The Bayview

In The Bayview, Susie runs an unofficial hostel for the local migrant fishermen in Macduff. I say hostel, but it is a home, Susie makes sure of that. That is her goal, to give these sailors a home away from home. You see her cooking Ghanaian dishes, trying to get the recipe just right, so they can have a home cooked meal like they would at their family table.

The Bayview is one of those documentaries that shines a light on the extraordinary kindness that goes unremarked as ordinary life. Susie is an American who took over a derelict hotel in Macduff on the north-east coast of Scotland. There with her family, Jim and Matt, she lets the local fishermen come and stay while ashore, giving them the opportunity to sleep in a proper bed.

I know nothing about fishing or sailing, so it hadn’t really occurred to me that sailors who work in the UK, but are from abroad, are limited in their time onshore. It’s mad to me that if you’re working in this country, contributing to this country, there should be any issue or restriction on you actually setting foot on it. Migrant fisherman account for almost a quarter of Scotland’s fisherman – that’s a huge number! – but many end up having to stay on their ships, even while at port, sleeping in bunks, eating in whatever passes for a cramped galley. Susie’s is one place they can go where none of that is an issue.

I loved Susie, she patters about this big house that has that really good cluttered feel of a well lived-in home, full of different people’s knick-knacks and stuff and personal decorating touches. It’s a place that is the opposite of a sterile showroom, or anonymous facility. It has that good mismatched jumble your gran’s has, where you’re welcome to add your own. She’s always making herself useful, cutting hair or cooking dinner, or sitting to chat with the guys.

Her son Matt is the most laid back dude ever. He is this really softly-spoken but hefty built Tongan-American guy. A gentle giant, he helps his mum deliver care packages to the sailors still on the ships and similarly keeps the place up for the ones who come to stay. But while she has a bit of bustle to her, he is super chill.

You can tell the appreciation the fisherman have for Susie, calling her Mama. It’s the simple things, like when they have difficulties with renewing visas, or figuring out how to comply with rules and regulations, it makes them feel less alone when someone says, come over, rest at mine, relax.

A lovely short documentary about the wee heroes who make life better for others in small, unobtrusive ways.

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Field Notes On Love

Field Notes On Love is a short film essay on a filmmaker finding a language in which to describe their love for an ecologist. Although told in the third person, it seems to be autobiographical, a documentary quoting diary entries that interrogate the ambivalence of overpowering love.

The setting of the film is a walk through Scottish coastal forest and wild meadow. Juliet Stevenson’s sultry voice narrates both the filmmaker’s romantic reticence in her diaries and the reflective academic ecological journal article subjects. Both question the possibility of whole identity separate from interrelationship in contextual life. And while there will always be conflict, in the push and pull for difference and dominance, that is part of the bonds that hang together, the dynamic which holds co-existence in its ever-changing equilibrium.

A nice little film.

Life of Riley

Life of Riley is a short, black-and-white film about a homeless guy who is jumped and his dog is injured defending him. The dog is his only companion, and the vet’s prognosis for the injury isn’t good. The film follows his emotional turmoil as he comes to terms with what has happened. Grim.

Too Rough

Absolutely excellent short film. Too Rough is about Nick, a young guy whose boyfriend Charlie accidentally oversleeps at his house, and is witness to the chaos of Nick’s dysfunctional and abusive family.

The film opens with Nick and Charlie at a house party. Nick feels out of place at this party full of openly queer people, all a little older and a lot more middle class. While Charlie navigates the party with ease, Nick is withdrawn and drinking in the corner. He clearly feels like he is Charlie’s bit of rough, and swings between a crippling sense of inferiority and imposter syndrome, and a drunken sense of bravado when he feels threatened by another guy talking to his man. It’s this bravado that causes him to give in to Charlie’s requests to stay over at his place for a change.

When Nick awakes to find Charlie still in his bed, all that bravado melts away, and sheer panic replaces it. Ruaridh Mollica’s performance as Nick is absolutely excellent, from the tremor in his hands to the catch of his breath. The sense of shame is palpable as Nick openly resents Charlie for staying until his family were up. “I hope you’re enjoying your trip to the zoo,” he tells him, as his drunken parents begin their dawn-to-dusk screaming match. Because he knows Charlie will see that he is not some tough, but actually a scared boy, trembling with fear in anticipation of blows always about to fall.

