Opening Gala at Berwick Upon Tweed Film & Media Arts Festival

For 10 years Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival has continued in its aim to turn the small northern town into one big screen. Over the decade festival-goers have been given the opportunity to watch hundreds of international film premieres in a plethora of unique settings, besides the varied special events that last year saw performance artist, Sidsel Christensen, balanced precariously above the River Tweed. For their 10th year, festival organisers have not only produced a glossy anniversary catalogue, TEN, but they also prepared a spectacular Opening Gala with two UK premieres from Momcilo Mrdakovic and Ben Russell.

Launching on the eve of the Scottish referendum, the two opening films reflected the sudden interest in the difference between England and Scotland and the overriding theme of the festival, Border Crossing. Mrdakovic’s Mamarosh and Russell’s The Twilight State both explore the impact of breaking down boundaries between countries and communities. Indeed, borders had been crossed before the event even began as the evening started with an introduction from Serbian director Mrdakovic as he presented his 2013 comedy that follows the fictional journey of a family as they travel from Belgrade to New York in 1999.

The feature length opener, Mamarosh, was both thought provoking and hilarious. Scenes of falling bombs, excessive violence and claustrophobic air raid shelters were interspersed with light-hearted conversations between the central characters and the amusing reappearance of a horse. Based around middle-aged cinephile, Pera, and his elderly mother, the film sees them attempting to emigrate to America, while trying to navigate their way through embassy paperwork and a travelling circus. Pera’s love of Hollywood film is juxtaposed with his country’s hatred of America, but it is the international language of film that eventually helps the pair gain access to the USA.

Shared understandings are also explored in Russell’s entirely different artistic installation as he examines how dreaming brings people together. Screened in an outside space and shot on Super 16mm this almost surreal presentation reminded audiences that this was also a “Media Arts” festival, producing entirely new works and challenging the ordinary way to view film. Russell’s unique 28-minute documentary is set between Swaziland and South Africa and traces the dream lives of the inhabitants as they seek to follow the divine, rejecting the restraints of consciousness. Russell’s intimate filming uncovers a society little known by the Western world and, as such, momentarily removes the gap between subject and viewer.

The overarching theme of Border Crossing actually goes beyond the title on the programme and allows the audience to journey across continents and cultures, experiencing unseen parts of the world and previously untold stories. Not only did Mamarosh and The Twilight State make for wonderful opening night viewing, they offered up a new perspective on life somewhere else on the planet.

Berwick Upon Tweed Film & Media Arts Festival, 17-21 September, in various venues across Berwick.

Hannah Clugston

1. Momcilo Mrdakovic, Mamarosh, courtesy of Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival.

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