Scotland on Screen: Simone Smith on The Möbius Trip
Glasgow filmmaker Simone Smith talks us through her stunning new short The Möbius Trip and her drive to make bold, uninhibited work
Simone Smith’s The Möbius Trip is the gnarliest Scottish film of the year – although that title could easily be applied to previous films from Smith like SLAP (2018) and Red (2012). It takes us on a claustrophobic road trip in a banged-up Volkswagen with a family of four (mum, dad, and two kids in their late teens) who’re dressed up for a wedding.
From the beginning, there is a palpable tension. Like any family, each member seems expert at twisting the others’ raw nerves. As the film progresses, the familial bickering goes to increasingly hallucinatory places and it becomes clear that the quartet are unlikely to reach their destination as they trundle down a misty country road somewhere south of purgatory.
Smith, chatting via Zoom from her flat in Glasgow, explains the idea of the car came first. “I think I must have been thinking of the opening of Psycho or something, but I just liked the idea of everyone being trapped inside a car. What would that feel like, cinematically? What would that look like?” After watching The Möbius Trip, one can only conclude that Smith’s answer was “fucking terrifying.”
Anyone who’s taken a road trip with their loved ones will know it can be a hellish experience, and that’s exactly what this Glasgow filmmaker has put on screen. Ironically, though, Smith was having the time of her life while creating this nightmare. “I found the writing very cathartic,” she says. “I was a new mum and being creative was very much my happy place. So I was writing from a place of joy, and making myself laugh a lot during the process. But paradoxically I can see I was definitely drawing from some dark, subconscious stuff and writing from a place of trauma. When I look back at The Möbius Trip, I feel like it is an expression of that: a kind of encapsulation of trauma. But expressed in a surreal, experimental way.”
As is the case with most working-class filmmakers, Smith’s route hasn’t been a straightforward one; it's involved lots of self-learning, self-funding and a hell of a lot of graft. But she knew filmmaking was what she wanted to do since she was a nipper. “There was a real focus on films in our house growing up,” recalls Smith. “It was like an obsession. There were videos everywhere, a lot of chat about films. I think I must have expressed some interest in filmmaking myself when I was really young because I remember when we were still living in the Bluevale flats in the East End, I must have been six or seven, my mum bought me a director’s chair.”
This obsession began to burn white-hot when she eventually got hold of a camera. “When we moved to Bridgeton, I remember my mum getting a video camera and I was always playing with it. You know, making little scenes, like commercials or wee talk shows or scenes for scary films. I would get my friends and my sister to play parts.”
Some of Smith’s early film idols were people like Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino. “I realised I was into very direct, very bold films, you know? And then as I got a bit older I watched Twin Peaks for the first time, and that just blew my mind. I thought, ‘My God, this is the ultimate creation’.
“I got into video art too," she says. "So Bruce Nauman, he was a big inspiration... I think I was just interested in people who do not give a fuck basically, they're just doing exactly what they want to do. So I was into raw, bold, confrontational work; that was always the stuff that really excited me.”
When Smith eventually headed off to uni, it wasn’t to film school. She plumped instead for a course in computer animation and digital art at Paisley University. That didn’t stop her from making films, though. “Even though there wasn't a film module, I was making the modules become more like filmmaking because I was doing filmy stuff. It was all very self-taught, really.” At the same time, she had started VJing at venues like the Arches in Glasgow and at music festivals like Wicker Man with remixes of classics and her own film experiments made on Adobe Flash.
Her first production gig was as part of a T in the Park film crew. “I was cable bashing – like when you would go around and pick up the cables for the camera guys on stage; I loved being in the thick of it. Then the job I got at the BBC was with River City, and basically my first job was to go and clean a room that was full of computers and cables. And I just loved that too. I think I must have been the most enthusiastic runner they ever had.”
“Relentless” is the word Smith uses to describe this boundless enthusiasm and desire to succeed. “I have this drive to create and that makes me feel really happy, so I'm just following what I want to do regardless of what happens and how it's perceived.”
Still from The Möbius Trip
Smith might not care what people think of her work, but her skills haven't gone unnoticed. She won a BAFTA New Talent Award for Red and SLAP was nominated for Best Short Film by BAFTA Scotland. Both were self-funded and -produced, but with The Möbius Trip, Smith has been able to take her considerable artistry to a new level thanks to the film talent initiative Short Circuit. “I think after the BAFTA nomination the industry started to say, ‘Oh, I think we should give her some actual public support,’” laughs Smith.
This support has extended to development cash for her debut feature, which she’s currently working on. “I've written a treatment and it’s all written in my head, I just need to get the script finished," she says. "It's called It's Too Late You Can't Save Me and it’s about a mother trying to save herself and her son in a dystopian world. I'm sort of calling it a biblical-psycho-spiritual feature – I'm trying to create my own genre, basically.” Sounds gnarly. We can’t wait to dive in.
The Möbius Trip screens at the Chicago Underground Film Festival (7 Jun–11 Jun), and at other festivals this summer
Filmography (selected): The Möbius Trip (2023), SLAP (2018), Memoirs of a Female's Existence - Vol I (2018), XX (2017), Gum Girl Hair (2015), The Rinsing (2013), Red (2012)