In My Opinion: Mike Wilson: Applause too self-conscious for festival opener

PETER Broughan would have enjoyed the reaction to his vision of nine years ago. Now no longer billed as the sole producer of the opening film to this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, but as one of a trio, he chose to stay away. A walking trip in Ardnamurchan, on Scotland’s west coast, offered sanctuary from what would have been an emotionally draining experience, of whatever variety: high or low.

He considers himself to be owed the most money from a production that was threatened with a pre-screening protest by members of the trade union, Bectu, on behalf of those film crew members also owed money – some of whom will be blaming Broughan. As reported on Spike, the threat was dropped, in the hope that the film is a success, earns money, and helps pay some bills.

The Flying Scotsman should be a success. It is a good movie – not without its flaws, admittedly, but a good movie. But it is a movie still without a distributor, though, in his welcoming speech, EIFF chair, John McCormick strongly hinted at one in the pipeline.

Credit also to artistic director, Shane Danielsen. His last welcome speech, ahead of his tenure coming to an end, after five years, was about the role of a festival to provide surprises, to re-kindle awe in the filmmaker’s craft. As the festival opener, The Flying Scotsman was therefore a brave and noble choice. If containing few stylistic surprises, it was a Scottish movie for a Scottish festival, a moving story well-told.

With The Flying Scotsman, the surprises were not in the director’s cut, but the fact that it got on screen at all.

For its part, however, the audience failed its screen test.

The applause was long by most standards, but it wasn’t long enough. That the cinema’s acoustics may have dampened the vigorous clapping of some, there was no standing ovation, there were no flowers, there were no cheers to ring loudly in the ears of prospective distributors, to be heard as far afield as Ardnamurchan.

The applause was too self-conscious. If Scottish film wants the Edinburgh International Film Festival to be recognised as one of the world’s best, it has to be every bit as passionate about its chosen craft as any audience in the world.

When First Minister, Jack McConnell, sitting in the audience, was introduced, there was no applause. It was partly to do with the cadence of McCormick’s voice – applause was not cued up properly – but it is towards McConnell that many in Scottish film look for more funding – both of the festival and the industry. As a charm offensive, the silence was a disaster.

The opening night of this year’s festival ought not to have been just another night at the movies. But a lack of razzmatazz threatened to make it so. It ought to have been Scottish film proclaiming itself loud and proud.

The Flying Scotsman is about a man with an extraordinary talent but still haunted by deep anxiety. It was made against the odds. How much more of a metaphor for Scotland and Scottish film could it have been?

Sadly, not all of the audience seemed to grasp its historic and emotional significance.

Mike Wilson is a director of allmediascotland.com.