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Shiona Wood

Filmhouse education officer

Born: 25 September, 1948, in Edinburgh.

Died: 10 May, 2006, in Edinburgh, aged 57.

SHIONA Wood was, for the last 15 years, the most vibrant figure on the Scottish film scene. Where most film types wear linen and Converse trainers, or black jeans and denim, she took to the stage at Filmhouse and the Edinburgh International Film Festival in kingfisher kaftans, fuchsia turbans, waterfall earrings and necklaces that would bring lesser mortals to their knees.

But she was far more than the Carmen Miranda of the east coast. In the Sixties, long before "education, education, education", Wood had clocked that imagination and inspiration were as central to learning as facts.

At Edinburgh College of Art, in the late Sixties, she studied graphic design. Moving to London, she took the fashion and music scene's emphasis on lifestyle and mixed it with a love of Dada to become first an art teacher and then, in 1991, education officer at Filmhouse.

But Wood had no great fondness for the E word. It sounded bureaucratic and patrician to her and didn't capture the buzz and revelation of learning. When she arrived at Filmhouse, her work rate was phenomenal and she clearly became a formidable and progressive influence on the organisation's activities. Many independent cinemas were still developing an education strategy, but Wood's personality and skills put down the marker for the others.

Against the accusation that film theatres were arcane places, she plugged Filmhouse into the most recent, popular and fun ways of engaging with what people were actually watching and listening to. Not for her the dry analysis of early Bergman and a sprinkling of semiology. She knew that her audience inhabited a world where soaps, boy bands, computer games and fashion mattered. She also recognised the need for courses for media studies teachers. Her personal reading list was prodigious and she seemed driven to videotape countless television programmes (and watch them all) in thorough preparation.

She selflessly gave of her time with young film makers who came to Filmhouse. Before and after screenings, she always put them and their audiences at ease so that discussions were lively, not embarrassing. Soon, the directors of the Edinburgh International Film Festival saw how she brought an auditorium to life and she became their education officer too.

Though pop and youth culture remained a touchstone for Wood, it was bracing to watch her intellectual development throughout the Nineties. When television returned to history programming, she held discussions on the relationship between the medium and the past. In parallel was her passionate exploration of the culture of Native America. Again ahead of her time, she noticed that intergenerational work and discussions with older audiences was overlooked in film culture, so she started founding such groups.

Wood's legacy is likely to be Scottish Kids Are Making Movies (SKAMM), the charity she co-founded in 1993. SKAMM was about incubating teenage film talent, not through training (another word she didn't much like) but inspiration and sensory and imaginative stimulation. It embodied her manifesto and rationale, her passionate view of film and the world. Judging by their letters of recent days, its alumni who are working in or studying film realise what a towering figure she was in their lives.

As in life so in death, Wood was a class act. At her request, her funeral featured music as diverse as a Native American keening piece, To All My Relations, Johnny Cash and Peggy Lee. Mourners were asked to wear colours, and they left the crematorium to Abba's Dancing Queen.

On 1 July at 4pm, Filmhouse will screen Wood's favourite film, Mildred Pierce, the proceeds going to a range of North American, South Asian and animal charities. The screening is open to all, especially those who wear bright colours. "Colour is the place where the mind and the universe meet," wrote Paul Cezanne, an idea that Shiona Wood embodied.

 
 
 

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