his sons. However David reveals that there was another reason, a secret their father had told him shortly before his death. Incensed by this revelation Fraser tackles his brother, urging him to tell him. Fraser’s anger is shocking as the tables turn and he becomes the desperate brother, but in the dying moments of the movie, as the waves crash over the shore and the subside, we do not find out; there is no rec­onciliation.

Tim Barrow commented after the film that ambiguity is a very important concept in The Inheritance he felt that there should be no spoon-feeding the audience because their reaction is extremely important.

And to that end that is another reason why, for me, this film was almost like reading a book – the viewer is not just watching events unfold on a screen – we become a passenger, experience the journey in our own way and read between the lines of what is said and what it unsaid just like one would in the pages of a book.

The film has only been shown at film festivals, but I hope there is a DVD released in the future.

The Inheritance deserves to be seen by more people, while it beautifully showcases the landscape of Scotland it’s also a film about a very Scottish kind of legacy of miscommunication in families and that I don’t think goes too far over the head of any audience member.

Louise Scollay

One of the less obvious and most savvy choices for this year’s Screenplay had to be a documentary twinning the otherworldly sounds of Iceland’s finest musical export and the gorgeous scenery of their homeland.

Upon finishing a world tour in support of their major breakthrough album Takk, Sigur Rós, a collection of unassuming musicians lauded the world over for their pastoral, melancholic hymns and spellbinding soundscapes, decided to embark on a 13-date jaunt around some of the least obvious venues and locations in Iceland in the summer of 2006.

Saturday night’s free screening ensured an excellent turnout at the Garrison for Heima, meaning “homecoming”, a 97-minute doc­umentary following the band as they performed the series of free concerts. The end result is one which rests as heavily on the landscapes, backdrops and people to captivate audiences as it does on the music of one of the most genuinely interesting bands on the planet today.

A disused fish factory, plains of volcanic ash, abandoned bunkers, quaint and colourful villages and a hall for afternoon teas were among the settings for the shows in front of tiny rural audiences, before climaxing with a full-scale rock show in Reykjavik.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the film was witnessing the reactions – almost universally positive – of everyone from young children to the elderly to a renowned, experimental post-rock band who most have probably never heard before.

Sigur Rós are probably best-known for providing the chiming, piano-driven signature tune to trailers for the BBC’s Planet Earth a couple of years back. Yet listening to interviews with the timid, well-spoken and ever-so-slightly earnest musicians it is at times hard to fathom that they are the same people who produce these ethereal sounds, perform on world tours to packed audiences and have col­laborated with bands including Radiohead.

Many critics have noted the incongruity of a band whose lyrics are quite literally gibberish man­aging to convey such depths of emotion. But despite accompanying many of their pieces of music with the unintelligible Vonlenska (or Hopelandic) language invented by singer Jónsi Birgisson, they manage to be oodles more expressive than your average rock band thanks mainly to the frontman’s unique, sky-scraping falsetto and his habit of playing the guitar using a cello bow.

More art-house movie than concert film, it is sublimely directed by Canadian animator Dean Deblois and amounts to the most pleasing of visual and aural assaults on the brain – in places as dark as an Arctic winter and in others as warm and uplifting as a geyser.

Neil Riddell

I don’t know a lot about Terence Davies work, but since he is one of the British film industry’s great directors I had been looking forward to the Long Day Closes, about a young boy whose bleak life in 1950s Britain is counteracted by his love of film and music.

I’m sorry to say that while this was a beautifully made film with some poignant scenes portraying post war British family life, it didn’t live up to my expectations, both in terms of what could make the boy’s life so insufferable or how he would escape it.

The protagonist, Bud, is an 11-year-old who doesn’t have many friends. He lives with his mother, two brothers and a sister, all of whom are older, in their 20s, in a Liverpool suburb. He spends a lot of his time at the movies, although in my opinion how much he enjoys this or what he gets from it isn’t fully exploited.

There isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film, which perhaps serves to exemplify how quiet Bud’s life is in general, however I felt something should have taken its place to explain the boy’s own thoughts and struggles.

The synopsis given in Scre­enplay’s booklet filled in a few gaps in the film’s plot, however this was more a hindrance than a help, as it left me waiting for things to happen: Bud’s abusive father, it says, has died, but there is no mention of him, neither is there any tangible example of the impact his presence had on Bud, bar one nightmare.

Similarly, the “poverty” at home he was supposed to suffer from was also lacking, as his frequent trips to the cinema, family outings to the fair and siblings’ nights out show. If there was poverty, it didn’t seem any worse than that of the average 50s household.

And Bud, despite the family’s poverty and his bullying at school, is clearly doted on by his family – his loving mother and older brothers and sister who spend time with him and spoil him.

Maybe I’m missing something, but at 82 minutes, given the slow nature of the film (several minutes of watching light move over a rug?) it could have benefited from being a bit shorter.

Visually lovely, I’m afraid in my opinion the film doesn’t stand up to some reviewers claims that it is the best British movie of all time.

Louise Thomason

From the opening scenes of Waltz With Bashire, with a pack of angry dogs running through streets lit in a sickly yellow glow, it was clear the mood of this outstanding animation was going to be dark. That might be obvious, given the subject matter: Ari Folman, an ex-Israeli soldier, is having flashback dreams of his time serving as an infantry soldier in the Lebanese war of the 1980s, but can’t remember some important details.The film sees us follow him on a journey attempting to piece together his part in the atrocities that occurred at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, where hundreds of men, women and children were murdered during the conflict in 1982.

Most, if not all the characters are real people, who served during the same period as Folman, and their accounts come as a series of interviews wound into the movie as encounters with Folman as he visits them and tries to recollect where he was from their memories of the events.

