SDI: Executing contrasting styles, two films from the 2019 Scottish Documentary Institute «Bridging the Gap» program showcase SDI's admirable geographical balancing-act

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Neil Young
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Published date: July 25, 2019

Hydebank/Altasu

Ross McCleanEoin Wilson

Chris KellyIrune GurtubaiBen Sharrock

UK

«Co-là-breith math» is how they say «Happy birthday» in Scottish Gaelic, a greeting which the non-fiction community in the UK, Europe, and further afield should be directing towards Edinburgh this year as the Scottish Documentary Institute (SDI) celebrates its 15th anniversary. Founded at the Scottish capital’s College of Art in 2004 by Noé Mendelle, whose own film and TV credits stretch back to the early 1980s, the SDI is now firmly established as one of the most vital, enterprising, inclusive and productive such organisations in the world.

It has been responsible for over 100 films to date, the bulk of them of short or medium length, and has struck up a particularly harmonious professional relationship with Edinburgh’s long-running international film festival (EIFF) which has taken place without a break each summer since 1947. Under the banner «Bridging the Gap», SDI presents around half a dozen new projects every year, showcasing its impressive international sweep: like many Scottish institutions, the SDI is determinedly non-parochial, welcoming filmmakers and subjects from other countries and continents while also finding room for outstanding stories from closer to home.

the SDI is now firmly established as one of the most vital, enterprising, inclusive and productive such organisations in the world.

This year two «Bridging the Gap» titles, both by newcomers, exemplified SDI’s admirable geographical balancing-act: Ross McClean’s Hydebank, a very particular glimpse into the Northern Irish penal system, and Eoin Wilson’s Altsasu, which provides a snapshot of a miscarriage of justice in the Basque Country. Both films clock in at around 15 minutes; executed in distinctly contrasting styles, they both herald just the type of promising new talent the SDI has long sought to nurture and promote.

https://vimeo.com/346351474

Hydebank

Impressionistic, spare and arresting both visually and aurally, Hydebank is the more poetic and ambitious of the two films. It’s essentially a character study of an individual, identified only as «Ryan» in the closing credits, an inmate at the eponymous facility – full title: HM Prison Hydebank Wood. Located in South Belfast, and better known for the adult women’s prison on the same site, Hydebank is (in British terminology) a «young offenders’ centre», the kind of jail for minors which for centuries was colloquially termed a «borstal».

In cinematic terms, the most famous representations of such establishments are hard-hitting. Two controversial films which can be broadly positioned within the «angry young man» sub-genre of UK social-realism: Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), an adaptation of Alan Sillitoe’s novel starring Tom Courtenay, and Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979), the big-screen version of the same director’s banned BBC «Play For Today» from 1977.

Impressionistic, spare and arresting both visually and aurally, Hydebank is the more poetic and ambitious of the two films.

While both the Richardson and Clarke films concentrate on a surly, snarling individual very much at odds with the «system», as represented by brutal and/or patronising borstal personnel, Hydebank‘s ruminative protagonist shows evident remorse for his crime, the details of which remain unspoken. Ryan merely remarks about its extreme seriousness: «grim, grim», in terms which leave no doubt about the guilt-trauma scars which this incident left upon his psyche.

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