Punto de Vista 2018 Award winners
© Gunnie Moberg Archive at Orkney Library & Archive.
The phrase that Margaret Tait repeated most often when explaining her films is Lorca’s idea that she loved so much and which claimed that the poet had to “stalk the image”. The Scottish filmmaker practised this verse perfectly, fully aware that this visual hunt was not with the eye, but from an indefinable, more inner place, close to the lungs, where it is felt that breathing is filmed. 32 short films and just one feature film are evidence of this long breath she left behind.
Some of the short films are as little as 4 minutes to sum up the marvellous portrait of her mother in Portrait of Ga, in which the duration did not matter so much as the beating of the image. An important detail, as Margaret Tait claimed, with a symbol that came from her past in medicine: the clinical graph of a healthy and beating heart.
She studied filmmaking in Rome at the Centro de Sperimentale di Cinematografía, in the neo-realism years and on her return to Scotland, she laid the bases of her filmmaking and set up her own production company, Ancona Films, where the Paillar-Bolex with which she filmed and breathed was just as important as the van she slept in. We are talking about completely self-funded films, totally free and detached from any official matters, the type of filmmaking that Punto de Vista seeks edition after edition. Her abstract, animated films, some of which were painted by hand, her excellent brief yet concise portraits of poets and travel companions, and above all, most of her films in which she tried to trap the beating of a landscape and the breath of a vital space will be present in the retrospective that Punto de Vista dedicates to her in its 2015 edition.
Poet and filmmaker, which she saw as one, said that her work followed the same free grammar of verse. Born on a small island in the Orkneys, north of Scotland, it is curious how her filmmaking path follows the landscape of her life in parallel. Her works are films that defend the sketch of the film than the finished work and which begin, for example, singing of a happy childhood like in Happy Bees, or the passing of the seasons on a farm on the islands in Land Makar. This phase is followed by more urban portraits of a more profound filmmaking; a staging that shows more floors than skies during the years she spent in Edinburgh, where she shot films such as Rose Street or Where I am is here. And a final third stage, when she decided to return to the islands in the 1960s, to once more feel and film that missed geography and the leaps from city to country that she liked so much in works, such as The Drift Back or the series, Aspects of Kirkwall.
It would be interesting to study when the verb present was used in the film industry to announce in the opening credits that this is the action performed at the beginning of a film. Margaret Tait from her production company, Ancona Films, ever concise with her words, chose a more appropriate verb for some of her films: offer. And that’s the way it is. Her short, yet profound films are all an offering. Another thing does not appear to be by chance, is that her small, improvised studio on the isles was in a former chapel. In each of her works, the hands of the author are felt, offering us the opportunity to remain perplexed by the wind that sways the grass or that makes us feel a stab of pain on seeing two old abandoned boots that no longer move. If each Tait scene contains the spirit of haiku and each shot takes the shape of a chalice, what her films offer us is the breath of a fulfilled and wise person.