Hannah McGill, Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), gave her ‘Edinburgh Lecture’ tonight and it proved to be a thoughtful and eloquent tour d’horizon of the complexities of Scottish identity and its representation in film. Her articulation of the seemingly perennial dilemma of Scottish film-making (not the same as Scottishness in film, most of which is ‘from the outside’) that (I paraphrase) ‘to be judged successful you must appeal to a universality that denies Scottish specificity’ is largely but not wholly true as she herself acknowledged. Trainspotting relies as much on its sense of demotic authenticity as it does its appeal to the universal experience(s) of the urban underclass, drug-fuelled cross-class hedonism and ‘inferiorism’.
Hannah’s belief that Scottish identity permeates any kind/content/locale of a film whose creative forces have a rootedendess in Scotland is appealing but it doesnt address the deficit of representations of the experience of coming from/living in/relating to Scotland that arguably is an entitlement of any national identity. Of course that doesn’t mean those representations must perforce be made by Scots (if it did we’d have to stop claiming Ken Loach’s films, albeit scribed and performed by Scots, as being ‘of’ Scotland, or indeed Danny Boyle, Andrea Arnold, even Lars Von Trier) but it does leaves us with an unresolved dilemma. The ‘entitlement’ to see ourselves reflected on the screen (e.g. in the way in which Gregory’s Girl was a defining moment in Scottish adolescence as portrayed in film) does not come with a corresponding obligation on anyone to produce such representations. There’s the rub – unless writers/producers/directors and all the rest of the complex array of people who must all share a filmic vision get behind something that touches a nerve in the (Scottish) audience it can’t happen. It can’t be socially engineered – it needs a confluence of forces, appetites, aspirations, creativity to produce a movie that speaks to a (national) generation, far less a transnational one. Gregory’s Girl managed it, so did Trainspotting but between and since those peaks there’s an extensive desert in termns of connecting with audiences (not to be confused with important and influential films). Perhaps that’s inevitable in a small country although the experience of our European neighbours suggests otherwise.
On a more hopeful note Hannah concluded by suggesting EIFF aspires to moving into producing and would be knocking on Creative Scotland’s door with that in mind. My initial reaction was negative (wouldnt that compromise the objectivity of the Festival as curator?) but then again – why not? There are no distributors or any other ‘market makers’ in Scotland who bridge the audience/producer gap so why not let EIFF have a go?