SCOTLAND’S folk film festival is to be screened for free online for the first time in its history. The Folk Film Gathering bills itself as the world’s first festival of folk cinema and the sixth edition was due to be held in Edinburgh earlier this month but, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the entire programme has been revised in order to screen the event free online.

As well as featuring a number of Scottish premieres and performances from traditional musicians, the new programme will also host a discussion featuring Mike Small of Bella Caledonia – a regular contributor to the Sunday National – on how to preserve a sense of community both during and after the pandemic.

The chance to hold a free festival has been welcomed as an “ironic silver lining” within a “horrible situation” by director Jamie Chambers.

“We’ve wanted for a while to run an event that is both freely available and widely accessible but it has taken a lot of thinking on our feet to completely change our approach and revise the whole programme in such a short space of time,” he said.

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“As a small event, it’s not an easy task to convince big distributors to allow us to put their films online for free, so we had to revise the programme with an emphasis more on independent films, where we were able to speak directly to the filmmakers and seek their permission for us to make their films available online for a short time.”

He added: “I don’t want to talk lightly about any sense of opportunity within such an awful situation as this, but ever since we started the festival we have wanted to explore ways of screening films that were more open and inclusive, so it’s a welcome chance, albeit in such bleak circumstances, to try a year of the Folk Film Gathering when everything is free.

“We wanted to revise the programme anyway to meet the current situation as an important aspect of the festival for us has always been its response to what is happening in Scotland and in the world more generally.”

The theme was originally going to be Resistance but has been since changed to Collectivity Against The Odds and explores ways in which people can hold on to their sense of community when forced into ever greater levels of individualism – both by the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic and by wider, longer-term forces in society.

“Thankfully, we found that desire to hold fast to our collective values was embodied in our experience of trying to retool the festival as we found a great many friends and organisations we’d collaborated with before similarly keen to connect, collaborate and offer something free to audiences in Scotland and beyond,” said Chambers. Films that can be seen over the weekend of May 29-31 include the UK premiere of Nadir Bouhmouch’s poetic documentary, Amussu, about the struggles of an indigenous community to resist the operations of a big silver mine.

There is also the Scottish premiere of the Amber Collective’s From Us To Me, a unique documentary that traces the lives of several people initially filmed in the GDR. Amber was the only British film crew allowed into the GDR and a few years ago the crew went back to visit the people they had filmed to see how their lives had changed after the Berlin wall came down.

The National: One Day In The Life Of Noah Piugattuk will also be shownOne Day In The Life Of Noah Piugattuk will also be shown

“From Us To Me troubles the narrative we have in the West that the transition in East Germany to neo-liberalism and the free market worked out for everybody,” said Chambers.

ALSO screening will be One Day In The Life of Noah Piugattuk, which co-stars Killing Eve’s Kim Bodnia and was a highlight of the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. It is a poetic account of the challenges confronting indigenous communities in resisting the encroachments of Western society.

A film with powerful resonance for debates around land reform and community land ownership in Scotland is The Kaipara Affair, directed by Barry Barclay, a lyrical documentary that focuses on a rural community in New Zealand who stage a collective resistance when unsustainable commercial fishing practices start to endanger their local waters.

Musicians performing during the weekend include Simone Caffari, George Duff, Iona Fyfe, Robbie Greig, Catriona Hawksworth, Allan MacDonald, Megan MacDonald, Mischa Macpherson, Rachel Newton, Tom Oakes, Eileen Penman, Alasdair Roberts, Sally Simpson and Jess Smith.

Small features in the discussion event Community Under Pressure which will examine how to resist the increasing pull towards individualism in society and prioritise a sense of community and connectedness. The discussion will look at the role that culture might play.

Chambers said the topic was even more relevant in light of the social-distancing measures put into place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Whilst we are facing pressure towards ever greater levels of isolation and individuality, there are wonderful examples across Scotland of a community spirit that is alive and well and rising to the occasion.”

Another event hosted by the festival will see members of the Amber Collective in Tyneside and Nadir Bouhmouch in Morocco discuss the challenges and rewards of collective filmmaking and committed engagements with communities.

More details can be found by visiting