The fourth Central Scotland Documentary Festival (CSDF) showcases a roster of 21 films, with a number of premieres on the national and international stage – and, for the first time, there are two awards up for grabs. The festival’s founder, Grahame Reid, shares his approach to and aspirations for Stirling’s up-and-coming film fest.
What led you to start the Central Scotland Documentary Festival (CSDF)?
About six and a half years ago, our new artistic director at Macrobert Arts Centre asked me what I would do for film within the organisation. I replied, “Film is a constant at Macrobert, but the one thing it doesn’t have is a moment for itself.” She asked me what I would do to change that, and right off the bat I knew it would be a documentary festival. Stirling is the birthplace of John Grierson, who’s known as the father of documentary – he actually coined the term ‘documentary’ – and Macrobert is based on a university campus which is renowned for documentary filmmaking. My long term aspiration is for CSDF to become a festival of national significance, sitting on the film calendar just like the festivals in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
What should we expect from CSDF?
Film is probably the most accessible of all the art forms – and there’s something in there for everyone when it comes to documentary. Everybody has an opinion on something, and documentaries are opinion pieces. So when I curate the festival, I try to touch as many different points as I can to make sure no one’s excluded. For example, there’s ‘Alien on Stage’ which is about amateur dramatics, but also things like ‘Displaced’ which follows the Holocaust, and a whole breadth of things in between.
The festival opens with ‘Quant’, a documentary about “the queen of the mini-skirt”, and closes with ‘Iorram’ (read our interview with Iorram director Alastair Cole), featuring Gaelic stories from the Hebrides over the last century. Why did you choose these films to bookend the festival?
‘Quant’ is very much about finding something incredibly accessible. Something that influences daily lives now, wasn’t too heavy and which has been in the media relatively recently. That’s to do with the V&A’s ‘Quant’ exhibition, which they reopened with after lockdown ended.
I chose to close the festival with ‘Iorram’ because it was the most popular film we released during the pandemic on our Macrobert player. It also has local connections. The film’s production company (Bofa Productions) is based in Bridge of Allan, just up the road from us.
‘Iorram’ is the first feature documentary done exclusively in Gaelic. Were you tempted to put more Gaelic films in?
This year was the first that we opened up the festival to submissions. If we had more room within that we would have looked at least at one more film in Gaelic – but one of the things I try not to do with a documentary festival things is find themes. As soon as you start finding themes, you start to narrow everything down.
The festival celebrates creative documentary and non-fiction filmmaking. What’s the difference between the two categories?
I would suggest that ‘creative documentary’ is your standard documentary – talking heads talking on a subject and deep diving in. ‘Non-fiction’ would be using the likes of reconstruction. There’s a lot of dramatisation within ‘Quant’, for example, as it’s all based on history.
You’ve mentioned that Stirling has a claim to be the home of documentary. What else does the location of Stirling bring to the festival?
The fact that we are right in the central belt, easily travelled to from Glasgow and Edinburgh, means that it brings those cities together. There’s a lot of heritage here too, being Scotland’s old capital city, which draws people in from the tourism side as well.
The festival is happening just as we’re about to start with COP26. Were you tempted to have an environmental theme to link it in?
If you were looking for an environmental theme, you could find it. But there’s so much happening out there around COP26. To be just to be another voice within that would be a silly market mistake, if nothing else. The idea is for this festival to grow to one of national significance and I don’t think it needs to tie in with that.
What is your personal highlight?
The fact that we have a competition for two awards – Audience Award and Jury Award. Being able to open up the competition shows how the festival has grown. The quality of films that we received made it really hard to narrow it down to 12 (my biggest worry was, I’d maybe only have three good documentaries).
What do you expect the difference in criteria to be between the Audience Award and the Jury Award?
In the Jury Award, the panel will look at things a lot more technically – the structure of the documentary, the pacing of it. The audience will look more towards the content of it, whether they get invested in the story or not. They will be forgiving of a little bit of misplaced music, or an interlude which maybe should have been cut half a second before, something like that. It’s not to say that you won’t have audience members who are aware of the technical side, or that some of the jury members won’t be forgiving if the story hasn’t been told before, or is told in a different and exciting way.
The Central Scotland Documentary Festival is on from Thursday 28th October until Monday 1st November at the Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling