I was lucky enough to speak to the new and upcoming film maker Alistair Macdonald and ask him some questions on what inspires his unique films. His films not only stand out from the conventional “artistry” films but take your senses on a journey and creates you to pay attention to every enjoyable detail.
What inspired you become a film maker?
For twelve years I was a lawyer but I didn’t really like my job and I felt trapped by it. I spent a long time thinking about what else I could do. I wanted to do something creative. I write music and I wanted to carry on doing that but in the context of something bigger.
I decided to become a film maker when I was staying in a log cabin in Norway, in winter a year ago. Once the idea came to me, I realised it was obvious because I love film, all sorts of film. I decided there and then I was going to do it. I didn’t really know how, though, so when I got home, I made a couple of really short films using a simple stills camera, some tangerines, a table top and iMovie. They made people laugh and then I knew I could do it.
For me, freedom is important and that is one reason I was unhappy as a lawyer. Film making, at the moment anyway, enables me to do pretty much what I want, when I want and how I want. It’s great to just let my imagination go and then follow it. It’s important, though, that what I do entertains other people – I don’t just want to make films for my own sake.
Do you have anyone or anything that inspires your films?
There’s no one answer to this. Before I was a lawyer I studied European philosophy for seven years. That has been a massive influence on how I think about things and is behind everything I do, even if it’s not obvious in the final result.
In film, sound is just as important as image and so certain types of music have been important inspirations, especially music that makes me smile by subverting rules, like Neu or Can, or stuff by the Beta Band.
I have been directly inspired by specific filmmakers though, and in some cases their influence is probably more or less obvious. Visually, the obvious ones would be Jan Svankmajer, Andrew Kötting, Chris Marker, Ben Rivers, Patrick Keiller and Gideon Koppel.
The biggest inspiration, though, has been the French director, Eric Rohmer. He started making films, seriously, in his forties. He worked on a shoestring and yet made the most wonderful films that nobody else has managed to match.
How did it feel to have your work shown at Holmfirth Film Festival?
It was great. I was really lucky because it got shown twice. Some friends of mine run the Ginger Bread House film and food nights in Marsden and they showed it before their main feature. I hid at the back. People laughed in all the right places and I got some lovely feedback afterwards. It’s impossible to look at something you’ve made objectively or afresh so seeing how a film is received is vital if you want to know whether it has succeeded.
How long did it take you to make “Island Going?”
Not long at all. I spent four days filming in the Western Isles and Outer Hebrides but had to learn how to use the camera whilst I was doing it. I worked on the script in my head as I drove back to Yorkshire then wrote it in a week. The guy I asked to do the voiceover for me is an academic in Nuremberg and he recorded it in his brother’s studio in two days. It took another couple of weeks to edit and produce a final version. I had to teach myself a lot during that month!
What inspired “Island Going”?
Well, the film is a response to the landscape of the Outer Hebrides. I went out there to research another film with a friend and spent a few days driving around filming whatever I could with the idea of making a quite different film. The islands are remarkable and barren and you’re surrounded by the ruins from the Bronze age right through to the 21st Century. In some places it looked like there’d been a civil war and once I got that idea it wormed away at me and became the basis for the film.
We went to the Outer Hebrides because of a book called “Island Going” by the naturalist Robert Atkinson but the only point of contact with the book is the title of the film. There are no real similarities. I wanted to use the title because the book had been important in getting me there. More of an influence was Louis MacNeice’s book, “I Crossed the Minch”, about his travels around the Hebrides. We deliberately walked a few of the routes that MacNeice had taken.
When we were in the Hebrides we kept bumping into this German tourist who’d hired a camper van and was just traveling round aimlessly, in winter. He’s the direct inspiration for the narrator of the film.
I was also influenced by something Guy Debord wrote about a friend who deliberately used a map of London to navigate around part of Germany. That kind of displacement really appealed to me and clearly pops up in Island Going.
Do you have a current project on the go? and can you give us any clues as to what its about? 🙂
Right now I’m finishing a short film about a kid who keeps trying to watch TV but isn’t allowed. He goes to greater and greater lengths to get away with it. It’s deliberately completely different to Island Going and has enabled me to learn a lot more.
When that’s done I want to start work on a film that will be a lot more like Island Going. I want to go back to the same kind of landscape shots that I used there but the story will be very different. It’s based around a spoof philosophy article I wrote a long time ago and is about a man who has an intense phobia of waiting so who spends his life trying to overcome it. Think about how many hours are taken up with waiting for things in your life. I bet it’s a lot, but nobody really thinks very much about waiting. That’s what I do in my next film, but in a way that hopefully will also make people laugh.