15 March 2016
This Glasgow Short Film Festival opens tomorrow with the premiere of a recently rediscovered documentary about the Highlands and its people. Taking raw footage of Sutherland and Glasgow from the 1950s, an updated version of the film subtly weaves in modern influences, ranging from the poetry of Norman McCaig, the ideologies of George Monbiot, the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky and the folk music archive of Alan Lomax.
The accidentally perfectly-named film Lost Treasure was recorded in 1956 by Dawn Cine Group, a socialist film-making collective from Glasgow, who disbanded during the making of the documentary, and as a result, never managed to complete or release it. Fast forward six decades, and the unfinished black and white film will finally be unearthed, with a new live score, performed by Edinburgh musicians Drew Wright and Hamish Brown.
“The original film deals with issues of rural depopulation and land ownership, a subject still very relevant today – in fact, it’s become a real hot potato in Scotland, especially over the last two or three years,” explains Wright, a Leith-based singer and experimental musician who performs under the alias, Wounded Knee. The Lost Treasure project sees Wright reunited with Matt Lloyd, director of the Glasgow Short Film Festival, who had previously commissioned him to create a live soundtrack to John Grierson’s Drifters, a silent film from 1929 about herring fishing, filmed in Shetland and the North Sea.
It was during last year’s Glasgow Short Film Festival that Lloyd stumbled on the progressive cinema of Dawn Cine Group, whose work focused on social and political issues of the time, including slum housing in Glasgow, as covered in their most successful film, Let Glasgow Flourish, also made in 1956. Lloyd commissioned Wright to team up with musician and producer, Hamish Brown (a member of experimental pop trio, Swimmer One) to write and perform a new soundtrack for the unfinished film, Lost Treasure, which has been pieced together by Finnish cinematographer Minttu Mäntynen. After premiering in Glasgow, Lost Treasure will tour Scotland in April, with Wright and Brown performing their live soundtrack.
“We were interested in taking the original raw footage from the 50s, and folding in some other texts, poetry, Gaelic song and new music to create a sort of collage of our own,” says Wright.
“Both Hamish and I had been reading stuff by Norman McCaig – a poet who adored the West Highlands, and often wrote about Achmelvich, a part of the world where he spent a lot of time, where most of this was filmed. It was a bit of a luxury to have an excuse to re-read his poem ‘A Man in Assynt’, as well as Andy Wightman and Tom Devine’s writing on land ownership in Scotland and George Monbiot’s book, Feral, raising questions about who really owns a landscape.”
Wright describes Lost Treasure’s original script as “didactic at times” and decided to approach their new soundtrack “more poetically”.
“Hamish has created a lot of electronic, instrumental stuff which works really well as a sort of sonic bed, and we’ve put some spoken word bits over the top, including some of the original directions for the film, and me performing a Gaelic song called Cailin Mo Rùin-sa (The Maid I Adore) as well as some of my own music. The result is a mixture of textural, droney sounds and more processed synth-based music.
“Hopefully this is neither a piece of agit-pop, nor an exercise in nostalgia, but a modern response to the footage. It’s a remix I suppose, where we’ve allowed the music to come to the fore in places, slowing down some of the key scenes, drawing attention to some of the imperfections and flaws in the actual film, or focussing on the magnificent landscapes or natural light in other places.”
Lost Treasure is premiered at Glasgow Short Film Festival, GFT, Glasgow, Wednesday 16 March, then will tour to Hippodrome, Bo’ness, Sat 16 Apr; Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, Sun 17 Apr; Merlin Cinema, Thurso, Thu 21 Apr; Timespan, Helmsdale; Fri 22 Apr; Eden Court, Inverness, Sat 23 Apr; Filmhouse, Edinburgh; Thu 28 Apr