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Spotlight on: Take One Action

Programmer Xuanlin Tham is breathing new life into the Scottish film and arts organisation with an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach

For 16 years, Take One Action has been applying the power of film, artistry, and community activism for social and environmental justice in Scotland. Recently, we’ve noticed the organisation seems to be entering a period of evolution, embarking on an intriguingly multi-arts approach – the highlight of attending the latest edition of their festival.

Take One Action returned in December for its 16th edition, with an expertly-curated programme revolving around the theme of ‘Renewal’, which is something curator Xuanlin Tham, who also helmed programming for 2022’s edition, longs for not just across the arts landscape, but across ‘our interconnected society and our collective response to crisis’, according to the festival programme. 

TOAFF23: Geographies of Solitude. Photo by Ingrid Mur

Over four days in Glasgow, the festival – spanning screenings, artist moving image, poetry, dance, workshops and art assemblies – embarked on a rich and varied artistic approach to the festival’s central question: ‘what would it mean to move through old materials, systems, and ways of being, to build radical hope together?’

It was fascinating to see a long-standing film festival take risks with its programming and vibrantly, confidently enter the multi-arts space, a notable shift since Tham stepped into the shoes of curator. Across the festival, the CCA Theatre was transformed fluidly between screening space, artist moving image exhibition, performance stage for dance and poetry, and assembly space for Scotland’s creatives. Audiences were invited to mix in the ‘Room for Renewal’, a temporary change to the CCA Clubroom which reimagined it as a space to learn about climate action, political action, community action and the meeting points between them all. Ways to engage included a drop-in collaging workshop, and a collaboration with The Nature Library, which brought a co-curated selection of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction to furnish a reading and reflection space during the festival.

It was an innovative curatorial choice to prologue the opening film – a documentary called Geographies of Solitude about environmentalist Zoe Lucas and her work on Sable Island off the Canadian coast – with different disciplines of art that share its regenerative themes, drawing out its ecological scope and tactility, but creatively showcasing the expansiveness of the festival’s imagination. 

TOAFF23: Geographies of Solitude. Photo by Ingrid Mur

As the first element to a decisively multi-medium programme, I Find Myself Scattered set the tone for the festival: a collaborative performance by poet Alycia Pirmohamed and choreographer Gwynne Bilski, it grounded the audience and the space itself in the captivating possibilities of live performance in dialogue with the screen. While Pirmohamed read poetry aloud – a beautifully composed meditation on seeds, intergenerational knowledge, and our bodily entanglements with ecology, this imagery was physically echoed by Bilski’s movements live on-stage, such as dispersing seeds and contorting her body to evoke the growth of a plant. The atmosphere was evocative: an intimate honing of audiences’ attention for the evening to come. Also worth celebrating was the great work of BSL interpreter Sarah Forrester, who provided excellent artistic interpretation for Pirmohamed and Bilski’s performance, highlighting TOA’s long-standing commitment to improving accessibility at their events.

TOAFF23: Geographies of Solitude. Photo by Ingrid Mur

In further illustration of the spectrum of artistic variation showcased by the festival, the evening included the exhibition of a series of non-narrative, silent and organically processed Super 8 moving image works by young artists. Created in a series of workshops put on in partnership with Sett Studios and Stills Centre for Photography, they showcased an alternate future for the obsolete home-video medium which is nowadays avoided not just for its scarcity and resulting expense, but for the harsh chemicals involved in its development process. 

As explained in Tham’s introduction, the artist who collaborated with TOA on the ‘Super 8 Rebels’ workshops, Lydia Beilby, specialises in developing the reels in non-toxic solutions made from everyday, comestible products like coffee and extracted vitamin C in supplement form. Geographies of Solitude, I Find Myself Scattered and the works of Super 8 Rebels made for an intriguingly layered, innovative evening of ecological arts programming – spanning the microscopic to the vast, the personal to the global. 

TOAFF23: Geographies of Solitude. Photo by Ingrid Mur

After such an accomplished festival, it’s an exciting time to keep eyes on Take One Action and what’s next for this innovative organisation as it continues its collaborative approach year-round. Upcoming events this month include collaborations with Govanhill Baths’ Climate Action Festival in Glasgow, with a focus on sustainability in the textile industry, echoing the festival’s concern with ‘renewal’. With a new director in post, and a talented team at the helm, the future looks bright: we can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Take One Action’s 16th Edition took place in December 2023, in Glasgow.

Main Photo credit: Ingrid Mur

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