Charlie clearly has no idea what a life like Nick’s is like. Charlie is too laid back, speaks too loudly, and initially rolls his eyes at Nick’s requests for him to sneak out. He treats the fact that he’s slept in as no big deal. It’s only over the course of the day, hiding out in Nick’s room listening to the arguments rain down like artillery fire, that he begins to understand just what Nick is dealing with. As Nick tries to push him away so he won’t see his shame, Charlie only holds tighter to him.

This is a love story. It’s about Charlie seeing part of Nick that allows him to love him on a deeper level, and Nick experiencing for the first time a complete sense of acceptance, and support. In this way, despite its bleak setting, it is a hopeful story.

Honestly just an excellent short film.

Kin

A mother takes her daughter camping in an attempt to reconnect in this short film. There’s clearly a history here, as the daughter is furious to the point of tears, and lashes out with an unkind comment. On the other hand, the mother seems to be trying to force some connection without regard for her daughter’s raw emotional state, or any willingness to address the underlying issues. Her daughter feels like she’s being used as a prop in this piece of performative parenting, just decoration in this picture of what her mother thinks happy families do, going camping like something she saw in magazine somewhere.

You see an unhealthy dynamic play out, because when the mother attempts to fulfil that parental role she meets with hostility and resentment, no doubt for having abandoned it or being absent from it in a manner that is not being openly acknowledged. However, when the rejection makes her withdraw from that parental role, and appear helpless, her daughter feels guilty and takes on the caring role between the two. It seems the roles are reversed, and as much they both might want that to change, they are both perpetuating the cycle by not acknowledging the trauma that is driving it.

A somber wee film.

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Born In Damascus

Quietly poignant short documentary about the filmmaker reconnecting with her Syrian cousin.

Laura is a Syrian Scot who spent her holidays visiting family in Syria. The film includes old family movies of their trips, with Laura giddily filming everything. The country is so beautiful. A clear open blue sky, verdant hills covered in wildflowers, its gorgeous coastline with sea spanning to the horizon. The bright cities with sandy white stone buildings, busy shopping districts, and theme parks where she played with her cousins.

There is this image that is used of war torn places over and over again, you know it, the grey photo of the bombed out buildings of a neighbourhood. It’s a image so overused it gives a sense of inevitability. In the constant repetition of this same tableau, it’s as though somehow the cause and effect have reversed, and it’s looking grey and rubble-strewn that made the war occur rather than the other way about. It seems to invite the viewer to shake their head and ask why ‘those places’ can’t get their shit together. When I was young those bombed out streets belonged somewhere in the Balkans, but as I grew it migrated to the Middle East. That style of war reporting flattens everything to an anonymous warzone, this travelling circus of war that seems to stop in all these broken neighbourhoods, and it strips places of both their identity and their agency.

The images of Syria in this film are of a place resplendent with many enviable credits, a place where war and its attendant ruination are unthinkable. Laura plays with her cousins on a log flume slide, and squishes into photos with them in their warm and welcoming home. They go shopping, take selfies.

Lujain is Syrian and lived through the war. She fled as a refugee to Canada, where she’s now settled and has made a family of her own, with an infant son. When her cousin Laura FaceTimes her, it’s the first they have seen each other in almost 10 years.

Born in Damascus is split between these old home movies and these new images of family from afar, on Facebook, Instagram, FaceTime. The slightly janky old camcorder shots of the crowd of family in their spontaneous and informal moments, are replaced with perfectly posed and flawless looking photos of individuals on either side of the world.

Laura and Lujain never entirely lost touch, and the film includes their online chats during the war. The medium of social media is so often associated with the trivial and mundane, topics for which the typical misspellings, lack of punctuation and use of emojis is entirely in keeping. It feels like a weird contrast to see it used to discuss war. Lujain talks about a bombing near her home, and asks Laura to pray for her.

Born in Damascus is a short film about the effects of war. Images of the war itself are almost entirely absent. This is not about the spectacle and machismo of wholesale destruction, but the quiet recovery of people and families in the wake of devastation. How do loved ones reconnect when the roads they’ve travelled have become so different? How do young people rebuild after their teenage years were taken from them? A really interesting film.

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