The Scotland International Festival of Cinema is the sister festival to 'The Idyllwild Festival of Cinema', California. Hosted in Peebles, on the Scottish Borders, SIFC welcomes national and international filmmakers, celebrating film and the cinema alike.
Mhairi Calvey - Festival Director
Vivien Reid - Producer & UK Chairperson
Stephen Savage - Producer & US Chairperson
Trinity Houston - Executive Producer
Lesley Paterson - Producer & International Chairperson
Becky Jackson - Artist Liason
By Claire Bueno
It’s an exciting time for Scotland International Festival of Cinema (SIFC) festival director Mhairi Calvey and festival producer Vivien Reid as they kick off the festival for the first year. For two years the pair have been a shining example of what can be achieved when you work together. There’s no disputing the passion they both feel for film and indeed it’s this passion that has certainly been the driving force for launching the UK arm of California’s The Idyllwild Festival of Cinema.
I have a personal connection to the festival as a film I produced with my bother Anthony Bueno, CLEANIN’ UP THE TOWN: Remembering Ghostbusters has the honour of being the closing night film.
With a plethora of festivals available worldwide at the disposal of independent filmmakers what makes SIFC unique? Well, I was lucky enough to catch-up with the Scottish born actresses to find out why and why Peebles, in the Scottish Borders is the perfect location to welcome national and international filmmakers.
What I love about the name of the festival is that it feels not just a celebration of ﬁlm, but of the whole cinema experience, is that how you both see it?
Vivien: Yes absolutely this, I have always loved the cinema from a very young age. My sister and I watched a lot of ﬁlms growing up ﬁlms like The NeverEnding Story, The Last Unicorn, Legend, The Canterville Ghost (the John Gielgud one) we adored it. The list could go on and on, we just devoured ﬁlms. When we watched Jaws we would build a boat in our living room using all of the cushions from the couch and we would really believe the shark was underneath us, it was terrifying but such fun. Our childhood was full of making up games, we were always creating and dressing up, making up characters and worlds, using our imaginations to the full. My memories of our mum taking us to the video shop to choose a ﬁlm was the best feeling ever, sometimes we even got to pick two videos and that was just so exciting. My love for ﬁlm and going to the cinema has never gone away. I would love to have my own cinema one day that would be a dream come true. I would have a huge bed in front of the big screen and just lie in it all day watching ﬁlms with my cat next to me, now that's my idea of bliss.
When I think of the cinema I think of the sweet smell of the popcorn, the pick ‘n’ mix; the bright colours. I love walking into that magical, quiet, darkened space, the red seats, the red curtains and of course the huge screen which was the promise that something exciting was about to take place. Storytelling is a wonder with its endless fascination and the cinema transported me into other worlds just like reading a book would do, but instead of making up the pictures in your head you are given the images and pulled into the world of the ﬁlm and for me, this was just thrilling. Also, the sound which engulfs you it's a marvellous experience. I do wish people would turn their phones oﬀ while watching the ﬁlm it infuriates me the constant glare of these phones going on and oﬀ.
Mhairi: Yes, in the same way Vivien has said I am also hugely passionate about cinema. Nothing excites me more than when that logo pops on screen just before the ﬁlm and you realise that anything is possible. After Covid and Lockdown we wanted to bring back that group viewing experience, there is nothing like sitting with other people and hearing group reactions to what is happening on screen, audience’s laugh, cry and gasp together. There is something luxurious and magical about the world of cinema, it gives people hope and inspiration. I grew up on an Island (the Isle of Arran) and there wasn’t and still isn’t a cinema there so I ﬁrst experienced cinema a little later than most children, this really gave me a huge appreciation for being able to be a part of a shared viewing experience and is what inspired me to want to create a ﬁlm festival.
You must be very excited that this is your ﬁrst year, but your sister festival, the Idyllwild Festival of Cinema in America is ﬁrmly established isn’t it?
Vivien: Yes, Idyllwild has been running for thirteen years and is a hugely successful well-respected festival. It was set up by ﬁlm director, writer and producer Stephen Savage and executive producer Trinity Houston, they are both extremely proud of their festival. Trinity is a powerhouse, an incredible businesswoman and both Mhairi and myself are learning so much from her. She is brilliant at her job and full of passion for what she does.
