Submitted by on 04-02-2016 11:12:08
Text and images by Alexandra Nicolae, Youth Forum Member.
On the 10th December the BFI’s Britain on Film screening project arrived in the small and quiet town of St Andrews. Despite the cold weather outside, the warmth inside the New Picture House welcomed all those who were interested to see the films that were being screened.
From Glasgow Trams a black and white silent film to Wealth of a Nation a black and white sound film to films made in the 1970s : Livingston – A Plan For Living, a film about housing development in Scotland and A Place To Begin – St Andrews By The Northern Sea, a film about the University of St Andrews and its students – the screening captivated the viewers, both the residents of St Andrews and the neighbouring area and those few student who found enough time in their busy exam schedules to fit in a couple of hours at the cinema. The experience was unique to everyone. In the first few minutes of the silent film everyone got into character behaving just like any cinema goer did in the early 1900s, before the development of sound for film. People chatted, laughed and pointed out the places in Glasgow they recognized.
After a short immersion into silent film, it was difficult to bring the audience back to watch silently a sound film in which the dialogue of the people is just as important as the moving images in front of you. The history and story behind the second film, explained by curator Shona Thomson, was fascinating and tumultuous; initially, a film meant to advertise Scotland, Wealth of a Nation was rejected for showing too much of the working class and the Scottish industry rather than the beauty and wilderness of Scotland. Ironically, it was later shown to the audiences not in the U.K. but rather at a New York fair. Livingston – A Plan For Living was a film which the audiences of the 1970s would have watched as a prelude to the films they actually paid to see – very much like today’s long advertisements you are forced to endure through at the cinema before your film actually begins.
However, the value of this film today lies in its portrayal of a facet of Scottish society, helpful to both historians and film historians. A Place To Begin – St Andrews By The Northern Sea is a film partly funded by the university and it presents the life of students and locals in St Andrews, emphasizing the history of the town and its university. Ironically, despite the funding, the university decided not to endorse the film as it contained scenes showing the infamous elitist student society, the Kate Kennedy Club.
The night ended with a discussion panel formed by curator and tour producer Shona Thomson, elected member of the St Andrews Community Council Penny Uprichard and director of A Place to Begin and recipient of BAFTA award for Lifetime Achievement Mark Littlewood. The discussion engaged the audience as well, looking at the past and current situation of housing conditions in the area and in Scotland, and analysing and appreciating clips from Litttlewood’s film for his editing and shooting technique. There were also questions about the process of filming and the work involved. Some members of the audience experienced a new type of film be it silent, archival, black and white or documentary; others relived the cinema experience of the past, re-watching the films of their youth. Either way the experience was possible thanks to BFI’s help and the work of the curator who dug through mountains of archival films in order to find the gems hidden underneath the dust.