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THE ALCHEMY FILM FESTIVAL: Scottish Borders creativity celebrations

I’ve just come back from the Alchemy Film Festival in Scotland, right in the heart of the Scottish Borders. People from all around the globe gathered in the town of Hawick to participate to this great celebration of film, video and creativity that evolved around the theme of nature and its relationship with man. Therefore the name ALCHEMY, I think.
http://www.alchemyfilmfestival.org.uk/

It was such rich and fulfilling experience that I don’t even know where to start from now.

 
Maybe I should begin from Brady, the person who I met first and who drove all the way down to Carlisle to pick me up at the train station. This irish wonder woman steaming energy out of every pore is Mrs Ashrowen, Richard Ashrowen’s wife!

 

Her  energy and skills greatly contributed to the success of the Alchemy festival. 
It was really refreshing to see their young  teen agers daughters participating and helping out during the event. Not to mention wonderful Becki and a whole team of magnificent volunteers who chipped in with their time and energy to make sure everything went as smoothly as it did!

I am always most ineterested and intrigued by the behind the scenes protagonists. To get acquainted with Brady and her family while racing through the winding country roads was the best introduction to the event one could possible imagine.

Even if all films were protagonists of the event, to me Brady and Richard were a delightful highlight: a perfect yin and yang assortment. Richard with his calming relaxed energy perfectly balanced out by Brady’s dynamism.
 

After our car race to Hawick, I catapulted myself into this brand new cosy cinema theatre. I was just about in time for my video screening (Caught in a Shell). I am not sure how my Q&A went. I was still all over the place when I stepped on the sudden stage.

This was the first time I have ever seen one of my videos in such large scale. WOW! It was scary and exciting all at once, maybe a bit embarrassing too. I felt very vulnerable as well as proud but If I had had access to editing equipment I would have not resisted the temptation to start cutting ‘n chopping a little here ‘n a bit there, until nothing left! 

A close friend who lives in London happen to be there too, his scottish mother lives just few miles away so we had lunch in this cosy little library-cafe called Damascus serving really nice simple food. I understand it’s David’s favourite cafe in the whole of Scotland!
That, I think, was the last time I had a half decent meal. The rest of the weekend was full on and non stop. 

But I was there for a reason: to get the most out of the event. 


I normally never really have much time to enjoy video and film works. And watching them on a little laptop screen is not much fun either. Like probably most people attending, I too was hard core. I made sure not to miss out on anything even if it meant to skip meals, something that I rarely like to do!

 

Each session was completed by a Q&A. A vital part of the festival that helped to partly process some of the images and information, although I think I will need couple of months to metabolize all the inputs I have been sponging in that short time!

I was surprise to see how many artists and film makers from across the world gathered in that small village.  The festival was just right in size and the Ashrowens’ warm presence reflected onto the event. A sense of connectedness scented the festival atmosphere. Everybody there was easily approachable and ego free. Even I felt comfortable as I normally tend to shy out from big and intellectual crowds………….

All along I felt very honoured to be part of such wonderful event. I wonder if somebody felt I was a bit of an intruder, me coming from a different art branch and having no technical knowledge as so ever.  Most artists there were definitely in a different league, especially for what concerns film making. I felt it was important to make sure that I was not claiming a territory that is not mine……Yet it was nice to have such diverse variety of films  and videos approaches………Which gave me some peace of mind and a purpose to be there……..
Thank you Richard!
Richard Ashrowen is the curator of the Alchemy film festival as well as an artists himself: 
http://www.ashrowan.com/

What was nice as well was to see local people venturing through the festival.

I was also pleased to notice how many ‘successful’ artists from London and around, returning to their places of origin and creating a very vibrant artists community.
Many of these artists people live in farms in the surrounding countryside. I in fact was very lucky to swap my arranged hotel accommodation for a treat. Scottish artist Helen Douglas welcomed me over her beautiful mill in Yarrow. This not only allowed me to get to know an amazing insightful artist but also to taste the flavour of that very special part of Scotland.
Staying at Helen’s was also very helpful to process the festival experience. In the evening and at breakfast we would share impressions and discuss into detail what had captured us the most. Helen Douglas is an amazing art-book artist, you can have a peek at her work on her website:

Definitely the french do shine and stand out in this art discipline. I got the impression that they are very strongly supported by their government. How wonderful! This of course makes such a big difference and contributes to further many film makers works. 

Despite many french masterpieces, the film that has inspired me the most was Ben Rivers’ ‘Two years at sea’. Jack the scottish hermit featured in the film was there too and mingled with us invited to celebrate and to share his experience. This I thought it a very touching touch. I loved to be able to speak to him and hear his side of the story.


Out of the french videos I really liked Mihai Grecu film ‘Centipede Sun’ the most. The most refreshing and poetic short film was with no doubts Sean Martin’s one. Chilean Enrique Ramirez film shot between Bolivia and Bethun in France was another grand work as well as British film ‘Snowdown’, brilliantly funny and yet very poetic. Jaques Perconte impressionist inspired film was also beautifully impressive.


American filmmaker Robert Todd videos belong to my list of interesting works too. ‘Undergrowth’ featured beautiful shots of a most stunning example of the owl species. The owl eyes acted as a surveillance camera detecting the surrounding woods and throwing those images back at us: the audience.  At the beginning I did not particularly feel for his works.  ‘Undergrowth’ I felt was a little too long for me, and I missed the first part of ‘Within’. But since back at home these works have been growing on me. Especially the film ‘Within’, which has been resonating in the back of my mind making me really appreciate e sensitive frenzied sensitivity inhabiting those images. 

Often I find my self wondering how many artists use this popular medium to actually really connect with their audience rather than run off on our own tortuous intellectual or technical art making tangent. My personal search as an artist is to attempt to bridge over and not just to intellectual crowds. I especially care for reaching out and relate to all sort of different people. Through my artwork I seek a balanced (if such thing can ever exist!) compromise between my personal artistic endeavors of pushing boundaries of new ways of understanding, thinking and of perceiving the world, whilst trying to give access and welcome the viewers rather than make them feel inadequate and therefore scaring them away.

I strongly feel that this festival was successful at reaching this balance in a very inclusive way.

The male dominance in the film industry (maybe that’s why it  has become an industry in the first place) it’s a clear fact even in this context. To have the festival end with a strong female presence was the final magic touch. Artist and film maker Catriona Taylor
was commissioned by the Alchemy Film Festival to make a film. The result was a very poetic documentary on the Hawick Common Riding, a subject that truly involved the whole local community filling up the theatre seats with the town’s inhabitants, who I felt were very well represented and presented.

Overall the success of  this event lies in Richard choice to leave room for the in between. I loved that the hybrid was another protagonist , leaving the door open to an infinite number of possibilities and interpretations.


To conclude I still have to tell you about Saturday and Sunday for the sake of a fair ending!

On Saturday evening a reception was arranged but it had to be brief and we ended it by carrying our drinks and food into the cinema as of course film was the main focus.


Later that night a video lab session lit up the Tower Mill foyer but by then Helen and I were exhausted and left Jack to live the lime night city light, as he said. He was there for the party and very rightly so! I was only sorry that I could not carry on and needed some rest instead.


On Sunday morning a bus drove us out of town into nature to experience a screening in William Johnstone house. We walked into the remote beautiful scottish valley of Ettrik to reach a small house where a generator was pumping images out onto the bare walls.  This film has revealed a great british artist that I did not know. His closeness and insight on nature will make me look for his autobiography……
 
I swear it was full on, but in the best possible  way…….
…..A truly memorable experience…..


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About Claudia Borgna

Claudia Borgna artist

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