Mhairi: 13 years and counting! Having Idyllwild back us has been a huge leg up. When Stephen Savage and Trinity Houston approached us about the idea of Scotland it was a no brainer, especially because of their collective experience in running a festival.
Vivien, your ﬁlm The Box was screened at Idyllwild Festival of Cinema, so you know from personal experience that they were a trusted festival to join forces with?
The Box screened at Idllywild back in March 2020 just as the pandemic was breaking. Our ﬁlm won the award for Best Screenplay, I wrote, starred and helped to produce the ﬁlm, so I was thrilled not only to be there in person to support the ﬁlm, but to bring a trophy home was something really special. We also shot The Box in my hometown, Peebles, where the Scotland International Festival Of Cinema will be hosted. It was while I attended Idyllwild that Stephen Savage and I started to discuss a festival in Scotland, he told me all about Mhairi and how they had both met and dreamt of starting a Scottish festival, and I just knew my hometown would be the perfect place. With its beautiful idyllic country surroundings, independent shops and hotels, it also has wonderful cafes and restaurants and is steeped in history. Peebles even has two castles! The Eastgate Arts Centre and Cinema is in the heart of the town so is the perfect venue for the festival. We are so delighted by the local support. The prestigious Peebles Hydro Hotel have come on board and they are kindly oﬀering discounted rooms to all our ﬁlmmakers and hosting our ﬁlmmakers party in their stunning ballroom. Their partnership is really exciting especially for future years as the festival grows.
Mhairi, your festival director what were your aspirations when you began this venture?
To bring together ﬁlmmakers from around the world and celebrate their work in a ﬁlmmaker friendly environment. With the bigger festivals new ﬁlmmakers can get lost in the mix, so we wanted to give a platform for new names and talent. One thing I think is really valuable is giving our ﬁlmmakers a chance to connect with and have their work watched by experienced producers who are looking for the next big talent. Luckily we have an incredible Grand Jury and Festival Team who have made this possible and we are excited about opening doors of opportunity for people in the future. Breaking into this business is really hard and I hope we can just make it a bit easier for some people in the future. I think it’s important for all of us creatives to support each other whatever level we are at, helping each other and growing together is how an industry is built.
There are many ﬁlm festivals around the world what makes the Scottish International Festival of Cinema unique?
Vivien: I think perhaps because we are a sister festival to an American festival this will make us unique also the Scottish Borders is ﬁlled with people who truly support and enjoy the arts, so I am hoping they will support us in our ﬁrst year so that the festival has a chance to grow and develop in the years to come. We have been sponsored by Angus Gordon Hairdressing in Edinburgh, Arran Whisky, The Peebles Hydro Hotel, Grahams Milk and Leitner Designs who have created our wonderful press wall for us and as we move forward and grow the festival we hope to attract more sponsors. We are also truly grateful to my friend the talented Scottish artist Louise Lacaille who created our beautiful thistles for our laurels.
Mhairi: The Scotland International Festival of Cinema (SIFC) is dedicated to providing a showcase for emerging talent in independent ﬁlm. Our goal is to provide a forum in which up and coming ﬁlmmakers can connect with established industry professionals, to advance and promote their work, within an atmosphere supportive of independent cinema. Our collaboration with Idyllwild Festival of Cinema also gives ﬁlmmakers the chance to connect with contacts across the pond I think that is what makes us unique. The Scotland International Festival of Cinema is an event catering to talented new ﬁlmmakers, aﬀording them a chance to gain a foothold on terrain that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them. To launch their art while plugging them into the same networking pipelines enjoyed by more established ﬁlm companies. In short, Scotland is here to support the ﬁlm voices of tomorrow.
Having visited Peebles, it is easy for me to see why it is the perfect place to host a ﬁlm festival, not only is it picture- perfect, it also has an eclectic art scene, but why do you think it is important for the town to host a ﬁlm festival?
Mhairi: I think having the festival in Peebles will help inspire young people and possible future ﬁlmmakers, actors and writers from the area that anything is possible. Everyone behind SIFC grew up in a small town where things like this were just not available so it’s exciting to be a part of providing that for the town. It will also help boost tourism and help local business, restaurants and hospitality services. So many places, especially in small towns were aﬀected by Covid and Lockdown, it’s important to help small towns and local business get back on their feet.