I wasn’t sure how animation would work given the gravity of the subject matter. Could a cartoon really deal with themes of war and murder, of ethnic clashes and the surreal nightmarish visions of a young man thrust into war?

Well, yes. It worked beautifully; the heavily stylised animation was realistic enough to convey human emotions but allowed the filmmakers to drift into the dreamlike, or rather nightmare-like scenes, which depicted the fear and uncertainty of the situation perfectly.

When, at the end of the film, Folman’s memory comes back to him, the animation is replaced with real news archive footage of the aftermath of the massacre, perhaps serving to highlight the grim reality of the situation which before was shielded from both the viewer and Folman.

The long list of awards and nominations this film has achieved is nothing short of deserving. In my opinion it’s a must see; a big thumbs up to Shetland Arts for bringing it to Screenplay.

Louise Thomason

The theme of this year’s Screenplay festival was compass points and Elia Kazan’s East of Eden, shown at the Museum last Wednesday, was a good choice in terms of the direction in life the main character seeks.

Based on John Steinbeck’s re-telling of the story of Cain and Abel and starring James Dean, the film is set in 1917 in Salinas and Monterey, California, and centres on the lives of brothers Cal and Aron Trask (Dean and Richard Davalos).

We follow awkward Cal’s quest for identity and belonging and how he seeks approval from preacher father Adam, who favours Aron more.

Cal discovers that his mother, whom both brothers were told had died, is alive and has turned to a life of ill-repute. In order to win his father’s favour Cal throws himself into making Adam money, as a birthday gift, to replace money lost from his crop sales.

Cal makes money quickly from growing beans, the price of which goes up after the start of war.

As Cal begins to find a way for himself, dutiful, peace-keeping brother Aron becomes tense, through disillusionment of the war and the dynamic between them shifts. Tension further mounts when Aron’s girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) becomes attracted to Cal.

When Adam rejects Cal’s money on the ground of war profiteering, Dean’s reaction as Cal is harrowing; all that he has worked for to find direction in life has been ripped away from him.

The tension between Aron and Cal inevitably comes to a head when, to spite his father, Cal shows Aron what really became of their mother. Aron’s entire sense of self is shattered and with not knowing who to turn to, he enlists to fight in a war he swore never to take part in.

With Aron gone and Cal about to leave town Adam suffers a stroke and the dynamics between the two remaining trask men change again with the prodigal son at last finding a sense of belonging and his father’s understanding.

East of Eden was a blockbusting way to begin Screenplay 09, but considering the theme of this year’s local festival I would have thought Powell’s Edge of the World, filmed in Foula in 1936, should have perhaps served as a more appropriate opener … or indeed found some place on the programme at all.

Nine films from Maddrim Media, Shetland’s young persons film and media group, kicked off Thursday night’s bill of home made film.

The first set of films, introduced as the destruction section, showcased the group’s innate sense of fun and also their ability to tackle tough and thought provoking mat­erial.

Stallionhead, a standout favourite from last year, was back with the first of the films. When Stal­lionhead’s archenemy Pig Face turns up in the hapless horsey heroes bath there is bound to be trouble. Can Zen training help Stallionhead find his way and defeat the evil Pig Face? No not really, but the audience laughed themselves hoarse and the ending leaves it wide open. Will we see Stallionhead 3 next year? Very funny and brilliantly shot film from director Chris Halcrow with lots of explosions.

The Doomsday Device is set at the moment the Large Hadron Collider is switched on from the perspective of a female student at the Shetland College. It showed that the end of the world can come in a number of different ways. Roseanne Watt’s film is visually creative and shows a lot of ingenuity.

Sugar Brick was the shortest film of the selection, but was possibly the most powerful. This depicted the impact of domestic aggression on a child and directors Aidan Nicol and Roseanne Watt should be commended for encapsulating so much in exactly one minute.

Joe Christie and Matthew Nicholson introduced the next series of films, proclaiming themselves to be the future of Maddrim as they will be left at the helm when other members head off to university. Maddrim are always looking for new members and if anyone is interested they can contact for more information.

The stand out film from this section was Joe “my name is Raven” Christie’s Split Ends, a day in the life of a hair salon. The events centre on a soap star’s visit to the salon for a new look, but who sabotaged her new do? When the culprit is discovered its hairdryers at dawn!

Camper than a row of tents, Split Ends was really funny and the action was slickly executed. Maddrim are a group that not only know what’ll pack a punch in laughter terms, but they also know what looks good and how the shot should be made.

Aidan Nicol’s Love Letters in the Sand is a good example of this kind of diligence. A day at St Ninian’s Isle is as much a tribute to life as it is to the beach: shots of children playing, a family day out, a wedding, a surf-happy dog and notions of life, love and death are interspersed with beautiful filming of the natural scenery and it. It was humorous and poignant.

The last three films were introduced by Harry Whitham and Roseanne Watt. These fell into the fashion and dance category. Both Maddrim members star in Doll Tears and Whitham also directs. Doll Tears is a very atmospheric piece which is filmed as a silent film with Whitham providing the musical accompaniment.

In the last film Dance Heroes Chris and Ruth decide its about time to defeat the Evil Lord Boogie and set about recruiting a team of do-good dance heroes. This was not a funny film. It was bloomin’ hilarious! It was really well choreographed and you could see a lot of work went into it.

For anyone who was unlucky or foolish enough to miss Homemade in Shetland, Shetland Arts has produced a DVD of all the films, which can be yours with a donation of £5 or over. Please contact Shetland Arts on 743843.

Louise Scollay


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.