Scott Graham on Iona: video interview

Scott Graham sat down with The Skinny at Edinburgh International Film Festival to discuss his poignant drama Iona ahead of its world premiere at the festival

Video | 18 Mar 2016

Scottish filmmaker Scott Graham follows up his excellent debut, Shell, with Iona, which follows a young woman named Iona (Ruth Negga) and her son Bull (Ben Gallagher) as they hide out from the police on the Scottish island of the title following a violent incident at their home in Glasgow.

The Skinny speaks to Graham at the Edinburgh International Film Festival ahead of Iona's world premiere as the festival's closing gala. He tells us about the inspiration for the story, the challenges of shooting in some of Iona's most isolated locations and his personal relationship to the island.

Videography by Richard Ferguson.
Interview by Josh-Slater Williams

• Read our interview with Scott Graham, where he discusses debut feature Shell
• Read our review of Shell

Scott Graham on Iona:

On Iona's plot:
Iona is about a young woman who returns to the island of her birth with her teenage son to hide from a crime that they have committed. The film opens in a kitchen in Glasgow, there’s an act of violence that they run from, and the rest of the film takes place on the island of Iona. Really the story is about the impact that going back to the island has on her and her son, and also on the family that she left behind when she was a teenager.”

On where his initial idea came from:
“I’m not sure where the idea came from exactly – I think probably a mixture of things. I went there when I was ten, and I guess it never left me. When I was getting ready to make my first feature there was a delay of about six months, and I thought I would try and avoid that thing that happens to bands when they go from their first album to their second album, and I thought, ‘Oh, I better get the jump on this a little bit and develop something.’ So I had the first 30 pages, and I’ve always loved Witness, the Harrison Ford film, and I kind of knew I was going to do a film that explored the conflict between a parent and a child, and also a conflict with the place that they’re from, so all of that fed into the script.”

On the shoot:
“The way the shoot was structured was that we had two weeks. The first scenes that we shot were on the ferry, and we literally filmed as we went: we filmed the journey to the island and then filmed for two weeks on the island. We had no wet weather cover, no interior scenes to go to, so we just had to work with what we were given. We actually got great weather, but everything that we got, depending on what scene we were shooting, we just went with. In a way, we didn’t so much choose it as it just happened that way. And then, the island itself is very elemental, and I remember those rocks from when I was a kid, I went scouting for them. So those scenes at the end of Iona, by herself, on the beach, they were in the script from memory from when I’d been there when I was little.”

On the location:
“The location was important in Shell, the isolation there, but it’s kind of in the background. But with Iona I wanted her to directly connect with the island and to almost seem like she’s at war with it, and some of my favourite scenes are the ones where she’s by herself on the island. I went back there in the springtime with our location manager, and we walked for two or three days looking for the locations, or looking for the ones that I remembered.

“We didn’t really look for places that were easy or simpler to film in, we found what we wanted and then figured out how we were going to get the crew up there and how much equipment we were going to be able to use, and that did mean we had a smaller crew while we were there. We shot on the AMIRA, which is the sister model to the ALEXA, and I think it was designed with shooting documentaries in mind – it’s a bit lighter than the ALEXA. So we were able to work quite quickly and climb up mountains and stuff. We had a health and safety person with us, but when I saw the rushes i was surprised how dangerous it looked.”

Iona is released on 25 Mar by Verve