One of the disappointments of Hidden Door is that, unless you take a week’s holiday, you’ll be left wishing you’d seen more. This Festival has gone from pop-up to fully-fledged, this year spreading its wings into a second venue. I was particularly looking forward to seeing a selection from the film programme, being screened in the iconic, but dilapidated State Cinema.
Despite spending as much free time as I was able during what was an extremely busy week outwith Hidden Door, I was only able to catch a fraction of the films. Another frustration was the programme changes, which seemed to catch everyone out. From my confirmation emails, to the website; from the printed brochure, to the chalk-boards at the two venues everything seemed to be saying something different.
If the organisation was a little ‘at sea’ there was also a rather fluid feel to the space where the films were being shown. There was the inevitable noise-bleed from other events, the coming-and-going of festival people and punters and, in one of the screenings, a peculiar punctuation of a smoke-machine. My attempt to dip my toe into this turbulent water led to my seeing only two-and-a-half events, which flags up another negative issue: technical hitches.
Before I start to sound over-curmudgeonly, I ought to say that the films I saw were great and – being mostly ‘shorts’ – many and varied. For the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, the focus was on the films of Chantal Akerman: Saute ma ville (1968), La chambre (1972) and Je tu il elle (1974). This might not have been such a crowd-puller (last year’s SQIFF screening was rammed) but although the audience diminished as the evening went on, there was an intimate feel and a sense of sharing in an extraordinary experience.
As Marc David Jacobs pointed out in his introduction, Akerman herself resists being pigeon-holed into feminist or queer categories, and the mesmerising Je, tu, il, elle indeed defies categorisation. Where I wouldn’t place this film, by any stretch of imagination, is as a short film: it seemed to go on forever. But to journey through a woman’s surreal depiction of self-discovery was an opportunity that Festivals like Hidden Door are all about, or should be.
My second attempt to see a selection was more successful: the animation strand of the Edinburgh Short Film Festival. Animation might not be everyone’s cup of tea, so the trick is to present a varied programme. While there isn’t room for me to highlight every film in this overview, my personal favourite was Simon Hewitt’s A Little Grey, about a robot brought back to renewed vitality by the birth of his mini-robot.
This leaves me with the ‘half’ event which was also presented by Edinburgh Short Film Festival. If I say it came in two ‘quarters’ it will seem that my glass was truly half-empty. The first evening I attended was plagued by software issues which led to a late-start, and only a few films being shown. Niamh McKeown’s darkly hilarious Good Girls was screened despite the technical fiasco. It ruined the film, unfortunately.
The only thing that might have redeemed this situation was a re-scheduling of the programme on Sunday evening. Sadly, some of the films were re-shown (including Good Girls, this time successfully) and another film which I’d seen previously seen: the touching Salt and Sauce by Alia Ghafar. Although the chalk-boards suggested the programme would run until midnight, the show was wrapped up an hour earlier.
While I hate to criticise Hidden Door, sometimes it feels as if it has bitten off more than it can chew. The film programme looked pretty healthy on the menu, and what I went to whetted my appetite. But in terms of leaving your audience wanting more, I was left feeling pretty peckish. Sadly for the State Cinema, this feast of films will be its last. While some Hidden Door venues have been transformed into vibrant locations, this was the cinema’s last gasp before it gets turned into yuppie-flats.