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Filmmakers and artists head to Hawick for Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival

Parched Dreams - Hillary Andujar and Angela Chen

Over 50 filmmakers and artists from around the world will land in Hawick in the Scottish Borders on 2 March for the seventh edition of the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival. Screening more than 120 films at Heart of Hawick, with 24 world premieres, 12 moving images installations around the town, expanded cinema performances and a filmmaker symposium, Alchemy will transform Hawick into a hub for creativity for some of the world’s most imaginative moving images artists. We find out more about this year's festival from Creative Director Richard Ashrowan.

What inspired you to start the festival in Hawick in 2010?

At that time, I had been living in the Borders for eight years, making films and moving image installations, but there were very few opportunities to see the kind of films I like, and even fewer opportunities to show my own work, not only in the Borders, but across Scotland as a whole. So I travelled abroad a lot to show my work, and to see films. There was a distinct moment at the European Media Art Festival in Germany when I had the thought, “Why am I here in Germany? Why can’t something like this happen in Scotland?” And so it started. The logical thing would perhaps have been to position such a festival in one of the urban centres, but I really wanted to see if something could be made to work in Hawick, really as a kind of provocation to the prevailing urban-centrism in terms of culture. The real breakthrough came when I received such warm response to the idea from Heart of Hawick, so we went on to develop the festival in close partnership.

Play Me Something by John Berger - Marietta and Bruno

How would you describe the festival? How did it changed through all those years? What changes are you most proud of?

The festival is an international celebration of the most thought provoking film and moving image, it has become a real destination for filmmakers the world over. This year we will be screening over 120 films, including 24 World premieres. The location of the Festival in Hawick lends the visitor experience a special quality of friendliness and intimacy, an environment in which filmmakers, audiences and volunteers all mix, generating a real outpouring of creativity and conversation. The festival has grown enormously. In our first year, we received just 33 film submissions, but this year we attracted 1,000 international film submissions, and the festival will be attended by over 50 filmmakers from around the globe.

One of the things I feel especially proud of is that we have been able to support the development and training of the Moving Image Makers Collective, a thriving home-grown collective of Borders based filmmakers. We are delighted to be showing around 20 films made by this group in 2017.

Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival trailer 2017 from Alchemy Film Festival on Vimeo.

What's new this year? Is there a new event, film or filmmaker you’d like to shout about?

I’m excited to see the audience reaction to perhaps the World’s first ever surrealist experimental opera-musical, the UK premiere of Warsaw-based Karolina Bregula's The Tower, which follows the fate of a group of well-meaning community activists who decide that the solution to their social problems lies in building an enormous tower of sugar. Also un-missable is a film-walk by British artist Andrew Kötting, who will lead a raggle-taggle eight mile procession of artists and miscreants towards the Hermitage Castle and the spectral vision that is Mary Queen of Scots. And then there’s Alchemy’s tribute to the late John Berger, the Booker-prize-winning author of Ways of Seeing. In a special screening of his 1989 film Play Me Something, also featuring Tilda Swinton and Margaret Bennett, Berger narrates a politicised Venetian romance between a farm worker and a young bohemian woman, to a bemused waiting room of misfits in a desolate airport lounge on the Scottish island of Barra. It’s directed by Tim Neat, who will be present for a Q&A.

The Tower - K Bregula

Apart from doing all the marvellous work with films and moving image, Alchemy is now the curator of Scotland+Venice, presenting the work of Scottish artist-filmmaker Rachel Maclean. Will the audiences of the festival get a chance to see Rachel's work?

Yes, Rachel has been chosen to represent Scotland at the Venice Biennale in 2017, in a major national exhibition curated by Alchemy Film & Arts. It is a major opportunity both for Alchemy and for Rachel Maclean, in terms of our national and international profile. At the festival, we’ll be hosting the Scottish premiere of Rachel’s It's What's Inside That Counts. In this film she powerfully satirises the fears and desires of our contemporary zeitgeist, cloaked in a super-saturated aesthetic of fairy-tale consumer culture. Rachel will be present for a Q&A, discussing the evolution of her work and the themes of her new Venice commission.

Rachel Maclean - It's What's Inside That Counts

What is the favourite part of your job as the Creative Director? And the least?

The best bit of the job is seeing the conversations spark between all the filmmakers, volunteers and audiences at the festival – witnessing the new connections and possibilities this opens out. It’s a warm and vital experience for all involved. I also hugely enjoy the creative process of reviewing the films, and then constructing a programme out of that. In a way, putting together a film festival is very much like editing a film – the whole shape of the programme becomes a kind of story, a carefully crafted experience of film-watching and conversational encounters. With so many filmmakers wanting to be a part of it, it’s now become very competitive to get a film into the festival. So my least favourite part is having to say to so many talented filmmakers that we cannot fit their films in!

" In a way, putting together a film festival is very much like editing a film – the whole shape of the programme becomes a kind of story, a carefully crafted experience of film-watching and conversational encounters."- Richard Ashrowan

Alchemy is not just the festival. We've heard about your plans to expand into a year-round gallery on High Street. What can we expect?

Well, we’ve taken on a High Street shop with the aim of developing it as an exhibition space, showing a mixture of local film-installation artists and international work. We’ll also be using it to deliver a number of filmmaking workshops for local groups. Our hope is that this presence will help bring new life to the High Street – I strongly believe that arts and culture can regenerate communities and economies. We need visionary projects to do this, to lift the human spirit and encourage new ways of thinking. It’s a challenging and ambitious project for us, and residents of Hawick can expect at least four different exhibitions between now and August. Just watch this space!

Stills from: Parched Dreams - Hillary Andujar and Angela Chen, Play Me Something by John Berger - Marietta and Bruno, The Tower - K Bregula, Rachel Maclean - It's What's Inside That Counts

Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival 2017 runs from 2-6 March, book tickets and view the full programme.

This article was published on 20 Feb 2017