A QUEER, avant-garde filmmaking pioneer from Wishaw is being rescued from obscurity to be honoured in Edinburgh this month, with new music from ex-Delgado Alun Woodward commissioned for some of the films.

Woodward is composing music for a night celebrating the work of filmmaker Enrico Cocozza, who started off screening films in his garage before going on to create award-winning documentaries.

Cocozza’s work is to be showcased at this year’s Folk Film Gathering alongside Timothy Neat, another unsung hero of Scottish cinema.

Born in 1921, Cocozza’s parents were Italian immigrants who ran the Belhaven Cafe in Wishaw and his films were mainly shot in and around the town.

Chick’s Day, made in 1950, was a prize winner at the 1951 Scottish Amateur Film Festival but he did not earn a living from his films, teaching Italian instead at the University of Strathclyde.

Woodward, who comes from Motherwell, said he only became aware of Cocozza a few years ago despite growing up near the filmmaker’s home town. He said writing music inspired by Cocozza’s work had been fascinating.

“There is so much in each of his films,” said Woodward, whose last record was a soundtrack for a film about Scots cyclist Graeme Obree. “Cocozza has an eye for really beautiful scenes and the subject matter is very ahead of his time. He seems to pre-date a lot of things.”

Woodward added: “When you are growing up in a place like Wishaw or Motherwell you don’t really think anything good or creative comes out of it and your primary ambition is to get out.

“Yet you have this person making all these really interesting films which is quite inspiring – it’s that thing of making art no matter where you are.

“If you have an artist’s vision you don’t need to be in Glasgow or New York, you can just make it. I found that when we had a recording label in the 90s – we had Arab Strap from Falkirk and Jesus and the Mary Chain in East Kilbride. These ordinary places can create great artists.”

The National: Wishart filmmaker, Enrico Cocozza Wishart filmmaker, Enrico Cocozza

Joe Farrell, former professor of Italian at the University of Strathclyde, said that what Cocozza had achieved was “astonishing”.

“My mother came from Wishaw and she remembered going to see his films in his garage,” said Farrell.

“He was one of these people with an innate drive to make films and I have often thought that if he had been born in London, Edinburgh or Glasgow and if someone had encouraged him and pushed him forward he would have gone on to make more. That’s not to undermine what he did achieve but he never really came out of the shadows even though he won the John Grierson prize for documentaries two years in a row and Grierson, a top documentary filmmaker, spoke very highly of him.”

Farrell added: “It was an astonishing achievement – the family had the cafe at the foot of the town and went through terrible experiences when Italy declared war during World War II, with a mob rioting outside the cafe.’’ Festival director Jamie Chambers said filmmakers like Cocozza and Neat deserved more attention.

“The French are very good at looking after their own film culture and preserving the work of their filmmakers, whereas some of ours seem a bit neglected to me,” he said.

Chambers first came across Cocozza in an article by regular National contributor Alan Riach and the University of Stirling’s Sarah Neely, which compared his work with that of Orcadian filmmaker Margaret Tait. Where Tait has enjoyed some long overdue limelight recently, however, Cocozza still seems largely forgotten.

“He was making these amazing short films in the 50s that were really imaginative, strange and quite avant-garde,” said Chambers. “There’s a strong queer element to his films, and a really inspired sense of the surreal.

“He was very ahead of his time and it’s a real shame he never got to make a feature. How many other queer, avant-garde pioneers did Scotland have in the 50s – either in Wishaw, or anywhere else?”

The National: Timothy Neat's Play Me SomethingTimothy Neat's Play Me Something

This year’s Folk Film Gathering will also see a special screening of Neat’s film Walk Me Home which is being given a new lease of life via a newly digitised version made specially for the festival.

An earlier film of Neat’s, Play Me Something, starred a young Tilda Swinton and is the only movie in which the late Scottish poet and songwriter, Hamish Henderson, tried his hand at acting.

Walk Me Home was made some years later and just one 35mm print of it survived until the festival intervened to help make it digital.

“It’s a film that has been relatively impossible to see until we persuaded Tim to let us screen if we helped digitise it. Hopefully that means the film can now be seen and celebrated more widely,” said Chambers.

“I feel filmmakers like Tim deserve considerably more attention and celebration than they currently get. Tim is an important Scottish filmmaker so why don’t we know more about directors like him and Cocozza?”