Vivien: I think the festival will bring a lot to the town because it's an international ﬁlm festival, so we will be showcasing all diﬀerent kinds of ﬁlms and documentaries from all over the world, also ﬁlmmakers from all over the world will be coming to stay in Peebles. Independent ﬁlm is so vitally important and we need to make sure we keep helping to get independent ﬁlmmaker's ﬁlms seen by as many people as possible and perhaps even more important up on the big screen where they belong. I think it is also a good thing to encourage people out of their homes again and back into the cinema. The world is a very complicated place, full of fear and the cinema just like the theatre gives people a chance to escape even if only for a few hours. The cinema is a shared experience and I think even more now that is so very important. Over the last two years we have seen how important the arts are in people lives and that is something that will never change.
Making any ﬁlm is no easy task and neither is running a ﬁlm festival! Why do you both feel that it is so important to support independent ﬁlm and to work so hard to give these ﬁlms a platform?
Mhairi: A love of this industry and the people in it. Through the time I have been working as an actress I have come across so many incredibly talented and very hard working people, some who have really struggled to have a platform for their work and others struggling to get funding. As actors we know just how hard it is to get seen. We are in an industry which is bursting at the seams with people and I see so many talented creatives, actors, writers, directors, producers getting lost in the mob. I felt very frustrated and angry seeing this so I knew I had to help create change. I believe that talent should be nurtured, supported and opportunity given to those who would otherwise get lost in the mix. I wanted to be a part of changing this, even if only in a small way. Be the change you want to see in the world.
Vivien: I just love ﬁlm, I love independent ﬁlm, I love hearing all the stories from ﬁlmmakers about how and why they needed to make their ﬁlms, why they had to tell that particular story, all the ups and downs, the challenges that they faced, all the passion and love that goes into getting a ﬁlm made is something that will never stop fascinating me. I have always loved listening to stories and telling stories and from a very young age, I just knew I needed to do something creative, I have always been interested in people and why they do what they do, what makes someone react one way and someone else another way, it's so fascinating to me, the psychologically of it all, of being human, how our brains work, why we act in a certain way, why we like some people and others not so much. I was always in the art room, the music room, or the drama class at school these were the spaces that I understood, anything mathematical or technical just was not my space if that makes sense, I am also dyslexic so learning took me longer and I was bullied very badly in primary school, looking back at all of these things now I can see that I am a highly sensitive person with a huge capacity to love and I think art, music, dance and acting was where I could spread my wings and ﬂy, so for me it is vitally important to champion the voices who didn't get the funding, or the well-known actors attached, it's so important that ﬁlmmaking/storytelling doesn't become a ticking all the right boxes ﬁrst before you can get your ﬁlm made and into the right places to be seen by the so-called right people to climb that never-ending industry ladder. Art is something much more than just a tick list. Art is brave and bold and it bursts out of you, it can be raw, dangerous, messy, funny, not quite right but it’s the heart and soul burning inside someone to be brave enough to get their ﬁlm made to the best standard that they can aﬀord that makes me want to sit down and spend my precious time watching it.
What types of ﬁlms have you welcomed and have you been surprised by the standard of submissions?
Vivien: So many of the ﬁlms that were accepted surprised me in some way, caught my eye and of course, there were a few of us watching and we all had diﬀerent things to oﬀer but mostly we all agreed on the ﬁlms that we accepted into the festival. Sound is important to me, if the sound isn't working that can put me oﬀ and I think visually cinema has to oﬀer something diﬀerent perhaps the way a ﬁlmmaker uses the light or a location. The script is incredibly important and for me perhaps the most important thing, if you have a good script and story, you're truly on your way, then, of course, casting the right actors for the roles, you have to believe the performances, they have to be truthful.
Mhairi: We have had incredible submissions, I have laughed, cried and been deeply moved watching the work we have been sent. I have also learnt a lot from seeing so many productions from around the world. We have beautiful dramas, foreign language ﬁlms, comedy shorts, animation and performances from famous faces to new actors.
