Home-grown offerings gather mixed reviews

IF THE unstarry line-up of films at this year's Bafta Scotland awards was anything to go by, the country's film industry needs a new lease of life.

Stone of Destiny, one of three best film contenders, has been the movie UK reviewers have loved to hate. One Conservative MSP denounced its retelling of the theft of the Stone of Scone as "drivel".

The second, Outpost, received marginally more respectful but still lacklustre reviews for its tale of Nazi zombie soldiers on the prowl in eastern Europe, while the third, Summer, has yet to be released.

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On the acting front, there were just three names – Brian Cox, Robert Carlyle and the little-known Alia Alzougbi – apparently considered worthy of contesting the award for best film performance. Hollywood, it ain't.

So how can Scotland better support its home-grown film industry? Can we afford to – and would we want to? This year's Bafta line-up, with the notable exception of Summer, starring Robert Carlyle, is frankly feeble.

Some in the industry argue that what is most needed is more cash, well above the meagre 2.2 million in lottery money Scottish Screen currently has to distribute annually. Even that amount will drop next spring, agency staff say, when the 2012 Olympics eats into lottery spending.

Another concern is the future of the film budget as the merger of Scottish Screen with the Scottish Arts Council into Creative Scotland progresses, with reports this year that the bureaucratic process was costing three times Scottish Screen's annual budget. "With more money to invest we could have a bigger film industry," said an agency spokeswoman.

But others argue that the best and most successful low-budget films are made in places such as the United States, where film-makers have to fight to raise cash privately. If they are good enough, this argument goes, they should be able to raise the money without going to the government.

Alastair Harkness, The Scotsman's film reviewer, said: "All it needs is better film-makers and proper producers going out and getting the money for challenging films. I don't think there's much point in trying to increase government funding."

So, just how feeble was this year's slate? In 2007, there was a separate best actress category, albeit with just one contender – Sophia Myles, for her performance in Hallam Foe, a high point of the Scottish film year. Last year, too, had a heavyweight commercial film in the mix, The Last King of Scotland, for which James McAvoy won best actor as the Scottish doctor adopted as Idi Amin's personal physician.

In 2006, it was again a mixed bag. The top films that year included The Flying Scotsman, about the cycling champion Graeme Obree. It faced similar, if less pointed, complaints to Stone of Destiny that it was a feel-good nostalgia trip that didn't deliver. There was, however, Red Road, a tight and edgy low-budget thriller filmed in Glasgow, which, with its star Kate Dickie, won a series of awards here and in Europe.

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This year, Summer was clearly the stand-out film when it premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival. But although it had a Scottish director and Scottish star, Robert Carlyle, it was set in northern England. However, it still managed to walk away with the Bafta for best film last night.

There seemed little serious competition, from the "toe-curling" Stone of Destiny – which nevertheless was shortlisted for several awards – or Outpost, whose "many problems" were blamed by one reviewer on its "cripplingly low budget".

Lacking was a Trainspotting or a Rob Roy, or a wider range of quality art-house films of the kind recent years have thrown up, from Festival to Young Adam.

"This is really a line-up of the films that were made in Scotland, rather than the best films," concludes Alastair Harkness. "I don't really see the point of it. It doesn't seem to be a reflection of anything particularly of merit, apart from Summer."

Have the wrong funding calls been made? Take, for example, The Jacket, produced by George Clooney. It received about 100,000 in Scottish funding, but disappeared without trace.

However, Scottish Screen claims about 5 million of the total 20 million budget was spent filming in Scotland, so there is an economic, if not a critical, argument.

The agency is now bitterly defending its decision to back Stone of Destiny, after Tory MSP Murdo Fraser condemned the 500,000 of lottery money invested in it – and he has admitted he had not seen it, but just read reviews. Scottish Screen claims the Canadian production company spent more than 2 million in Scotland, more than Scottish Screen's entire annual budget, and that it employed more than 145 Scottish crew during filming.

Richard Mowe, a film writer and director of the French Film Festival UK, said: "Throwing money at it isn't the answer, but more money would help. On paper, maybe Stone of Destiny looked OK, it's just the result was lamentable. Maybe there needs to be a closer watch on films in production, and on development and scripts before they get into production."

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Mowe says plenty of cash is going to short films in Scotland, giving new film-makers a place to start, but there is a lack of follow-through. In France, 40 per cent of films in production are by first- or second-time directors. But French television has by law to show a certain percentage of French films, ensuring they get an airing.

In recent years Scottish Screen has increased its spending on film education. This year it also announced it would give nearly 1 million to a group of "culture cinema hubs" in Scotland which show a wide range of films to diverse audiences. These include, presumably, Scottish films. Beneficiaries ranged from the Edinburgh Filmhouse to Dundee Contemporary Arts.

The actor Brian Cox – who took the best film actor title last night – says a major problem faced by British films is the "scurrilous" system of distribution. His film, The Escapist fared well in reviews but went almost straight to DVD.

"We should guarantee at least a portion of our cinemas show British film," he said recently. "We are constantly fighting the blockbuster. Our government should help by making sure certain British films have a place and are not fighting against the 12th Batman."


Directed by Charles Martin Smith

Starring Charlie Cox, Billy Boyd, Robert Carlyle, Kate Mara

Review Alistair Harkness

"Whatever Smith's motivation for casting his outsider eye on the true story of the four students who broke into Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve 1950 to steal back the Coronation Stone, he's turned a potentially rousing tale into a feeble caper full of toe-curling national stereotypes, tourist-board visuals and bluntly scripted platitudes that spell out the film's themes in 72-point bold.

"Not once does he attempt to interrogate the psyche of a nation dealing with the intricacies of an issue as complex and incendiary as home rule."


Directed by Steve Barker

Starring Julian Wadham, Ray Stevenson

Review Alistair Harkness

"Filmed in the south of Scotland but set in an unspecified part of war-torn Eastern Europe, Steve Barker's low-budget Brit horror is a good-looking if somewhat derivative splatterfest that makes a determined effort to build some atmosphere before letting rip with teeth-chiselling, eye-gouging, skull-squishing gore.

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"A race of Nazi ghost soldiers is the main selling point as a band of grizzled mercenaries – led by a weary Ray Stevenson – provide protection for a businessman covertly investigating a bunker that was once home to sinister German experiments during the Second World War."


Directed by Kenny Glenann

Starring Robert Carlyle, Steve Evets, Rachael Blake

UK release date 5 December

The eagerly awaited Summer is released in the UK in time for Christmas. It has already gained critical acclaim at film festivals this year, including the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where Robert Carlyle picked up the Best Performance award. His portrayal of Shaun, who spends his time caring for his wheelchair-bound best friend, has been described as a career-best performance.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival review of the film said: "Watchful, damaged, fixated on his own past and fraught in his efforts to be good, Carlyle's Shaun is a heartbreakingly recognisable creation."