Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival 2017 preview

Hawick becomes a melting pot of creativity this month as filmmakers and artists, including Rachel Maclean and Andrew Kötting, descend to the town for Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival

Article by The Skinny | 01 Mar 2017
  • It's What's Inside That Count

Since 2010, Alchemy, a festival of experimental film and artists’ moving image, has taken place each year in Hawick in the Scottish Borders, where it has been quietly thriving. The modestly-sized town might not be the obvious location for an international celebration of avant-garde cinema, but for Alchemy founder and creative director Richard Ashrowan, the opportunity to set up a festival here offered the chance to fly in the face of notions that events like these are for cosmopolitan areas only. “The logical thing would perhaps have been to position such a festival in one of the urban centres,” said Ashrowan, “but I really wanted to see if something could be made to work in Hawick, really as a kind of provocation to the prevailing urban-centrism in terms of culture.”

Over the past seven years the festival has grown in size and reputation. “In our first year, we received just 33 film submissions,” says Ashrowan, “but this year we attracted 1,000 international film submissions.” The upcoming edition promises to “transform Hawick into a melting pot of creativity.” Over 120 films, 24 of them world premieres, will screen at the festival’s hub in the Heart of Hawick, while a dozen moving image installations will be spread across town.

The full lineup can be found on the festival's website, where you’ll find an impressive menu of screenings, expanded cinema performances and discussions, with over 50 filmmakers and artists from around the globe expected to attend and present their work. One of the many highlights will be the latest film from visionary artists Rachel Maclean. Titled It's What's Inside That Counts, it’s a typically eye-popping concoction from the Glasgow-based artist. Set in a dystopian world in the near-future, this dizzying satire of our modern consumerist fears and desires follows a Kim Kardashian-like celebrity who's worshipped by a lower class of yellow-skinned workers who're addicted to her endlessly inane social media posts and preening selfies.

Maclean is currently creating a new film commission as Scotland’s representative at the 2017 Venice Biennale, which will form the centre of a major new exhibition curated by Alchemy Film & Arts. Expect to hear more about the themes of the piece she’s working on for Venice, as well as the evolution of her practice, when Maclean sits down for an onstage discussion with Ashrowan as part of the festival.

There’s also a Venice connection in Alchemy's tribute to the late, great John Berger, with a screening of the author's 1989 cine-essay Play Me Something, which sees Berger narrating a politicised Venetian romance between a farm worker and a young bohemian woman, to a bemused waiting room of misfits in a desolate airport lounge on the Scottish island of Barra. Tilda Swinton and Margaret Bennett also feature. It’s directed by Tim Neat, who’ll be in town for a Q&A following the film.

We love the sound of The Tower, from Warsaw-based filmmaker Karolina Bregula, which is described as “the world’s first ever surrealist experimental opera-musical.” Featuring music by Glasgow-based composer Ela Orleans, the film follows the fate of a group of well-meaning community activists who decide that the solution to their social problems lies in building an enormous tower of sugar.

Another highlight looks to be what’s being described as a “film-walk” with legendary artist and filmmaker Andrew Kötting. We’re told he’ll “lead a raggle-taggle eight mile procession of artists and miscreants towards the Hermitage Castle and the spectral vision that is Mary Queen of Scots.” The ramble ends with a screening of Kötting’s new film Edith Walks at Hermitage Hall.

The curtain comes down on Alchemy with the European premiere of Incident Reports by Canadian auteur Mike Hoolboom. The film is described as “a luminous celebration of humanity, traversing memory, forgetting, image making and gender identity, while touching the heart of what it is to be in the world.”

As well as celebrating work by artists from all over the globe there’s a focus on local talent too. “One of the things I feel especially proud of is that we have been able to support the development and training of the Moving Image Makers Collective,” says Ashrowan, “a thriving home-grown collective of Borders based filmmakers.” Around 20 pieces from the group will screen at the festival.

The Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival takes place 2-6 Mar in Hawick