Short films complicate our view of Scottish national cinema

Graduate Student Spotlight: Zach Finch

Zach Finch

PhD student in Media, Cinema and Digital Studies

Update: Congratulations, Zach! He is now an associate lecturer in the Film Studies Program here at UW-Milwaukee.

My dissertation tells the story of Scottish national cinema through Scotland’s short fiction films from 1930 to the present. As a small nation within the United Kingdom, Scotland’s film culture has played a subordinate role in relation to England’s and has struggled for decades to create its own thriving film industry. However, in the mid-1990s, critics and scholars began to talk of a uniquely Scottish national cinema, rather than the traditional and all-encompassing “British cinema,” because of the success of films like Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996). In spite of some key successes, the sustainable production of feature films has eluded Scotland, and as a result, many have doubted the existence of a true Scottish national cinema. I propose that instead of defining Scotland’s film culture exclusively by its feature-length productions, we should define it in a way that includes its rich short fiction film tradition.

Short fiction films are often overlooked within the discipline of Film Studies because of the commercial and cultural dominance of the feature. The short’s relative obscurity and its limited accessibility impede analysis, as scholars must work harder simply to view the films. Nonetheless, short films are vital to national cinemas because they incubate film movements, allow filmmakers to take risks, and provide opportunities for marginalized people to make films. For example, Lynne Ramsay’s “Small Deaths” is a clear forerunner of independent Scottish films of the 1990s. “Chick’s Day” by Enrico Cocozza deals with issues like juvenile crime and poverty. Additionally, Margaret Tait’s numerous short films explore the subjectivities of Scottish women during the mid-twentieth century. Many others reveal the diversity and richness of Scottish film culture.

In addition to a chapter on the specific functions of the short film in the context and creation of national cinemas, my dissertation contains chapters on periods of short filmmaking within Scotland. By studying fourteen short films from 1933 to 2013, I reveal the range and importance of short filmmaking in Scotland. Given that these films represent the nation, they often contest dominant representations of Scots and Scotland in mainstream film history. The final chapter contains interviews with active filmmakers as they speak about their experiences and the practical difficulties of making films.