Scheme Birds

This lyrical documentary follows the life of an 18-year-old navigating the harsh truths of motherhood, relationships and violence in a deprived corner of Motherwell

Film Review by Elizabeth Bowie | 27 Jun 2019
  • Scheme Birds
Film title: Scheme Birds
Director: Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin

As images of the grey and desolate housing schemes of Motherwell slip across the screen, 18-year-old Gemma wistfully remarks in her metallic, West Coast twang that she "don't want to fly the nest any time soon", words that pierce the heart.

This is the opening of Scheme Birds, the international and cross-cultural collaboration between Creative Scotland and Swedish filmmakers Ellinor Hallin and Ellen Fiske. The film follows teenage Gemma as she navigates the harsh truths of motherhood, relationships and violence in one of the most deprived towns in Scotland.

From the relentlessly harrowing content – which includes an incident of extreme gang violence that leaves a young boy paralysed – it would be easy to think that Fiske and Hallin had constructed the film's narrative for sheer shock value alone. However, the visually raw and unfiltered footage highlights the profound reality of the bleak post-industrial setting. As Gemma explains, the area has been and still is defined by the hardships it has suffered.

Scheme Birds does not recoil from the difficult. Delving with a respectful intimacy into the lives of their subjects, the directors skilfully draw out the nuances of their subject matter. Fiske and Hallin's voices are notably absent, and consequently the film evolves through its own momentum. Contrasting to the pervasive adversity that constitutes the integral element of Scheme Birds, Hallin and Fiske pepper the film with breathtaking, music-video-esque sequences around the youthful pursuits of the central figures, which serve not only to remind the viewer of their ultimately innocent natures but of their status as victims of circumstance.

Hallin and Fiske took the Best Documentary award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the prize for Best New Documentary Director. Like the pigeons kept by Gemma's grandfather, used throughout as a metaphor for escape and freedom, Scheme Birds soars in a quietly magnificent manner.

Elizabeth Bowie is a student at University of St Andrews and part of Edinburgh International Film Festival's Student Critics Programme. For more on EIFF's Student Critics Programme, click here

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