Take One Action 2023 Programme: Time to Renew

Take One Action returns for its 16th edition with a programme exploring the idea of renewal – of art, material, environment and society. Take One Action programmer Xuanlin Tham talks us through some of the programme's film and event highlights

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 01 Dec 2023
  • Uyra – The Rising Forest

The essential Take One Action returns for its 16th edition. It’s a smaller affair than in previous years, with in-person screenings limited to a five-day event in Glasgow, but they’re squeezing in a lot. As well as an inspiring film programme spanning documentary, fiction, sci-fi and animation from all over the world, the festival includes workshops and talks. One such event is Imagining Better Futures for the Arts, which is drescribed as a gathering featuring provocations by arts workers from across the Scottish film exhibition sector in which they imagine ways out of the precarity and burnout of life in this sector.

We caught up with Take One Action programmer Xuanlin Tham to find out more about this year’s festival.

The Skinny: This year’s programme centres on the idea of ‘renewal’. Why were you drawn to that theme?

Xuanlin Tham: Grief, loss, destruction and uncertainty are all around us – we live among social, political, and emotional ruins so ubiquitous that out of exhaustion, we perhaps come to see them as given. We want to move past this disempowerment that allows a violent status quo to continue killing and exploiting us and our earth, and create space to ask: what would it mean to move through old materials, systems, and ways of being, to build radical hope together?

‘Renewal’ came to signify what we long for: across the arts landscape, our interconnected society, and our collective response to crisis. As a trajectory of change, its focus on looking backwards as much as forwards, and of making new possibilities from the ruins of the old, particularly spoke to us.

Forest for the Trees

There are several films in the programme centred on trees. What inspired their selections?

Like the network of roots and mycelium that connect all living things, trees organically became a symbol of both cycles and entanglement across the communities, places and struggles across the programme: grief-stricken images of charred, deforested Indigenous land in the Brazilian Amazon seen in Uýra: The Rising Forest, cyclically speak to the labour of replanting the west coast of Canada one tree at a time in war photographer Rita Leistner’s immensely moving Forest for the Trees.

Another of those tree-centred film is White Plastic Sky, which is animated. It’s quite rare to see an animation in the Take One Action programme – what can you tell us about it?

We’re really excited to be going sci-fi and animation with White Plastic Sky, a rotoscoped, dystopian climate odyssey set in 2123 Budapest. Here, the last of humanity survives in a sealed enclave only due to a cruelly-struck balance: each person can only live until the age of 50 before undergoing a mandatory procedure to transform their body into a tree.

Hungary has always had an incredibly rich animation history, and White Plastic Sky is one of the most visually striking animated films of recent years. It’s gorgeous and slick, with shades of A Scanner Darkly and even Blade Runner – a thrilling genre film that’s nevertheless an incisive path into feeling the climate crisis.

Sci-fi is a fascinating medium through which to explore narratives of disaster – increasingly, climate disaster. We’re excited to be screening something that’s a little more unexpected as TOA fare, but equally rich for exploring these ideas, that we’re always looking to take beyond the screen and into our embodied realities.

White Plastic Sky

Each screening this year will be presented alongside some sort of live audience conversation or performance. What kind of things can we expect?

We curate all our events with the belief that art and cinema nourish the imagination, community, and passion needed to fight for more just worlds – so you’ll always come away from a Take One Action screening experiencing something you won’t get anywhere else at the cinema!

I’m probably most excited for Uýra: The Rising Forest. Presented in collaboration with SQIFF, this incredibly exciting event sits right at the intersection of art and ecology, of queerness and activism, and our two festivals. Dundee-based artist Saoirse Amira Anis will open with a performance threading between speculative pasts and futures, rising above colonial structures to build joy and community. After the film, Brazilian visual artist and educator Priscila Fróes will lead an arts workshop with audiences, building to a collectively-made work of protest art using collaging and natural materials.

On our opening night (6 December) with the gorgeous film Geographies of Solitude, we’ll be treated to a recently commissioned ecopoetic collaboration between dance and poetry performed by Alycia Pirmohamed and Gwynne Bilski – as well as a conversation with Friends of the Earth Scotland and radical filmmaker Lydia Beilby. The day after, we’re honoured to be welcoming The Skinny’s own Eilidh Akilade to read original work written in response to Our Entangled Rebellions, an electrifying short film programme spanning Afrofuturism, ecofeminism, and queer resistance from Rwanda to Colombia – and dive into the ways our freedom is always bound up with that of our human and non-human kin, wherever they may be.

One event that should be of particular interest to a local audience is the Imagining Better Futures for the Arts gathering. Why did you want to centre an event around this subject and what form will the event take?

‘Renewal’ spoke to us as a theme because we, too, are intimately acquainted with the strains, anxieties, and exhaustions particular to working in the arts at this moment. We came into programming this year’s festival still experiencing the aftershocks of Filmhouse and Belmont’s closure. Since then, all of us have had to contend with arts budget cuts; near-ubiquitous precarity and burnout; censorship and deplatforming. We want a better and more just arts landscape in Scotland. We need space and community to come together and imagine what this would look like – and how to bring it into being.

The event welcomes all who want to see a flourishing and just arts landscape in Scotland. We’ll hear short provocations by fantastic folk we all know and love: Morvern Cunningham (Culture Collective), Sanne Jehoul (Glasgow Short Film Festival), Liz Chege (Africa in Motion), Beulah Ezeugo (Cross Borders, Scottish Refugee Council), Neha Apsara (CCA), and Erica Monde (IMPRINT Collective). After each provocation, we’ll reflect and strategise in groups. It’s a space to vent, to voice and hear frustrations, and to connect with each other in the hopes of forging a better way of living and working in the arts here.

One of the key aims of Take One Action is to empower communities to make a positive social change through personal or community action, although sometimes, with world events as they are, particularly in Gaza, we can feel powerless. How can the festival's Palestine Will Be Free: Day of Action event change this feeling?

The Palestine Will Be Free: Day of Action is absolutely aimed at combating feelings of powerlessness. With five action stations, each with a different hands-on learning activity or tangible action we can take to stand in solidarity with Palestine, we wanted to provide a space to channel our grief, rage, and heartbreak into real actions for a free Palestine. From a station on the BDS movement, to email-writing stations calling not just for ceasefire but an end to the occupation, to a station to get involved with the incredible work of Art Workers for Palestine, the event creates community, space, and structure for action. Taking place on the COP Global Day of Action, we also want to underline the impossibility of climate justice without justice for Palestine: and call upon everyone in the climate movement to join the work to free Palestine.

Take One Action takes place 6-10 Dec at Glasgow Film Theatre and CCA Glasgow. Full details and tickets at takeoneaction.org.uk