As a literature grad, the name Sea Change sparks thoughts of Ariel’s monologue in The Tempest, and Sylvia Plath’s chilling poem Full Fathom Five, which details an omnipresent paternalism that threatens to surface with the ebbing tide. Plath, especially, explores how the fear of seeing it (the patriarchy) rear its ugly head is much less haunting than the knowledge that it’s lurking in the depths of everything, in the way our society is structured, and in the way we see ourselves; ‘exiled to no good’.
However, the Screen Argyll’s Sea Change is a very different take on its namesake. At the festival dedicated to celebrating women behind the camera, there is not even a whiff of the (sometimes) immaterial (but very real) threat of patriarchal oppression that Ariel and Plath speak of, but instead unbridled joy at the creativity of women working in film today.
It’s not just the feminist focus, nor that it’s set on the beautiful island of Tiree that makes the festival so special. It’s the intimacy. Filmmakers, festival-goers, curators and islanders all share lifts between venues, eat jacket potatoes in the community centre An Talla, and swim (if trying not to get floored by waves can count as swimming) in the wild waters together, spotting seals and sea otters (if you’re lucky).
A particular focus of the festival this year was celebrating 100 years of 16mm film, with workshops and screenings. This included a masterclass, workshop and several screenings by artist Mairéad McClean (check out our interview where we go into more detail about her work here), and Julia Parks whose workshops included delving into the tricky process of developing film in seaweed, followed by a trip to the beach with insights on how to forage safely and sustainably, and ‘Circle’, a participatory 16mm exercise. Inspired by folk ecology, Julia’s work is playful and investigative, with shorts Seaweed and Tell me about the Burryman and Boat Film all in communication with various forms, including documentary, anthropology, and experimental art film.
A particular masterclass that stuck with me was Getting your first feature made with Emma Davie (I Am Breathing, Becoming Animal, The Oil Machine). Most of the people in attendance were fellow filmmakers, and the discussion was open, equal, and to aspiring filmmakers, bolstering. The point Emma really wanted to stress is that you’ll never feel ready, so you might as well just go and do it. The reason this stuck with me is because this sentiment encapsulated the spirit of the festival, showcasing all of the wonderful things we can create when we don’t wait for permission.
Of the features on show, this highlight was definitely Jacquelyn Mills’ Geographies of Solitude, a stunningly tender glimpse into naturalist and environmentalist Zoe Luca’s work on the remote Sable Island, her only company: washed-up balloons from the 80s, stout and wild Sable horses, seals, and lots of bugs (many of whom are casualties of her research). There was also a special preview of Anna Hint’s first feature documentary, Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, which, dear readers, you’re going to want to see when it comes out in cinemas this month, more on this in the October issue.
The word I keep coming back to describe Sea Change is special. It’s rare that you get to spend time in a place that truly welcomes you, no matter your age, experience, gender etc.
Finally, some tips for if you go for the first time next year: bring travel sickness pills for the ferry (I learnt the hard way), swimming utensils (you will be goaded into going in in your pants otherwise), and a camera if you have one.
Sea Change will be back on Tiree next September, keep up to date with the good folk at Screen Argyll here. They also have a new streaming platform, where you can rent Geographies of Solitude and more.