Image: Oliver Benton
The ninth edition of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival culminated on Monday 6 May 2019 with a Film Walk to Hawick’s Wilton Dean Village Hall, where writer, actor and director Gerda Stevenson delivered a new poem, commissioned by Alchemy Film & Arts, in tribute to Margaret Tait‘s 1956 film Orquil Burn. Whereas the film traces an Orcadian burn from sea to source, Gerda’s literary response follows it in the opposite direction: two readings, one before the film and one after, gave a symmetry in parallel to the circular walk.
Margaret Tait directed Gerda in Blue Black Permanent (1992), the director’s only feature film and the first ever made by a Scottish woman. Gerda also attended this year’s festival to deliver Quiet Defiance, her talk on Tait’s legacy, on Sunday 5 May.
Alchemy’s Film Walk was the first event be held in the Scottish Borders as part of Margaret Tait 100, the ongoing celebration of Tait on the occasion of her centenary.
(after a film by Margaret Tait)
I rise in a quiet place, tranquil, like my name,
where the lone owl swoops above constellations
of bog cotton and sphagnum moss; water drips
from roots, and I trickle by gravity’s instinct,
meander through abandoned peat banks
to curlew’s call, past orchids and butterwort,
no thought of my own utility;
till I’m commandeered –
diverted to power a mill,
a handy back-up plan
when the wind blows herself out,
and for a while Orkney lies still.
I’m bridged, dammed and fenced –
barbed wire marks men’s borders;
even my name is implicated:
‘liquor’ lurks in its letters
as I’m piped to the distillery.
I learn to flow the man-made way
in straight lines, by Caldale Camp,
its concrete wartime hearths
bereft of walls in desolate ranks,
declaring dereliction to the sky;
But flowers still come to soften my banks,
yellow mimulus and meadow sweet,
and boys gather round me to play
in the ‘deep places’, they say, deft fingers
weaving iris-leaf boats – green vessels gliding slow,
stalking each other to childish cries of ‘Torpedo!’ –
echo of battles a stone’s throw from my estuary,
where I plunge over rocks into the tidal to and fro,
and mingle among history’s wreckage
in salty Scapa Flow.