For many people, Film Festivals are all about the red carpet: premieres, new and recent films, galas, celebrities, and a smattering of classics, all clubbed together under various themes or focuses. Perhaps it’s the case that screenings of ‘retrospective’ cinema get overlooked.
At this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Niall Greig Fulton conceived and curated a selection under the banner ‘time of the signs’ to focus on female directors in American cinema from the 1980s.
The title alone suggests these films contain a prescient quality, and in the case of Testament there were clear contemporary messages to be considered. With the bleak subject of nuclear holocaust, a popular theme in the 80s, this was a harrowing film. A small town is blighted by the fall-out from a nuclear attack, and we watch through the eyes of a mother and her children as the community is decimated.
Amid this desperate struggle to survive, the local junior school puts on a production of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. We learn from the Q&A after the film that the audience was made of the real parents of the kids in the play, and their reaction to the metaphor was honest and moving. Yet the film was careful not to pin-point blame or fault. There were no familiar mushroom-cloud scenes; no political cheap-shots; only the mother, at the end of the film in her despair, screaming “Who did this?”
The film’s director was present and, afterwards, described it as “ninety minutes of family clichés.” She was clearly moved, having not seen the work for twenty-five years, and once she’d got over what she saw as shortcomings, Lynne Littman gave much incite about the conditions under which the film was made. The white-out at the point of the bomb dropping was a new technique, and given the heavy subject matter, the film was shot in order to help the (especially young) cast through the process.
What was most clear was how, back in the eighties, people were ignorant of what damage nuclear warfare would cause. Despite all the fear-mongering and Cold War rhetoric, the advice from security forces in these circumstances was, ‘Just put some plywood on your windows.’ As Littman said, “It’s not what can be done after; it’s what needs to be done before.”
We may (or may not) have moved on from the political conditions of the eighties, but this film sits uncomfortably in the reality of the idiocy and hatred being spouted from the Whitehouse today. It is a picture of a community trying to hold itself together through love and hope.
Again, according to Littman, “It’s not about war, but about the loss of those you love.” She went on to point out, with strong agreement from the audience, that it should be required viewing for Mr Trump, adding sourly: “As if he actually loves anyone that much.”