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Folk film festival looks at songs and labour


Folk Film Gathering 2017, Edinburgh, song and labour, And challenges the idea that ‘the folk’ and ‘folk cinema’ are necessarily dominated by men.

The theme for Edinburgh’s Folk Film Gathering this year – the third year of this festival of folk cinema – is ‘Songs and Labour’, and involves looking at the instances in world cinema where depictions of folk community experience have focussed upon song traditions and the rhythms and weight of work.

The Gathering’s programme for 2017 continues the festival’s exploration of the myriad ways world cinema has engaged with folk culture – as living tradition, as people’s history, and as working class culture and experience.

Given recent world events, it has also given particular thought to the ways in which the 2017 programme voices political solidarity with those experiencing new degrees of vulnerability.

As such, the festival has focussed on the experience of black communities, in ‘Killer of Sheep’, and ‘Barrovento’; on communities experiencing the dislocations of emigration and diaspora, with ‘Latcho Drom’, ‘Matewan’; on women’s perspectives and the work of female directors, with ‘The Scar’, ‘Land of Songs’, ‘Laulu’, ‘Milk of Sorrow’, ‘Bitter Rice’, ‘Another Time, Another Place’; and on communities battling austerity and exploitative labour practices with ‘Matewan’, ‘The Scar’, and ‘Happy Lands’.

And this year almost all the screenings will be introduced by a storyteller or musician, complimenting each feature and exploring the links between cinema and traditional Scottish arts.

The choice of films this year also challenge the idea that ‘the folk’ and ‘folk cinema’ are dominated by the experiences of men.

Chanson d’Armor is based on a Breton folk tale, and is a lyrical and mythic portrayal of forbidden love in a fishing community.

And in 1935, the Scottish composer and clarsach player Heloise Russell-Ferguson travelled to Brittany to perform a set of Gaelic songs at this film’s premiere – the first Breton language film.

Recreating the event, Scots Trad Awards Instrumentalist of the Year winner Rachel Newton will play in celebration of one of Scotland’s most significant and unique female composers.

Chanson d’Armor is being shown on 4 May, and will be followed by a Q&A with Rachel Newton and with Edinburgh University’s Dr Stuart Eydmann on the significance of Russell-Ferguson’s contribution to Scotland’s musical culture, and women’s experience in the Scottish traditional arts today.

Another Time, Another Place, showing on 6 May, is based on the novel by Jessie Kesson. This unsung classic of Scottish cinema explores the tensions in a remote rural community during World War II.

A shy housewife constrained by a loveless marriage and a life of hard labour, Janie’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of three Italian prisoners of war, awakening in her a new sense of passion and possibility.

Featuring a wealth of Scots and Italian folk song, Oscar-nominated Michael Radford’s debut feature is a sensitive portrayal of conflicted experience within a close-knit rural community.

The Amber Collective returns to the Folk Film Gathering to present a powerful tribute to working class women in Tyneside in the aftermath of the Miners’ Strike.

The Scar looks at the story of May, one of the many woman who played a pivotal role in the 1984 miner’s strike, as she deals with community disillusionment, a failing marriage and her oncoming menopause.

Like many women active during the strike, May has been left to clean up the mess. Struggling with a failed marriage, two unruly children, and the onset of hot flushes, May is just about holding things together when she meets Roy, the new manager of an open cast mine.

Roy brings a degree of humour and warmth long missing in May’s life, but is he truly the answer to her problems?

The showing, on 7 May, is preceded by a live performance from the McTaggart Scott Loanhead Brass Band and followed by a Q&A with director Ellin Hare and cinematographer Peter Roberts.

Elsewhere, Aldona Watts’s Land of Songs, showing on 8 May, celebrates a group of indomitable women in rural Lithuania who – through careful preservation of the region’s songs, stories and customs – have become the custodians of its history.

And Laulu, showing on 9 May, made by a Finnish feminist filmmaking collective led by Oscar-nominated director Selma Vilhunen, documents the process through which Hanneriina, a mysterious young woman, takes on the responsibility of Finland’s ancient rune-singing from Jussi, its last living exponent.

For tickets and further information, click here.

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