AN INTERNATIONAL crowd of filmmakers and movie buffs will gather in the unlikely setting of a small Borders town this month for a unique festival which is making an impact which far outweighs its size.
Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival has been described as “the sort of outward-looking, voyage-of-discovery event you rarely find outside Britain’s big cities” and takes place in the ex-industrial town of Hawick.
This year out of the 122 films being shown, 29 are Scottish premieres – with 16 of these being world premieres.
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Marrying challenging experimental film with a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, the festival draws industry professionals and fans from all over the UK and beyond.
“Our vibrant international programme includes feature films, experimental shorts, video art installations and live performances, screening around 122 films, most of which are world, UK or Scottish premieres,” said creative director Richard Ashrowan.
"The festival has grown enormously every year, attracting 850 international film submissions in 2016.
"We have built a strong international profile and over 50 filmmakers from around the world have confirmed their attendance this year.”
WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT IT?
Now in its sixth year, the festival is essentially run by local volunteers who offer spare rooms to house visiting filmmakers and hand out flyers at the supermarket. As a result it has a real community vibe and a huge impact on the immediate area.
“With such a committed, sincere approach to curation … Alchemy’s unpretentiousness creates a most welcome infectious enthusiasm; long may it continue,” said BFI’s Sight & Sound Magazine last year.
This year’s theme is the “Altered State” including notions of transcendence, political transition and material change, mental or spiritual transformation and examinations of contemporary counterculture.
The festival opens with the annual Alchemy Filmmaker Symposium which features talks by high calibre and internationally recognised speakers in the world of artists’ film, including the UK’s Steven Bode and Lucy Reynolds, and Bryan Konefsky and Leighton Pierce from the United States.
The Artist’s Double Bill features the Scottish premieres of Red Moon Rising by Ireland’s Vivienne Dick and short films by London-based artist Maryam Tafakory. Both artists work with performance, exploring issues of gender representation, visual poetics, politics and religion. Following the screenings there will be a question and answer session with the directors.
WHAT ELSE IS ON?
Another Scottish premiere is White Ash from American Leighton Pierce, a visual journey into edges of consciousness built upon thousands of images shot on a moving stills camera. The film takes the audience on a journey through shifting perceptions evocative of meditative and dreamlike states and will be followed by a question and answer session with Pierce.
In the world premiere of Silver from Canadian Allan Brown, a man from outer space sets out to free his father from a hospital. He is bathed in his own inner space of emotional closed circuits, alienation, rings, halos, loops, orbits, cycles, echoes and dream logic. Again the screening will be followed by a question and answer session with the director.
The UK premiere of Caspar Stracke’s time / OUT OF JOINT (Germany, 2015), probes the framework of the human condition. Part documentary, part science fiction, OOJ establishes a dialogue between eclectic groups of people united by a common dominator; their work is related to time reversal.
Dryden Goodwin’s first feature-length essay film, Unseen: The Lives of Looking (UK, 2015) focuses on four individuals with extraordinary relationships to looking: an international eye surgeon, a NASA planetary explorer, a leading human rights lawyer and the artist/filmmaker himself. This is a Scottish premiere followed by a question and answer session with the director.
ANY OTHER PREMIERES?
The festival will also host the UK premiere of Jennifer (Nina Danino, UK, 2015). The daily rituals of an enclosed Carmelite nun are opened to the audience in this quietly observational and deeply contemplative film. The interior of the monastic life echoes through the choices that have informed Jennifer’s life and vocation. This screening will also be followed by a question and answer session with the director.
Ettrick traces the landscapes and machinery of the Scottish Borders woollen mill industry, rendered in an impressionistic arc of abstract colour and movement. Made in the Scottish Borders and directed by France’s Jacques Perconte, this is a UK premiere, following a recent showing at MoMa in New York.
The festival will also feature artists’ moving image installations in empty shops, ex-industrial and office spaces around Hawick, including the UK premiere of Grayson Cooke’s Old Growth (Australia), using chemical degradation of film negatives to highlight ecological issues, while the Belgium-based Gauthier Keyaerts brings immersion into an interactive world of visuals in Fragments #43-44.
In addition there will be film programmes by international guest curators Bryan Konefsky (Experiments in Cinema, USA), Emmanuel Lefrant (Lightcone, France) and Serge Dentin (RencontresInternationales Sciences et Cinema, France).
IS THERE MORE?
Meanwhile the local Moving Image Makers Collective will be hosting a special screening of films made by its members. The collective is a vibrant group of filmmakers that has enjoyed great success with a number of exhibitions and screenings throughout the Scottish Borders and Edinburgh over the last year.
Film Performances feature Monteith McCollum’s Hidden Frequencies (USA), a three-movement live cinema performance exploring the history of communication technologies as well as the French artist GaëlleRouard who performs live alchemical film manipulations using 16mm projectors.
“We are proud to support The Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, one of the most revered gatherings of experimental filmmaking talent,” said Paul Bush of VisitScotland.
“Scotland is the perfect stage for cultural events. The strength of this year’s programme is testament to this, showcasing works by both home and top international filmmakers and artists.”
Alchemy runs from April 14-17. alchemyfilmfestival.org.uk