The Mysterious Alchemy of Film Art, Community...and Sheep
The Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival could be considered a sister to the Ann Arbor Film Festival for its dedication to presenting boundary-breaking film art from all over the world. Having recently traveled with AAFF board member Robin Sober to Hawick, Scotland, for the 8th annual Alchemy festival, to present the AAFF tour, I am happy to share the delight we experienced in attending this very special film art festival.
A modest, bucolic mill town with a population of 14,000 located in the Scottish Borders region 80 miles south of Edinburgh, Hawick provided an intimate and supportive setting for the festival and its audience. Surrounded by rolling hills populated with sheep indicative of the area’s wool-milling industry, Hawick produces of some of the finest cashmere in the world.
Amidst the flowering trees of spring, the town welcomed 50 attending filmmakers and other attendees. Very much a festival for filmmakers, Alchemy does a terrific job setting the stage for the artists to meet and bond. Participating filmmakers from around the world (especially Canada, the U.S., and Europe, including the U.K.) and audience members from all over the region were there, and we got to know many makers who would show work that week, or had done so in the past.
The festival volunteer who collected us from the airport was a cook from the Chisholme Institute, a 40-year-old retreat and study center nestled in the hills outside of Hawick and dedicated to philosophical and spiritual self-knowledge. Later that first week, at the Town Hall, the Institute provided a meal—attended by the Regent of Hawick—for filmmakers and the community of festival supporters.
The festival began with an afternoon of film artist presentations, followed by the grand opening of 12 installation works, hosted by a wide variety of venues all around the town center. The next several days were filled with film screenings and events (about 30 in total), mostly presented at the Heart of Hawick arts and culture complex. The large café on the premises was ground zero for meeting, talking, and hanging out between the screenings.
It was a wonderful honor to premiere the 56th Ann Arbor Film Festival 16mm touring program in the beautifully run and well maintained 111-seat Heart of Hawick auditorium to an appreciative audience at such a finely crafted and smoothly executed festival. Big thanks to Alchemy creative director Richard Ashrowan and his team for welcoming Robin and me, as well as providing such a hospitable venue for the debut screening of the 16mm touring program of the 56th AAFF.
P.S. If you’re interested, check out this interview of me on Jason Moyes’ Into the Mothlight podcast. Moyes is a film artist and founding member of the Scotland-based Moving Image Makers Collective in Hawick, Scotland.