Independent ﬁlm is all about being supportive of each other and your tremendous jury really does demonstrate that. You must be so thrilled that you’ve been about to provide your indie ﬁlmmakers with such a prestigious jury of seasoned ﬁlmmakers?
Vivien: We are so happy that everyone we asked came on board, really delighted. I remember walking through the woods and saw a dead crow and decided at that moment that I would just call and leave Ruth Paxton a message, she was in Toronto at the premiere of her debut feature ﬁlm A Banquet, and I just asked her if she would be part of the festival, a few moments later she replied with a yes, it was such a good feeling, being brave just to reach out to people within the industry that you admire and for them to get back saying they wanted to help. I did a little happy dance when Carol Morley said she would be on our Jury. I am such an admirer of her work. They are all incredibly busy people, hugely talented and extremely supportive of independent ﬁlmmaking. I am thankful to each of our Grand Jury members for saying yes! In an industry that is riddled with constant noes and rejection.
Mhairi: We are very blessed with our Grand Jury, I still have to pinch myself and honestly I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. At one point we were getting so much interest from people about being Grand Jury members that every day it was a yes from someone, it all came together much quicker than we had planned. Like Vivien said it felt great to be brave and ask these established industry professionals for help took a lot of courage but each one has been a huge support. Angus MacFadyen was the ﬁrst person I reached out to, I constructed this long and professional email, he responded back instantly saying yes.
As a festival of cinema, I would imagine it is paramount to be able to physically screen the ﬁlms for ﬁlmmakers and audience to enjoy?
Vivien: The fact that we will be a live event makes my heart sing it is so vitally important to get the ﬁlms up on that big screen, it is a completely diﬀerent experience to watching at home on the TV or laptop. In my opinion, it is an experience that you cannot beat. It also gives the ﬁlmmakers a chance to gauge how an audience is reacting to their ﬁlms and of course meeting other ﬁlmmakers face to face and discussing each other’s ﬁlms and the chance to network together is also really important. We will be setting up a Greenroom/ﬁlmmaker's room at the Eastgate so they have a space they can gather, relax and chat.
Mhairi: Having a live event was so important to us and with the current climate we were worried it might not happen. Luckily we were backed by an amazing venue The Eastgate Theatre in Peebles and fortunately we are staring to all get back onto our feet after the pandemic. I think this year will not only be a celebration of SIFC’s ﬁrst year but a celebration of people coming together. There is a group experience you get at a cinema that you can’t get at home. It’s also a chance for people to see their movies on the silver screen and to be able to network with other industry professionals.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the opening and closing night ﬁlms?
Vivien and Mhairi: Our opening night and closing night ﬁlms are wonderfully diﬀerent which was important but they also have a thread running through them and that is something of the otherworldly which I ﬁnd really fascinating. For the opening night ﬁlm, we have a ﬁlm called Dark Encounter directed by Carl Strathie staring the brilliant Laura Fraser. The ﬁlm is described as a mystery, sci-ﬁ, Thriller. It’s incredibly well made and an inspiration to fellow ﬁlmmakers about what can be created even if you don’t have Hollywood money which is why we picked it. Our closing night ﬁlm, we have the incredible documentary CLEANIN’ UP THE TOWN: Remembering Ghostbusters directed by Anthony Bueno and produced by his sister Claire Bueno. It is a wonderful retrospective documentary, made with passion and so much love, charting the making of Ghostbusters, featuring Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Ivan Reitman.
What are your hopes for this year’s festival and what have you learned about curating this festival that you can take with you for next year?
Mhairi: I hope that it brings people happiness, a chance to get together and support each other’s work. I hope that we will continue to grow and create chances for pitch meetings, networking, ﬁlm reunions and special guests. We have some nice events planned so we want to expand on that over the years so we can all grow together.
Vivien: I hope that people enjoy it. Even people who don’t often go to the cinema, it would be wonderful for them to come along and just see what the festival is all about. We want everyone to feel welcome. We want all the ﬁlmmakers who come to Peebles to feel proud of their achievements. We have so many diﬀerent ﬁlms on oﬀer, special events and Q&As. It is looking like it's going to be a very busy and enjoyable few days. We have a clear vision for the future, how we want the festival to grow, but for now I just want to focus on this ﬁrst year being fun for all.