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New Aberdeen film festival looks at Scottish stories – and zombies – on the silver screen

Dr Calum Waddell shouts action for the start of  Dark Nights film festival staged by the University of Aberdeen.
Dr Calum Waddell shouts action for the start of Dark Nights film festival staged by the University of Aberdeen.

Lights, camera, action as Aberdeen’s newest film festival bursts into life this weekend – looking at movies through a very Scottish lens.

Dark Nights, staged by the University of Aberdeen, will examine the tartan touch on the silver screen ranging from James Bond to zombie flicks, immortal Highlanders to emerging talent forged here in the north-east.

“The idea behind it Scottish stories with a twist,” said Dr Calum Waddell, lecturer at the School Of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture, who has curated Dark Nights, which will run on Friday March 4 and Saturday March 5.

He hopes the impressive line-up – including actors, writers, filmmakers and some legendary film industry insiders – will attract people of all ages to Aberdeen.

Dark Nights should attract visitors, says Dr Calum Waddell.

“I mean, we have John Grover, one of the last surviving people who worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick. Why would you not travel from several hours from outside of Aberdeen to meet this man and hear his stories?” said Calum.

James Bond is fundamental to celebrating Scottish stories on film

Film editor Grover also worked on classic Bond films, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill.

He will be taking part in an event on Friday evening, Shaken Not Stirred, looking at Bond past, present and future, alongside award-winning cinematographer Phil Meheux, who worked on Golden Eye and Casino Royale, as well as Bond actress Martine Beswick who was in From Russia With Love and Thunderball, with Sean Connery.

Calum said the story of 007  was fundamental to a film festival celebrating Scottish film stories with a twist.

Sean Connery was the quintessential Bond – and Scottish to his core.

“Sean Connery was so convincing in that role that Ian Fleming even wrote the character as Scottish in some of his later novels,” he said.

“So I’m hoping those who only know Daniel Craig as Bond might come and learn from John Grover, who edited the Roger Moore Bond films, which were massive when they came out. Octopussy was the sixth highest-grossing film in the world in 1983.”

Also on the Dark Nights bill, on Saturday, is a conversation with Scottish actor Ian McCulloch, who starred in the BBC’s 1970s post-apocalyptic drama Survivors before going on to make the notorious film Zombie Flesh Eaters in 1979.

Calum said the film – dubbed a video nasty by many in its day – has stood the test of time and inspired some of the world’s greatest filmmakers of today.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio starred in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

“Edgar Wright claims it as one of his favourite films, as Guillermo del Toro and Quentin Tarantino,” he said.

“In Tarantino’s film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio plays an actor who has a television success but when that series ends he gets seduced by big money to make gaudy low budget films in Italy.

Zombie Flesh Eaters is a film that has stood the test of time

“That’s what Ian McCulloch did. His series Survivors ran out and was given good earning potential to make gory films in Italy.

“He was thinking these films would never be seen by anyone and here we are 40 years later and he’s coming to Aberdeen University to celebrate a film that’s stood the test of time.”

Another cult classic, Highlander, will be shown during the festival on Saturday, with author Jonathan Melville looking back at the making of the film – starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. The Edinburgh writer penned the definitive book on how the film came together, with a fascination behind-the-scenes insight into its ups and downs.

Highlander starred Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery.

Dark Nights will also celebrate emerging talent by screening The Great Conjunction, a fascinating short film from Aberdeen University graduate Karolina Smolova.

In the mix will be a panel discussion on diversity in the arts, plus a look at recently discovered Black action films from apartheid-era South Africa.

There will also also be a screenwriting workshop from Glasgow screenwriter Sergio Casci, who pens for River City as well as scripting the macabre feature film, The Lodge.

How to find out more about the Dark Nights film festival

Calum said the festival has appeal for all ages and from all walks of life, but he particularly hopes it appeals to his students.

Karolina Smolova is taking part in Dark Nights film festival organised by University of Aberdeen.

“They have an opportunity to learn from people who have worked at the highest echelons of the film industry,” he said.

“It’s very hard to get a film made. Here you have the opportunity to be in the same room as people who have written films for major studios, edited films for major studios, been a cinematographer on films for major studios. That’s no small thing.”

To find our more about Dark Nights – part of the university’s UNI-versal series of festivals coming in 2022 – go to the university website.

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