FILMMAKER Mark Cousins believes Scotland’s screen industry is in a healthy place, having moved from a “C minus” to a “B plus” over the years.

The director, originally from Northern Ireland but based in Scotland, has already seen the UK premiere of his documentary My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock at this year's Glasgow Film Festival.

This Friday and Saturday will see the Scottish debut of The March on Rome, a film looking into Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and the rise of fascism.

In an exclusive chat with The National, he spoke about why he wanted to take a look at Hitchcock, what Scotland’s film sector could do better and why his film about the right-wing is increasingly relevant.

My Name is Alfred Hitchcock

“In some ways I didn’t want to go back to him”, Cousins says, laughing when asked what it was that attracted to him to an exploration of one of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers.

Told from a first-person perspective, “as though Hitchcock has come back from the dead”, the documentary re-examines the vast filmography and legacy of the Psycho and North By Northwest director.

Cousins explained: “In my work I’ve tried to stay away from famous filmmakers and promote feminist directors, global filmmakers and African cinema.

The National: Mark Cousins has had two films play at this year's Glasgow Film FestivalMark Cousins has had two films play at this year's Glasgow Film Festival

“But my producer got in touch during lockdown because it was 100 years since his first film. Instantly, I could see a way of doing this.”

The filmmaker explains he watched all the director’s works in order of their release, showing off the hundreds of scribbled notes he jotted down as he carefully dissected each film.

Part of the joy in making the film was working with impressionist Alistair McGowan, who narrates the film through the voice of Hitchcock.

“My jaw dropped when I heard it. I had been a fan of Alistair’s for a long time but I didn’t know who would do the voice.

“His talent is incredible. He told me he could still do the voice in 20 years-time. Sound goes in his ear, filters through his brain and comes out his voice box having been learnt.”

Hitchcock’s legacy

Down the years, there’s been a lot said and written about Hitchcock, much of which Cousins believes need to be examined properly.

His behaviour towards the actress Tippi Hedren on the set of The Birds has been well documented.

Cousins explained: “In my own work I’ve tried to push great female filmmakers. I’ve called out male directors for their behaviour. He (Hitchcock) behaved appallingly towards Tippi Hedren and it’s been dealt with, she writes about it in her book.

“But then we have to ask if there is evidence of other malpractice. I knew Janet Leigh (Psycho) and she loved him. Ingrid Bergman loved him.

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“I went looking for the evidence but what I do remember is the tabloid journalists of the 80s, writing very inappropriate articles.

“We need to be evidence-based around this stuff. If beyond the appalling behaviour to Tippi Hedren I had found stuff I would have dealt with it. There’s a fuzzy idea that he was a dirty old man but that comes from the tabloid press.”

The March on Rome

Last year, the far-right politician Giorgia Meloni was elected as Italy’s premier. Using archive footage, photos and clips, Cousins returns to the founding myth of European fascism.

In 1922, Mussolini’s blackshirts marched from Naples to the country’s capital.

His film touched such a nerve that he explains the Italian government named him in parliament as they tried to prevent the film from being screened in schools.

The National: Many of this year's films will be shown at the Glasgow Film TheatreMany of this year's films will be shown at the Glasgow Film Theatre (Image: File photo)

“It’s having an impact around the world; it’s being taught in Italy and the far-right government tried to stop the screenings and mentioned me by name.”

It seemed to have the opposite effect though. Cousins added: “The bookings actually went up. My producers were very brave, hats off to them for making it given that the far-right are in the ascendancy.”

He adds that the film has “taken its toll” after sitting in editing thinking about the atrocities committed during that time.

On the film’s relevance today, particularly in the UK, he said: “I think it’s a spectrum and in the UK we’ve had a government that tries to undermine the judiciary and is too close to the press, muddying the waters between politicians and press.

“These separations are crucial in a democracy and if they get too close or if parliament tries to undermine this then the direction of travel is fascism. I’m not saying it is fascism but the direction is there.

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“We’ve had a shift towards the right, definitely, in London politics.”

What about Scotland’s cinema industry?

Scotland has seen some success on the big screen of late. Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun picked up a Bafta, as did Lesley Paterson for her screenwriting effort on All Quiet On The Western Front.

There’s still a chance the latter could pick up an Oscar for her work. Despite this success though, is there anything Scotland could be doing better?

“I remember the 1980s when there was very little, there was Bill Forsyth (Local Hero, Gregory’s Girl) and a few others”, says Cousins.

“We’ve moved to a B+ position from a C- position but we’ve still to move into the A-league compared to the success you’re seeing in the Republic of Ireland.”

The National previously spoke with Alan Esslemont, the driving force behind a scheme which led to a first Oscar nomination for Irish language film The Quiet Girl.

Cousins points to Northern Ireland as well, where he believes their model of film education is something Scotland should learn from.

“I think Creative Scotland and Screen Scotland do a good job and get film culture is not just about movie stars but supporting exhibition and small stars, start-up filmmakers.

“Where we could do more is in our schools. I don’t think that’s strong enough. A large proportion of the kids in Northern Ireland study film and we could go further.

“Our film culture in Scotland is good but could be a lot better.”