Tony And The Bull


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Tony And The Bull
"A documentary of the best kind."

Tony "raised him like a dog", bottle-fed him for seven or eight months, trained him to the house. Tony lives somewhere dilapidated and under flight-paths, where it's cold in winter, where the roof leaks, and so too does Scrunch.

Scrunch the bull, an orange and amber hellion, a horn-bearing mischief, a teabag-stealing cigarette-munching house-trained Highland cow. John McDonald's film is a heart-warming story of character, of two massively different individuals (Tony, former butcher, Scrunch, well...) who share a house, share a tale. To call it a shaggy dog story is to be sixty-six percent correct.

Winner of last year's Screen Attic pitch award at the Glasgow Short Film Festival, winner of this year's Scottish Audience Award, this is a film that's an absolute pleasure to see in company. A documentary of the best kind, an interesting subject presented sympathetically, entertainingly, it received overwhelmingly positive audience reactions on each occasion that Eye For Film saw it.

The story is a complicated one - in conversation after the awards ceremony, and in Q&A after the first screening, John explained that the situation depicted is parlous enough that he hopes to use crowd-funding and further films to help Tony and Scrunch, but recent issues with roof repair and long-standing issues with temperature are but part of it. While the 2018 GSFF was mildly inconvenienced by 'The Pest from the West' the prospect of temperatures of 18 below in a proper European scale like celsius are bleak, but in premises without light switches, water drawn from a nearby spring, they scarcely bear consideration. Yet they pass, as does money, companionship, the prospect of the next day, with charm and verve. Tony and Scrunch may have been to court to secure their habitat, but the sense of place and companionship herein depicted would convince even the hardest heart that this is a home.

From little details, from Rachel Sermanni's musical contributions, from blue skies above and stone textures below, from a shot that loops round the titular pair with the bucolic and pastoral drawn in glorious parallax as if Michael Bay had suddenly grown a heart, had swapped Bayhem for bonhomie, from anecdote and silence, this is a treat. There's "no point in worrying about things", says Tony, and he's probably right.

The genesis of the project is in and of itself fantastic - Eye For Film caught up with John after the awards ceremony, and he told a series of stories from which certain details have been redacted. Suffice to say that on assignment to film a meteor shower a figure emerged from the mist, and with a small detour for cake he happened upon Tony and Scrunch. Their tale is dramatic enough that John's characterisation of it as "Roald Dahl meets I, Daniel Blake" scarcely does it justice. The film is likely to be the root of a continuing project - before John had to disappear off to let a babysitter get home he explained details that we'll happily leave to future films, other avenues. It's not enough to say that this is a lovely little film, because there's more to it than that, but it's a start. Though not his first filmed work (he's done adverts, music videos) John's debut short film is a treat. It was never really in doubt that audiences would warm to this story, but this prize (with, hopefully, more to follow) is sure support.

Reviewed on: 19 Mar 2018
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A small window into the private life of Tony and his companion/pet Scrunch - a fully-grown Highland bull.

Director: John McFarlane

Year: 2017

Runtime: 16 minutes

Country: UK


GSFF 2018

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