Lou McLoughlan graduated from the Film Directing - MFA programme in 2011. We talk to her about her first feature length film, ‘16 Years till Summer’ - which will be screened across Scotland this month - and documentary making in Scotland.
Tell us about your time at ECA
I joined the MFA programme in Film Directing at ECA because I felt my film making had reached a ceiling. That short but intense MA year opened my eyes to what film could do.
Tell us about your creative practice
My creative practice is really just about recording a relationship with the thing I'm filming. The film isn't about the subject or the object, you're just noting a shifting dynamic as you come to terms with it. Documentary is half circus side-show, half protracted act of forgiveness for shortcomings you sense in yourself. If you forget the second half of that process, all you have is propaganda. "Benefits Street", is a perfect example.
How did “16 Years till Summer” come about?
'16 Years Till Summer' started as a short film that I did for my MA year, called "Caring for Calum". It was about a middle aged man called Uisdean Mackay, coming out of prison to look after his father, Calum; a father who'd waited 16 years for his son's release. Uisdean knows he has to redeem himself by turning his life around - he has to make that co-dependency work. The short film won a lot of awards, but I soon realised it had failed to articulate the complexity of the main character, convicted murderer, Uisdean Mackay. So I withdrew it. In '16 Years till Summer', which was filmed over four years, I worked hard to find a language that would share a sense of Uisdean, and take the audience on the same unpredictable journey his story took the people who trusted him on, until he felt predictable. Then I realised I understood him. At least I understood him well enough to show why smart people put trust in him. And it turned out to be a film about when and why we trust, especially in the light of the Jimmy Saville scandal. So I turned the camera off and edited the film.
What sort of relationship do you have to your films and the subjects of your films?
Firstly, being a film maker gives you a passport into worlds that aren't yours. They aren't worlds you've earned, and you have to be realistic about that. It's empathy that makes a film possible. There's no point in turning the camera on until you feel that.
A lot of interesting narrative documentaries are being made in Scotland just now. Fellow ECA alumnus Duncan Cowles won a BAFTA Scotland Award for his documentary film “Isabella”. Do you feel that there is a movement in Scotland?
I'd like to see that film! Yes. There's a stream of great documentary beginning to appear, as Alistair Harkness recently noted in a piece in the Scotsman, when he reviewed "16 Years Till Summer". It's partly down to the teaching of exceptional tutor-filmmakers like Emma Davie, Mark Cousins, Noe Mendelle and Nick Higgins. But it also works in tandem with the outreach work of groups like the Scottish Documentary Institute (a research centre at Edinburgh College of Art) who invite international film makers to Scotland and broaden taste in creative documentary. And it's also thanks to the long-term investment of Creative Scotland in the art form. What we still lack is proper distribution. There are no film distributers in Scotland. Imagine where most of our Scottish writers would be without Scottish publishers?
What you do notice when you go to other parts of Britain is that documentary in Scotland is unique for absorption of an international scene. And that makes it more confident and outward-looking, while finding the language to interrogate itself. And perhaps in spite of a lack of TV work - or perhaps because of it - its filmmakers also look more to an international audience than a British one. That's not choice - it's just where the opportunity is. My film's been touring international festivals for more than a year now and sold to three terrestrial international broadcasters. Audiences in Europe, Russia, Iran, etc, want to see Scotland. Not the costume of Scotland - its tartan or shortbread - but its stories.
What do you think the future holds?
This year, 5 creative feature documentaries came out of Scotland that I know of. That's amazing. Our biggest challenge now is putting these films in places where Scottish audiences, as well as international ones, can see them. With the help of the press and cinemas, we can bring these films home to a totally different reception. The challenge, as I said before, is creating a distribution network within Scotland for our creative documentary films, with festivals that really want to showcase them and share them.