After what’s happened in the past year, and even though we’re still only able to experience artistic events online or in restricted circumstances, the sense of connection we feel from work which speaks to real, shared human experiences is more important than ever.
Throughout May this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival has migrated online, and the short film A Glimpse – premiering here after winning the festival’s Short Drama Award – is just one powerful example of the work on offer.
The film is about pregnancy loss, and it comes from very personal experience.
“I’d been thinking about the story for a while,” explains writer and director Zinnie Harris, one of Scotland’s leading playwrights, who is making her debut as a screen director with A Glimpse.
“I also suffered miscarriages, and the first one happened when I was working at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford.
“I was staying in a B&B, and I had this awful day where I was so upset – and then a few years later I came back to Stratford, but by then I’d got a toddler and a baby, and it just so happens that we were put in the house bang opposite where I’d been so miserable.
“I used to wish that the person in the room who had been so miserable could somehow look across the road and see this happy young mum with a baby on her hip and a toddler.”
This sense of looking at your life from a different perspective and time is what Harris’ film makes literal. “It’s a story of a woman who goes up to her attic, where she finds a portal into herself five years previously,” she says. “What she encounters is the time when she was suffering pregnancy loss, but in her life now, five years on, she’s got small children.
“When she returns to her life she thinks, ‘I wish I could communicate with that person, me in the past, and tell her that actually, life got better. So it’s a funny little story… if only our future ghosts could cheer us on and tell us, don’t worry, whatever shit you’re in right now passes.”
Harris’ plays include the award-winning Further Than the Furthest Thing for Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, an adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at London’s Donmar Warehouse, and more recently the Edinburgh International Festival’s adaptation of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, while she wrote many episodes of the television series Spooks.
In recent years she’s been directing for stage more and more, and it was after seeing her work on Frances Poet’s play Gut that producer John McKay suggested he help her get funding for this film through his company Compact Pictures – which they did, from the Scottish Film Talent Network.
Just before lockdown
“It was one of those things where the universe says, ‘look, here, you can step through this door’,” says Harris. “Then the good luck went on, because we filmed it in a cramped Edinburgh flat in February last year, so we just got it under the wire (before lockdown) – a month later and we would have been done for. We’ve not seen it in a cinema or anything, only on small screens, so I hope at some point I actually see it on a big screen.”
The film stars Kirsty Stuart, who was excellent in Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s recent Faith Healer, and River City’s Jordan Young, who Harris briefly worked with when she shadowed a director on the show.
“Obviously doing a soap like that’s different to making a film, but talk about getting the bug,” she says. “I absolutely loved being on the set. In the theatre you’ve got all this rehearsal time, you can chew over every decision, whereas behind the camera with hundreds of people around you, you have to be really fast.
“We had a terrific crew, I have to say – working with a first-time director is different, and the support they gave me and the learning from them was huge. I’m ready and eager and chomping at the bit to do more, really. Compact and I are talking about a feature, we’re putting some applications in and we’ll take it from there.
“It’s brilliant that the film’s being shown in the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, because it really is about those moments where you feel in complete despair and you can’t see the way ahead,” continues Harris.
“Whether it’s talking about pregnancy loss or any dark place – a pandemic, or anything else that we’re in – the idea that this won’t last forever and there will be better times is a good message right now. I’ve no doubt that, like the person in the film, there’s a future set of people saying, ‘don’t worry, just round the next corner it gets better’.”
- A Glimpse is screening as part of Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival’s selection of short films about grief, which can be booked for viewing as a group between Monday May 17 and Sunday May 23. See www.mhfestival.com for the full online programme.