Art films. They don’t divide public opinion: they often pass the public by altogether. Many don’t even make it to our national galleries but are instead limited to some contemporary artist’s private exhibition in the latest cool London borough. Aberdeen, my hometown, is not known for its private exhibitions. It really isn’t known for much, apart from oil and gas and the grey granite building that dispirit even the cheeriest wanderer of its streets.
But in 2017 brightness was added to the structures as the Nuart Street Art festival came to the city for the first time. It has returned annually since, as more and more buildings across my hometown are covered in magnificent paintings. It, like many other art events, fell victim to the virus. However, Nuart has released an anthology of short films about the city as part of their online festival.
Tales of Silver City. I laughed at the title when I first saw it. Silver connotes lustre, elegance, beauty; Aberdeen is none of these things to me. But watching the short films, I began to reconsider.
We are led into the anthology with U Are Here, a visual representation of the city’s outcasts. The camera wanders around an empty rooftop, ambling closer to the corners of buildings and revolving around in circles. It is immersive. You feel that you are the one, alone on the roof-top, viewing the city from this unique angle. The graffitied and partially abandoned buildings in the centre of the cityscape are central to this film’s concerns of the ignored and forgotten. However, the film is hopeful, even from the outset: “No matter where you are from, it’s a place for runaways, you can belong,” recites an unseen narrator before the title sequence.
All the films are hopeful. The darkest in content, Green, telling the story of the city’s darkest moment when seven hundred of its children were kidnapped and sold into slavery in North America, is conversely the most beautiful and delicate. The symbolism of plants and flowers contrasts to the other films that mostly focus on the architecture. It is not the buildings that are being celebrated though, but the street art that the Nuart festival has brought to the city. In Green it represents healing, in City of Giants it represents a reclamation of the city overpowered by its brutalist buildings, in Caroline it highlights the importance of women in Aberdeen’s history.
The films always come back to the city; Aberdeen is the protagonist. It is not always pretty, but it is its imperfections that make it home. The final film of the sequence: The Great Wizard of the North, heralds this message, but it is showcased in all the films to some extent.
Quarantine has made me re-evaluate my hometown. Normally full of roaring traffic, whilst still and silent it seems like quite a different place. Since watching the films I have begun to pick up on things that I never noticed before, the form of the church, the amount of greenery in the centre, the beauty of the beach I so often forget is even there. The city is made of grey granite, that is an undeniable fact. But as the final film tells, grey is formed from many different colours and has them all within it. I may still prefer Edinburgh, but just as every cloud has a silver lining, Aberdeen does too.
The short film anthology can be seen at https://vimeo.com/390852950
Image by Ragazzi99 via Wikimedia Commons