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Awards cast light on new film talents

It is simple advice: if you have it, project it, Mitchell Miller learns at the 2006 Scottish Students on Screen awards day

If you have a talent, it needs to be projected." With these words, actor and director David Hayman summed up the aim of the 2006 Scottish Students on Screen Awards, which were held at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow.

Student film-makers gathered from art schools and further education colleges across Scotland at the end of last term to compete in seven main categories. Sponsored by Scottish Screen, the awards represent a rite of passage for the fledgling directors making the leap from protege to professional.

Francis Lopez, of Scottish Screen, and editor of its weekly bulletin e-Roughcuts, can still remember his sense of isolation when he first qualified. "The importance of this day is about feeling you belong to the industry. We're trying to put these students in the loop, to be judged and applauded by their peers, and not let them feel as if they are alone."

Almost every agency connected with the Scottish film world was at the event to offer creativity, business and career development advice. As Mark Leese, of Skillset, explained: "We're here to give the students a dose of reality, to realise they are starting on a journey that requires good business sense as much as creativity."

In the inaugural BAFTA Scotland masterclass, Mr Hayman addressed the spiritual and moral aspects of being an artist. Uncompromising and direct, he warned his audience: "The greatest challenge you will face coming into this industry is holding on to your integrity."

He gave plenty of advice as to how they might keep it, from how to treat actors ("I'm bringing you the rough diamond, your job as a director is to polish the facets") to the importance of taming producers, to involvement in humanitarian causes.

"On the whole, our industry shies away from the big moral choices. You have the means of communications at your disposal and you must get us on course," he said.

Scots actor James Cosmo opened the awards ceremony on an optimistic note.

"It's very exciting to stand here in front of you on the threshold of your professional careers. Just thinking of what you can do sends shivers up my spine."

And spine-shivering there was. The standard of entries was high, and particularly heartening was the concentration on ideas, experimentation and testing the limits of narrative.

Subjects included terminal illness, female sexuality, graffiti, Ned culture and food.

It was such a diverse field, it was hard to pick favourites, but honourable mentions should go to fiction award winner Luke Oliver Ritchie's 18H, an experimental sci-fi reminiscent of Lars von Trier's The Element of Crime, and the light but well made Dave Eggers-esque The Immeasurable Joy of Healthy Living, which won the award for cinematography.

Many of the FE entrants could (and should) have been competing in categories outside the technical excellence award. Eddie Newman, of Glasgow Metropolitan College, had entered a thought-provoking documentary on graffiti, while fellow student David Leishman's A Mental Love Story (which won the category) featured a superb musical number.

The bravest piece of film-making was, for me, And Yet, I Feel Innocent, by Ruth Paxton of Edinburgh College of Art, competing in the No Boundaries category. It is a risque, often lurid but truthful piece of art film that lingered long after the lights went up.

The award winners well deserved the plaudits. Michael Hughes' Adore was an astonishing piece of stop-motion animation, while the crowd-pleasing expose of the jaffa cake, Half Cake, Half Biscuit, won the audience award.

Encouragingly, the most politically engaged film carried the evening.

Scooping two awards, for factual and outstanding achievement, was Craig Curran's Spanish Civil War documentary, La Passionaria.

"The most important thing," said Craig, of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, "was the story about the people who fought the fascists before the Second World War."

In introducing his award, Alison Forsyth, the director of BAFTA Scotland, said: "To work in screen you have to have a real passion for it." The young director clearly does, in abundance.

As the ceremony broke up and the award winners went off to celebrate, the runners-up to commiserate, I made note of names to watch for in the future.

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