A LIVE performance of traditional music will be staged before almost every film at this year’s Edinburgh Folk Film Gathering, the world’s first festival of folk cinema.

Scot Trad Awards Instrumentalist of the Year Rachel Newton is among the diverse group of performers which also includes Scots-Jamaican Burns singer Brina, Leith-based Polish women’s choir Davno, the MacTaggart Scott Loanhead Brass Band and Steve Byrne of Malinky.

The festival is a celebration of the myriad ways in which world cinema has engaged with folk culture throughout its history. After a landmark second year, this third edition looks in particular at the work of Scottish filmmakers alongside films from Finland, Brittany, Italy and Brazil.

There is the chance to see the Scottish premieres of Oscar-nominated director Selma Vilhunen’s Laulu, and Aldona Watts’ Land of Songs as well as under-appreciated Scots classics Another Time, Another Place (1983), The Brave Don’t Cry (1952) and Tree of Liberty (1986).

Last year’s attendance figures tripled those from 2015 and aspects of this year’s programme will be shared with other cinemas across the UK.


IT is often assumed that films about folk culture will be rural, traditional and masculine in focus but festival director Jamie Chambers points out that they can also be urban and contemporary with women playing a strong role.

“We have always prioritised a strand of programming about women’s experiences, and films by women directors,” he said. “This is particularly the case this year.

“We have one called The Scar by the Amber Collective which is about May, a care-home nurse on the cusp of menopause and takes place in the wake of the miners’ strike.

“It’s about the aftermath in these communities which were under an enormous amount of pressure and how that works down into relationships.

“It sounds heavy but is actually very joyful and uplifting. It’s made by the Amber Collective’s Ellin Hare, a really fantastic and under-appreciated director in the UK.”

In addition, both Scottish premieres are by female directors. “The Land of Songs is a wonderful documentary about a Lithuanian group of women who are keeping the traditions going and looks at how their songs and stories have soaked up so much of the history of that area,” said Chambers.

“Selma’s film Laula is about a young woman doing an apprenticeship with Jussi, the only remaining exponent of Finnish rune singing. It is a remarkable film for the way it opens up a window to that relationship.”


THE festival also puts the spotlight on the little known Scottish composer Heloise Russell-Fergusson, one of the major forces behind the clarsach revival.

As a result of Scotland’s strong links with Brittany, Russell-Fergusson was invited to Rennes to play a set of Hebridean songs at the premiere of John Epstein’s 1935 Breton film Chanson d’Ar Mor.

At this year’s festival, Rachel Newton will recreate this with a contemporary response to what Russell-Fergusson played. The film will be followed by a discussion looking at the clarsach player’s life and women’s experience in trad arts today.

“In many ways Russell-Fergusson can be considered an early feminist icon. She was a very independent composer and world traveller,” Chambers said.

The festival is also developing political strands in other ways.

“We are developing a bit more of a political focus and thinking about how we can voice solidarity with vulnerable communities across the world,” Chambers said. “We very much believe in opening up the cinematic arena to voices and experiences that often go unheard, and the political power that can come from that.”

There is a particular focus on the experience of black communities in Killer of Sheep, communities experiencing the dislocations of emigration and diaspora in Latcho Drom and Matewan, women’s perspectives and the work of female directors in The Scar, Land of Songs, Laulu, Milk of Sorrow, Bitter Rice and Another Time, Another Place and communities battling austerity and exploitative labour practices in Matewan, The Scar and Happy Lands.


ONE of the inspirations for the festival is the late Hamish Henderson who is regarded as the father of the Scottish folk revival.

“He had a rich body of ideas and work about the role of folk arts in Scotland and on the world stage and our initial programme came out of that,” explained Chambers. “Hamish thought folk culture could be a carrier for positive political ideas and his conception of folk culture was very much within a leftist socialist frame.

“He saw it as being eclectic, inclusive and democratic and that is something we have always tried to explore within our programme.

“We choose films that are both Scottish and international because Hamish was always thinking about Scotland within the context of the rest of the world. He was never parochial. His version of what it meant to be Scottish was very international.”

While the festival is only in its third year, Chambers says it is going from strength to strength.

“We’ve got a lot more screenings this year and we really feel we are starting to build an audience,” he said.

The Folk Film Gathering runs from Saturday, April 29, to May 11, at Edinburgh Filmhouse and the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and throughout May and June at the Side Cinema in Newcastle www.folkfilmgathering.com