Take One Action returns for its 15th edition

Take One Action, Scotland's festival for social change, is back for its 15th edition. The festival is more compact this year but it's as radical and hopeful for our future as ever. We caught up with festival programmer Xuanlin Tham to find out more

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 02 Sep 2022
  • The Mushroom Speaks

We feel like we write this every 12 months but: Take One Action, Scotland’s film festival dedicated to positive social change, feels more important than ever. The festival will be looking a bit different in its 15th edition, however. “We’re lucky to have been steered by two brilliant directors since the festival’s inception in 2008,” says TOA programmer Xuanlin Tham. “Both Simon Bateson and Tamara Van Strijthem have been instrumental in carving out space for connection and change-making through cinema in Scotland. After Tamara moved on to new adventures following our 2021 festivals, 2022 became a year of transition for us, as we’re undergoing organisational changes that have shifted the way we’re able to deliver our festival.”

Because of the smaller team, the festival will be more compact this year, and will take the form of four weekenders of screenings, workshops and talks taking place in Edinburgh (16-18 Sep), Glasgow (23-25 Sep), Aberdeen (21-23 Oct), and Inverness (28-30 Oct) – with additional screenings online. “Our core programme is accompanied by unique events in each city,” says Tham, “which unfurl from the films to draw vibrant connections beyond the cinema – between urban mushroom farming and spoken word performance, experiential art and anti-raids networks, walking groups and powerful conversations that stay with you long after the lights go up.”

With a smaller programme, Take One Action has for the first time been able to coalesce around a single theme: ‘the land beneath our feet’. It’s proven to be a subject rich with stories, with land being explored as material, as a concept, as power structures and as the ground that physically connects us all to a shared existence. Tham explains how they joined these dots.

One of the starting points was looking back at the shameful legacy of the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policy, introduced by Theresa May while she was Home Secretary. “We wanted our programme to acknowledge the ten-year anniversary of the Hostile Environment through [Sonita Gale’s new feature documentary] Hostile,” explains Tham. "We then realised that Hostile's interrogation of nation and borders in the UK could be echoed by Foragers, a film exploring settler colonialism in historical Palestine. In turn, this focus on land as physical material given definition by legal and economic forces provided a way in to understanding the systems of marginalisation that make land defence in the Philippines so lethal, something chillingly captured in Delikado.


“All this connection-making meant we were eager to tie these strands together with a film that could provide a framework for understanding our embeddedness on this planet together with human and non-human others – something that we think the delightful The Mushroom Speaks [a doc exploring what mushrooms can teach us about being in the world] does beautifully.”

While the programme is smaller, the ways in which audiences can engage with it are more varied than ever. The festival is once again collaborating with Edinburgh’s brilliant Lighthouse Bookshop, who’ve curated a book list inspired by TOA’s multifaceted interrogation of ‘land’. The festival has also commissioned a new audio documentary on land, history, and futurity by artist Tanatsei Gambura, and there’ll be a collection of new film writing reflecting on this year’s festival, which is the result of a series of workshops helmed by gal-dem and Extra Teeth's Katie Goh.

As well as touring to different cities, TOA will also be taking to the road more literally, with the aforementioned Foragers screening in Tiree and Lochgilphead on Screen Machine, the Highlands' amazing cinema on wheels. “All in all,” says Tham, “we’re eager to nourish the idea of cinema being one node in a network of artists, world-makers, community spaces, and ways of engaging with the world around us – and are hoping to collaboratively explore how we can develop Take One Action’s presence year-round, not just during festival dates.”

We’re living through increasingly turbulent times. Sometimes film, and art in general, can feel inadequate in the fight against the huge injustices of the modern world, but Tham and the TOA team still clearly believe in the transformative power of cinema. “Cinema is a space to see and be seen,” says Tham, “and to recognise that we’re always here, alongside each other – ready to bear witness, to connect, to ask what it takes to fight for each other in bringing a more joyous world into being. The medium of film carves out both space and time for us to do the necessary, urgent, and hopeful work of imagining that world together.”

What does TOA hope its audience will take away from this year’s edition? “That we all need you,” says Tham. “That in whatever way, shape, or form your heart calls for you to join us in solidarity, that we must all meet each other there. We hope that you leave our festival with a spark of feeling, no matter how small or profound, that goes on to ignite possibilities for connection, transformation, and togetherness long after we meet. We can’t wait to welcome you, learn from you, and start imagining that new world.”

Take One Action, various venues, Edinburgh (16-18 Sep); Glasgow (23-25 Sep); Aberdeen (21-23 Oct); and Inverness (28-30 Oct)