@ Filmhouse, Edinburgh Thu 7 Jul 2016

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the Film & Media Degree Showcase, highlighting the best work coming out of Queen Margaret University in the last year.  After being more than a little sniffy during Edinburgh International Film Festival about some of the films that supposedly represent the best Scotland has to offer, this was a rare chance to sneak a glimpse into the potential future of homegrown film.  Ten films were screened in total, across a variety of genres,  with the audience voting for their favourite.

First up was Step into QMU by Sebastien Regnier and Hong Anh Nguyen.  A slick, stylish look into student life at the university, I suspect this will indeed be used as a promotional film to entice future students to Queen Margaret.

The first narrative-driven film was Murder for the Elderly, directed by Hans Christian Mandoe, Ruaridh Urpeth, Erin Donnelly and Sophie McVey.  A black comedy about a frustrated woman driven to kill her husband as her Catholicism won’t allow her to divorce, it demonstrates how faith and madness can be close bedfellows.

Shepherdess by Alice McKinney and Emma Foster is a heartwarming documentary about Julie Hill, a Borders sheepdog trainer making her mark competitively.  It’s beautifully shot and captures both Julie’s personality and the stunning scenery very well.

Clementine is a short and very sweet tale of attraction by Ronja Bethke, Rebecca Hopkins and Chiara Menozzi.  Its simplicity is very much part of its charm; a few minutes guaranteed to leave a smile on the faces of all romantic souls.

Malky, by Kirsty Rodger is a poetic and poignant snapshot of a man confronting his memories of his lost love on his silver wedding anniversary.  It perhaps makes things a little too explicit by the end when its message was perfectly clear bubbling beneath the surface, but this is a strong and very affecting work of quiet sadness.

Aground, by Ross Ferrier is an assured little thriller in which a man wakes up in a forest, chained by the ankle.  Ferrier makes strong use of a chilly location and a wonderfully modulated ambient score for an engaging and ambiguous head-scratcher.  Perhaps the most ambitious film of the showcase.

Adela Popescu’s We Need to Talk is an amusing cautionary tale about the shortcomings of text messaging.  If there is a fault, it’s that the central performance is so much stronger than the supporting cast that it becomes a little jarring, but it is otherwise a well-observed comedy about the little breakdown in communications that can occur in a relationship.

Self-Programming by Anna Angelova is about the teachings of a self-help guru.  Evidently a topic that deeply interests the director, it failed to come across as much more than an advert, never scratching beneath the surface of the subject.

There was a return to comedy with Briac Ragot’s One Ring.  Making good use of the Golf Tavern as a location, it concerns a young, socially awkward man finding himself irresistible to the opposite sex after finding a magic ring.  While well-acted and directed, the story raises some eyebrows when the ladies ‘wake up’ after the ring is removed.  Any satirical intent the film has is unfortunately nullified by that queasy undertone.

The showcase ends very strongly indeed with Jamie Cutt’s Haven, in which a soldier in 1940s uniform retreats from his present-day home into a bunker.  It’s evocatively filmed and has a final dramatic reveal that is very moving and thoroughly satisfying.

From a strong batch of contenders, Aground was judged the recipient of the audience award; a judgement with which it was hard to argue.  Filmed on a small budget acquired through crowd-sourcing, it achieves a lot stylistically and narratively; drawing the viewer into its central puzzle from the outset.

Overall, as an embryonic demonstration of talent, there was much to admire at the QMU showcase.  I left feeling that perhaps Scottish film may not be reeling terminally into the doldrums after all.  While there are institutions and courses that can nourish creativity and technical skill, there is always room for quiet optimism.