Saltire Society Award For Short Documentary

Saltire Society Award For Short Documentary


Reviewed by: George Williamson

The finalists in the Saltire Society Award for Short Documentary are the best that Scotland has to offer, a mixed bag of experimental, uplifting and thoroughly bizarre films, covering aspects of life from boxing to ballet.

First up is an Edinburgh Festival based film investigating the people that crowd any red carpet and stalk celebrities, only wanting one thing - their signature. The Autograph Hunters interviews two extremely serious characters whose lives are dominated by the need to collect these inky tokens of fame. One is a mellow figure, an elderly man who seeks out the haloed personalities and only wants a scribble; the other is altogether more out there, almost the lunatic fringe, who explains how he's accidentally put one target into "a huff". It's a funny and likable little short that is full of charm and well worth watching, especially if you know the festival.

Fight Or Flight is a brave challenge. Dave Lumsden - a chain smoking, heavy drinking student with a bit of a belly - decides that this documentary will be the driving force for his foray into the world of amateur boxing. We watch every step of his journey, from his first run - six minutes of cardio that reduces him to a choking, heaving mess - to his first bout at an Edinburgh University amateur boxing club. There's blood, sweat and tears, but, while entertaining, its rather erratic camerawork and narrative means that it's definitely punching above its weight (groan).

The Craigmillar Festival Society was set up in the Sixties to help the people of that Edinburgh district have a parade, but soon became a much more important institution, encouraging them to realise their artistic potential, building a feeling of community on the estate. Arts The Catalyst is a potted history of the society and features interviews with members past and present - although the society was dissolved in 2003 - and archive footage of their achievements. It's a story of local people pulling together for the good of the whole and is interesting, but the overall style is somewhat like watching a funding presentation rather than a documentary and lacks the polish that could have made the film as good as the Society itself.

Miss Enger is a fairly confused twentysomething, looking for direction in her life; she's Waiting For Happiness. The film wanders around the various avenues of thought, examining the possibilities for the future - from realising her Viking warrior heritage to marrying a fishmonger. The central theme quickly asserts itself as a search for the perfect man; who should I spend the rest of my life with? It's a silly little film, riddled with comic cliches and filled with staged scenes. However, it is still immensely likeable and - dare I say it - jolly.

For 13 minutes, in Public: Private, we watch the Scottish Ballet Corps in action; stretching, planning, relaxing and dancing, backstage and frontstage. There are no interviews, no dialogue and no confusion. Motion is perfectly complemented by music that uses everyday sounds to build a wonderful natural rhythm, in harmony with the mechanics of the bodies, synched to the fluid actions of the dancers as they glide around the space. It's not a conventional documentary, but it is a beautiful film, and in my opinion the best that this selection has to offer.

Some people lead incredible lives, pulling themselves back from events that would destroy most of us. In the eight-minute film, Fine, we are introduced to Alwyn, a teacher and musician who suffered a debilitating stroke that affected his communication skills. It seemed like he might never be able to play again. The film interviews Alwyn, discusses his new musical career and shows us that there is always hope.

Doctors aren't meant to trust in the paranormal, their work being governed by their physical examinations of patients. However, when the voices in a woman's head tell her the exact address to get a CAT scan, her physician is ready to believe. A Difficult Case is an interview with a psychiatrist whose patient's voices weren't stifled by narcotics, and - rather than advocating violence or dangerous actions - try to help her diagnose the massive tumour in her brain. While it didn't leave me believing in the power of the supernatural, it is an interesting little tale and features some experimental cinematic techniques.

For years the Dundee skyline was dominated by the monolithic tower blocks of the Ardler housing estate. Prior to its demolition, Gregor Marks shot Multi Story. The film fuses a series of ex-tenant interviews with sweeping steadicam shots of the abandoned building, through its rooms and right up to the roof. It's a surreal and hypnotic journey, almost ghostly in its slow meandering pattern through the gutted shells of people's homes, remains of their lives still strewn over the dingy carpets and pinned to the mouldering walls. It's an intriguing documentation of the inhabitants and of architecture which, now empty, is much easier to appreciate.

These are all good films - some traditional, some genuinely different and new. The entrancing view of ballet in Public: Private is probably the best, but the charm of The Autograph Hunters, the raw reality of Fight Of Flight, and the mesmerising flow of Multi Story all deserve mention, too. An excellent selection.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2005
Share this with others on...
A collection of the best of Scottish short documentaries from the last year competing for the Saltire Society Award

Director: Simon Hynd, Alice Nelson, Grant McPhee, David Lumsden, Hazel Bailie, Gregor Marks, Gunhild Enger, Daniel Warren

Writer: Grant McPhee, Ed Broughton, David Lumsden, Hazel Baillie, Gunhild Enger

Year: 2004

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2005

Search database: