Scott Graham: Tales Of A Native Son
ALLAN HUNTER catches up with Fraserburgh film-maker Scott Graham ahead of a Cannes screening
THERE MAY be competition from all corners of the globe, but Cannes remains the most important Film Festival in the world. Having a film selected for Cannes is a guarantee that your name will be noticed and your work is appreciated.
Scottish filmmaker Scott Graham is about to experience the Cannes effect as his third short film, Native Son, has been selected for a screening in the prestigious Semaine De La Critique. It is a prospect that fills him with a mixture of anticipation and dread.
“The film was only finished about a month ago so not many people have seen it,” he explains. “It is a film with the potential to make audiences react in quite an extreme way. I don’t know how the audience in Cannes is going to react but it means a lot to me how they react.”
Scott grew up outside Fraserburgh and made his first short, Born To Run, during the winter of 2005. His second short, Shell, tells of a young woman trapped by her life in a remote petrol station. It won the UK Film Council Award for Best Film at the London Short Film Festival in 2008. Native Son stars Sean Harris as John, a rural worker at odds with his local community. An acute sense of loneliness and isolation drives him to a desperate act.
“I think the first two films are about people in conflict with their surroundings and their families,” Scott reflects. “John’s conflict in Native Son is more internal. I deliberately wanted to concentrate more on human emotion and human conflict with this film. I really wanted to make an audience feel something. I’m prepared for anything. I feel that this is the first time I’ve achieved close to what I want to do with films.”
Scott’s films have tended to focus on emotional and physical isolation in often quite remote settings. It begs the question of how much his aspirations and interests have been shaped by where he grew up.
“I don’t seem to be able to write about the city,” he jokes. “Growing up here in Fraserburgh has made me aware of landscape and stories going on almost within a mid-West landscape. I’m quite drawn to 1960s and 1970s American road movies like Badlands, Vanishing Point, Five Easy Pieces and even The Deerhunter.
“They all remind me of where I’m from, and it’s a part of Scotland that has not really been reflected in cinema. There’s a quiet heroism to the people. The city has that as well, of course, but I’m not familiar with it.”
Native Son was written after a spell in Amsterdam, where Scott had moved to work on the feature version of his short Shell.
“It was the first time I had been away from Scotland for a while,” he recalls. “My senses were heightened because I was writing quite intensely. I was feeling lonely and disconnected from the people around me. I was a stranger in a strange land, as they say.
“I was living near the Van Gogh Museum and I was going there nearly every day and looking at his early paintings of Dutch peasant farmers working in the fields at dusk. Something about the lives of hardworking people and a rural setting and that feeling of being disconnected all combined to provide the spark for Native Son.”
Native Son is a film that leaves you with a lot of questions. There is an unexplained hostility towards John in the local community and the lingering sense of a life blighted by tragedy. The hidden meanings are part of the reason why the character of John retains our sympathy even once he has decided to cross a line.
“I didn’t want to spell things out, but also there is a limit to what you can do with a short film,” Scott says. “I think the film is essentially about loneliness, and I think everyone can understand that. So really John’s reasons for being lonely didn’t matter. I did want to create a sense of community around him, and of wariness in people. I did want to suggest that something had happened and a kind of barrier had gone up.”
Native Son is marked by its beautiful cinematography, a strong central performance from Sean Harris, and assured direction. It is also notable for the use of music by Sons And Daughters.
“I don’t know how they would feel about me saying this, but I think they have a sound which is where I would like to get to in terms of cinema. They have a Scottish voice but quite a lot of American influence through heavy blues. There is a beautiful combination of Scott’s guitar and Adele’s voice. They are not frightened to write lyrics that go to really dark places.”
Scott Graham is also not frightened to write films that go to really dark places. His next project is a feature version of Shell which he plans to film in Scotland over the autumn and winter of this year.
“I believe that Native Son will be my last short film for a while,” he reflects. “If I was critical of my work I would say that all of the shorts feel like part of a bigger story in a way. In a short you are limited by what you can do and how deep you can go. I am looking forward to doing Shell as a feature and know it will be very different.”
© Allan Hunter, 2010