Films in panorama

Denyse Presley joins media studies pupils for a special Festival screening and lecture session.

Some 280 S5 and S6 media studies pupils and their teachers merged on the cinema complex at Edinburgh's Fountainpark for the screening of a new Scottish feature film, The Last Great Wilderness. It is a modern and morally ambiguous take on the road movie genre, directed by David Mackenzie, co-written with and starring his brother Alastair, who plays the laird in the BBC's Monarch of the Glen.

This is the second day of the Edinburgh International Film Festival's schools programme and so the event kicks off with a session on the film-making process with the Mackenzie brothers and the film's producer, Gillian Berrie. She surprises one questioner with a story about how the film, shot almost entirely on location in the Highlands, nearly was never made.

A day and a half before filming was due to commence the crew got word about the foot and mouth epidemic. At that late hour the sympathetic Comer Estate, on the east side of Ben Lomond, allowed them to locate there.

In the film, Alastair Mackenzie plays Charlie Locke, a forsaken lover who intends to burn down the Skye home of the famous popstar who stole his wife. He drives Vince (played by Jonny Phillips), a modern gigolo who poses as Spanish - and is in fact half Spanish - on the run from a lover's husband. Out of petrol in mid-winter, they arrive at a remote hunting lodge hotel turned rehabilitation centre where their fates become closely linked with the oddball residents.

The film might have been tailor-made for Higher media studies. The course covers topics such as genre and narrative: The Last Great Wilderness upends conventional expectations as well as representing individuals and Scotland in an original and thought-provoking way.

"Unfortunately it's not yet available on video," says Martin Stone, an English and media studies teacher at Currie High in Edinburgh. "You've got to be able to stop and start the film in the classroom to talk about shot type and sound and light. But I will be looking at it in comparison to other Scottish films, such as Rob Roy."

The final scene is the talking point among pupils outside the cinema. Vince becomes a shocking martyr to his chosen lifestyle and it is very disturbing, but the pupils are dealing with that by describing the scene and talking it through.

In the afternoon, Lawrence Gornall, the head of marketing and executive producer of The Last Great Wilderness, talks about the relationship between the producer and film distributor. His company, Winchester Entertainment, bought Lantana, a romantic thriller, at the Cannes Film Festival primarily because the producer of The Piano was behind it. Usually, he says, a buyer or distributor will only look at films if they know the film-maker. Getting known is one reason why festivals such as Edinburgh's are key.

Mr Gornall illustrates his talk about the importance of film trailers with several barely dissimilar versions, asking the audience how the Lantana post-production team are persuading their targeted audience - the twentysomething arthouse crowd - to go to see the film. Some devices are obvious, such as a quote from Elle magazine praising Lantana. Others are less so, such as a clever use of sound: what they technically call a "whoosh" at a point in the trailer where they want the audience's attention. "This makes you look to see what the sound is."

Rana Johal, an examiner for the British Board of Film Classification, then surprised the audience by admitting: "There is a Bob the Builder video out there with the "f" word in it. What can I say? We let it through."

Generally, he says, this doesn't happen with two classification examiners working on each film, video, CD-Rom and computer game that needs to be classified in order for it to be released in the UK.

He started out as a youth worker, which he says is perfect training because as an examiner your primary concern is for children. "And you must love films as you get to watch a lot of them."

He illustrates his talk with films which include scenes of sex, drugs and violence and explains why each received the classification it did. He certified Spider-Man as 12 and received dozens of letters of protest embellished with Spider-Man and Green Goblin drawings. "It's tough," he says. "My own six-year-old son loves Spider-Man and I'm preventing him seeing it." However, the film deals with teenage angst and it was decided that the material is too grown-up for children aged under 12.

Sometimes examiner meetings are heated, says Mr Johal. If a unanimous decision cannot be reached, the BBFC president, and sometimes lawyers and psychologists, might be consulted.

For more information on the Filmhouse education programme and Film Festival schools' programme tel 0131 228 6382

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