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The Highlands features in Living Proof – a film being shown as part of the Take One Action film festival at Eden Court this weekend – with curator Emily Munro talking about her film and what it told her about Scotland's climate journey

By Margaret Chrystall

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WAS climate change inevitable, curator and writer Emily Munro asks in the year of COP26 with her new archive film Living Proof: A Climate Story.

A still from the archive film that looks for the roots of the climate crisis in Scotland's post-war history.
A still from the archive film that looks for the roots of the climate crisis in Scotland's post-war history.

It is being shown in Inverness as part of the Take One Action film festival at Eden Court next Friday (October 29).

Looking through unique pieces of archive footage from all kinds of industries after the last war – and all over Scotland, Emily delved through the film store in the National Library of Scotland.

"I’d actually curated another film a few years ago called Her Century which is about the way women are represented in our heritage.

"It was a much bigger success than we had expected and that really was a testing ground for looking at big themes through the collection – and I suppose it opened the door to us thinking about our living memory on film in a more critical way.

"Living Proof started off with me thinking what is our relationship with the environment and as the research continued and the film took on a life of its own it became a lot more about our relationship to energy and economic growth.

Emily said: “My job is working as a moving image curator there on our living memory on film and I had been wanting to make a film about the history of our relation to the environment.”

Now she has put together a full-length documentary which looks at the linked stories of energy, industry, consumerism and the environment in Scotland.

“Because of lockdown I had more space for research than I had anticipated.

"It meant I could watch a lot more footage and we could get new material digitised as well. So that was exciting, getting things out that hadn’t really been looked at – probably since they were deposited in the archive!

"And in the film itself there are these big set pieces of footage which form a kind of narrative but there are also montage sequences where time speeds up.

"Overall I think there are over 80 different films used within the feature,” Emily said.

"I don’t see myself as a filmmaker though I did edit this film myself so I should own that label filmmaker a little bit more. I guess I see myself as a curator and a writer. For me, actually, the editing process was a little bit like writing.

Emily Munro made the film Living Proof.
Emily Munro made the film Living Proof.

"I was doing the research and for a long time it’s just about absorbing. I suppose that is the advantage of me being a curator within that collection, I know – I mean there are thousands of films in the collection, I wouldn’t even pretend that I knew them all, you need decades to get to that point – but I do know the collection better than most people.

"So I did have markers that I knew. Then there was a lot of watching material that I hadn’t explored.

"I spent a lot of time watching the North Sea Oil material, most of which I didn’t use, sadly. But it was important to me to understand that – and just doing a lot of thinking around the subject.

"Then I wrote a sort of script outline because as a writer I wanted to. I knew I wanted to talk about coming out of the first industrial revolution and into that world of heavy industry and I knew I wanted something that was going to make us think a bit more about modernity and consumerism.

"Then I knew I also wanted something about our current concerns with the environment.

"So those were the things I wanted in and I experimented a bit with chronology, but in the end I decided it made more sense – because I don’t give the viewer any indication of when films were made, there are no dates that come up on screen – that it is roughly chronological.

"Also I decided quite early on in the process that I wanted to use contemporary music. Three of the montage sequences have montages by contemporary Scottish artists."

The story of the Highlands also features, Emily says.

“When I was doing the research, I kept coming back to the Highlands.

“In terms of thinking about Scotland’s economic growth, and energy future, so much of that drama is staged in the Highlands.

“After the first initial montage in the film, the first sequence is about the Hydro Electric plan that was implemented in the 1940s and 1950s.

“It was a really visionary development scheme, but it was controversial at the time.”

The soundtrack of music Emily refers to, is provided by Scottish musicians Louise Connell, Brownbear and Post Coal Prom Queen, is designed, according to Emily, to “amplify the voices of the past in powerful and sometimes unsettling ways”.

Living Proof is at Eden Court tonight (Friday, October 29) at 6.30pm. Emily Munro will be in conversation after the 95-minute film. There are three more Take One Action films being shown this Saturday and Sunday (October 30 and 31). More info: eden-court.co.uk Take One Action film festivals have been going since 2008, having engaged tens of thousands of people with hundreds of films, showcasing inspiring stories that explore issues of global concern and providing training for budding and experienced changemakers. More here: takeoneaction.org.uk/festivals/

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