Banff Mountain Film Festival – Festival Theatre

For many years now a Canadian treat has found itself a warm home in the centre of Edinburgh, as the Festival Theatre hosts the Banff Mountain Film Festival in the shadow of our very own Arthur’s Seat. An international film competition, originating back in 1976 from the Canadian town of Banff, Alberta, the Mountain Film Festival celebrates upwards of 300 films, whittling them down to a final competing set which tours globally.

Promoting two spectacular programmes, labelled Red & Blue, Banff Mountain Film Festival moves from a simple evening affair into an experience for the whole day/weekend. This evening, witnessing the Red programme first-hand it cannot be stressed how envious you feel knowing others in the theatre were smart enough to catch both programmes. An evening of accomplished filmmakers captures the mind-boggling intensity of human endurance, far-flung cultures, and on occasion, our compassion towards one another and the environment around us.

There’s little which can be gained in reviewing the films showcased at the event, as the quality of each is superb. What is striking, however, is the variety in which the audience find themselves sampling. If onlookers view this as an event purely for the climbers, extreme sports fanatics or hikers – you couldn’t be more mistaken. Banff has polished their festival into a welcoming environment, with brief, but efficient live interludes to introduce film segments and handle this evening’s most important aspect; giveaways.

Particular highlights which, in essence, capture the event’s atmosphere spectacularly are the found in Danny Day Care, Reel Rock: Up to Speed and a near feature-length tour edit of Sarah Outen’s four-year journey across the globe. A tremendous piece, not only as an example of the human condition but of time-lapse film making keeps the audience on tenterhooks for the entirety of the film. Other films provide a fount of knowledge, both for the accomplished enthusiast and those of us spooked by the heights – and on occasion, a whole heap of unexpected hilarity. 

It isn’t all about the big-budget however, select small-scale productions still invigorate a sense of adventure, containing the sort of fear-inducing stunts which would panic any mother. Celebrating dedication, Thabang offers an account of Thabang Madiba’s dedication and eventual pay-off, becoming the first black South African to represent the country in running. Touching, with multiple first-hand interviews, it’s an accomplished piece which opens our eyes to sporting legends and competitors we hadn’t known existed. 

Still, at the heart of it all there’s an element of business, but a tasteful display rather than corporate. Transforming the festival into a full-blown event, people taking inspiration from there films, or even just keen beginners can find merchandise for Banff themselves, and the occasional piece from other suppliers and sponsors of the events.

Whirring, it transforms the Festival Theatre in a peculiar way not traditionally associated by many of the traditional theatre crowd. An award-winning lineup, with an award-winning team of producers, runners, hosts and event staff – there’s little wonder why the Banff Mountain Film Festival draws in a diverse crowd of eager film watchers into Edinburgh, finding itself as an annual tradition awaiting discovery for many more.

Tickets for the Banff Mountain Film Festival can be found at:

Banff Mountain Film Festival finishes it’s Scottish tour in Glasgow King’s Theatre on February 25th

Monstrus Circus

Directed by Jordan Inconstant

France / 2019 / 29 mins

What makes a monster, and what makes the man? This is an ancient artistic trope which finds itself in a variety of art, literature and media, perhaps nowhere quite like the circus. Winner of five Gold Movie AwardsMonstrus Circus takes this trope and brings it to the Highlands of Scotland to blend an archaic story-telling narrative with unique visuals, stylistic camera work and sublime colour use.

Leonard, a magician, has the idea to set-up a circus of freaks in Scotland. Together with clown Auguste (who is portrayed by director Jordan Inconstant) the band of hypnotists, strong-men and vampiric opera singers make for just beside Loch Ness. Unable to see the beauty in others, Edgar Finnigan (Louis Donval) finds himself at the raw-end of Leonard’s magic. This modern fantasy fuses traditional moral lessons with a contemporary message of acceptance.

In a way their feature-length counterparts often shy from, short films are pre-eminent in their experimentation. While Jordan Inconstant’s direction stays reasonably safe with narrative, the team find plenty to play with in terms of visuals, cinematography and Sylvain Ott’s musical composition. The interior shots take place in France, including warm set dressing alluding to classic fantasy, while exterior shots take place in Scotland, notably on the Isle of Skye. Upon seeing The Old Man of Storr, Inconstant captures Scotland in a manner only those with a profound love for the country are able.

