3 Films from the Edinburgh College of Art Graduate Show 2021

By Caz Armstrong

The Edinburgh College of Art graduate show is a big deal in Edinburgh’s arts calendar. It’s an exhibition of the students’ final pieces of work and the culmination of years of study. You can see anything from interior design to fine art, architecture, silversmithing, filmmaking and a lot more. Following the last couple of years of disruption and remote learning it’s great to be able to see what the recent graduates have been able to produce.

I went along to see three of the films made by the masters in Film Directing graduates, two female and one non-binary. The students each researched, shot and edited a short documentary over the course of a year. And in this case, during a pandemic.

‘My Grandfather’ by Yafan Liu

This quiet film is a portrait of a grandfather whose world has shrunk down to the size of his flat, but whose personality still shines through.

With the ever-present ticking clock, we can’t forget that time runs out for all of us. But Yafan’s grandfather still maintains his personality as a tinkerer. He is determined to fix a broken plant sprayer, amazed that someone might post the necessary rubber washer to him when it’s so small. Despite not being able to succeed, it shows us what he might have been like in younger days. Curious about how things work and willing to give anything a try.

Yafan has created a tender portrait of a vulnerable and loved elderly gentleman, one that makes us think fondly on the elderly people who have touched our own lives.

‘Red Roofs’ by Tianyi Qiu

This short film looks at the life of a student living in a cramped room in a Chinese district marked by its low red roofs. Dwarfed by tall apartment buildings, the residents have been hoping for years that they will be relocated to better premises.

But the city has passed a preservation order, meaning that the only way out is to buy a house elsewhere. Something few can afford, especially a student.

It’s clear that living in such a cramped situation is difficult for the subject. She doesn’t even have a bedroom, just a curtained-off section of a corridor. She can’t even come and go without negotiating an obstacle course of boxes and clothes.

But the main impact of the film is the thought that a future has been stolen. Having dreamed of getting out for years, she now faces the prospect of a future in this red roofed nightmare.

The sheer scale of the architecture is very well shown from height, and these wide shots really help us to understand just how different these red roofed buildings are to those around them. When seen from a distance they look like a little red bath mat amongst acres of towering apartment blocks.

This film is a touching yet hopeful snapshot of determination and perseverance in the face of broken dreams.

‘M(OTHER)HOOD’ by Bea Goddard

Going through gender transition is an incredibly personal journey, so how does a parent manage to explain it to their kids?

Bea Goddard’s short documentary focuses on their friend Jack, and Jack’s relationship with their children during a key part of their transition – top surgery. It’s clear that the kids are at ease with Jack’s transition and are taking it in their stride. They refer to Jack both by their first name and by the term ‘mum’, with no confusion or hesitation.

Jack is open and honest with the kids, explaining what pronouns are and describing what they are going through in plain and age-appropriate language. It’s great to see children being respected in this way. They don’t need to be hidden from such things, it’s a part of life. But unfortunately so is bullying and Jack is open about their concerns around this.

Indeed, living in a small town in Yorkshire, there aren’t many other queer parents and this would be a huge support to both Jack and to the children. Nevertheless it’s hugely encouraging to see Jack’s children processing the situation just fine. In a particularly adorable moment, one child carefully writes out “I luf yoo” in a homemade get well soon card while Jack is in hospital.

This documentary is light in tone, uplifting and encouraging. It shows us that all families are different and that your gender identity doesn’t affect how much you love your children.

The team at ITOL wishes all graduates the very best on their filmmaking journey.

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