With drone footage, which offers the wide, sweeping shots desirable to showcase the landscape, they achieve a tremendous accomplishment. Given the unreliability of weather, Monstrus Circus brings a calmness to the climate of Skye. The excitement in visuals lies in the framework for shots, with the odd Dutch angle sneaking into the film. A variety of shots are played with, knowing where to draw focus or distort our perception.

How can we identify a distinctively French creative team behind a production? Just look at the colour palette. Monstrus Circus, above all, is a mesmerically charming piece to watch, chiefly down to its triatic colour design which emphasises distinctive tones against the tempered (though striking) Scottish landscape. It causes the fluorescent yellows of the circus tent to leap out against the broad strokes of black waters of the loch. In truth, it rings of Goddard’s Contempt (1963) or Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001), saturating the screen to an extent, without straying into garish.

Especially with Jeunet, Monstrus Circus finds itself firmly in the fantastical genre of film making. While this reinforces both the plot and colour scheme, it also lends itself to the visuals which comprise scrupulous VFX shots, putting large-scale productions to shame. There is indeed the odd snippet where we can see the technology behind the magic, but for the most part, a tremendous level of proficiency is at work for the special effects. The transformation of the base of Castle DunBroch into the circus tent is so skillfully done, for example, that the resulting illusion is just as impressive as the majestic castle itself.

When entering the fantastical, any effects need a tangible reality. With reliance on graphics for contemporary fairy-tales and science fiction, the uncanny valley draws too close. Monstrus Circus, however, finds that sublime balance between necessary computer visuals and special-effects make-up. Characters’ freakish forms, chiefly made-up of seven hours worth of make-up, showcase how dedication, ingenuity and a working relationship with computer effects can heighten the overall intent.

Our Auld Alliance is alive and breathing; with a distinctive French heart amidst the Scottish visage, it is a union of enchantment. Monstrus Circus is a testament to the experimental nature of short-filmmaking and how its creator’s talents know few boundaries – c’est magnifique!

Review originally published for Wee Review:

25 Live: The Big Birthday Show – The Festival Theatre

Image contribution: Greg Macvean

Directed by Cat Sheridan

For 25 Live: The Big Birthday Show, this isn’t about the comings and goings of glitzy statement productions, this is about community. The community which has been with the Theatre, and its predecessor the Empire Theatre for 25 years and more. For as much as this may be a Birthday celebration for the Festival Theatre, it’s also a celebration about us.

Ranging from across the capital, they are serving not only a delightful evening of comedy, dance, song and cinema but a stroll into the theatre’s current workshops and programmes. Including a heart-warming performance from members of the monthly dementia friendly tea parties, something right at the heart of the Festival Theatre. Stretching beyond we also have local schools, choirs and partnerships with Scottish Opera and Dance Ihayami. 

Who on earth could host such an event? Well, Jamie MacDougall and Saskia Ashdown seem superb choices. Ashdown, previously a member of the Attic Collective, part of the accessible theatre programme, is a representation of the theatre’s impact. A fan favourite, MacDougall is on top form for the audience, at home on the stage as usual. His signature vocals glimpsed very briefly in the show opener No Business Like Showbusiness.

As Scotland’s premier stage for opera and dance, it’s only fitting that a birthday party includes a few boogies. From ballroom dances of elegance to the Rosie Kay Dance Company. Breaking Ranks, a developmental piece following the recently staged 10 Soldiers is perhaps the most technically accomplished of the evening.

A pleasant touch, right from within the workings of the theatre is the challenge set forth to those unsung heroes: the front of house staff. Invited to reflect they cobble together an exceptionally inventive piece which replicates, lampoons and in one case improves upon previous productions performed on this famous stage.

It isn’t all a stage event though, with the screen taking its chance to represent the community too. Here, we are treated to a series of monumentally personal videos created for the event. From silent movies to a touching tribute for the marvellous 96 and still tapping Marie Duthie. Two videos in particular though resonate for their representation, skill and talent. All Among The Pines, an original stop-motion animation made with Braidburn School is a charming piece featuring bright animation, craftsmanship and editing. Our Voices was co-created as a response to the consultation over the Gender Recognition Act, a proud inclusion on Scotland’s largest stage.

So as we thank the creative talents, hosts and producers, so to we offer gratitude to the theatre itself. The celebration ends reciting the doctrine that; ‘Everyone is an artist. Everyone is an expert of their own experiences’. The Festival Theatre helps evolve homegrown artists alongside the theatre itself. Encouraging nurture and support for the local communities while providing world-class entertainment for the masses. We thank you.  

See what delights are coming to both The Festival and The King’s Theatres in the coming months: