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Scottish Screen to hold retrospective for unique filmmaker

A major retrospective of the work of Margaret Tait will be presented at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
The retrospective is the result of a two-year collaboration between Scottish Screen, the Lux and film programmer/writer Peter Todd to preserve and re-present the work of one of Scotland’s internationally acclaimed filmmakers.
Presented by Peter Todd, a series of five screenings of shorts from newly preserved prints made by the Scottish Screen Archive will be shown nightly from August 23.
Orcadian artist, poet and filmmaker Tait realised her vision of the world across many of the artificial boundaries in the arts. She produced in excess of 30 films between 1952 and 1996. Due to geographic isolation and the fact that she worked so independently most of her work remains relatively unseen by the general public. Her work references both cinema and visual arts as well as being an important ethnographic record of Scottish and Orcadian life: all the more unique for being produced by a Scottish woman working outside the traditional film industry.
Most of her films were self funded and distributed and have remained outside the commercial exhibition network. The scarcity of prints and her distrust of the institutions of film production have meant that her work has been difficult to access in the last 20 years. She directed her first feature film, ‘Blue Black Permanent’, in 1992 at the age of 74.
Curator of the Scottish Screen Archive, Janet McBain, said: "Preserving the Margaret Tait collection is one of the most challenging projects faced by the Scottish Screen Archive. An array of experimental and non-conventional film making techniques, such as painting and scratching on the films’ surface, splicing negative and positive film stocks together within one title plus the physical characteristics all compounded by the ravages of time and the environment made this a fascinating if difficult assignment."
The conditions of storage in Tait’s island studio, a converted kirk building, had not been kind to the films - damp being the main problem. This was compounded by the fact that the filmmaker had an ‘individual’ relationship with film laboratories. Early in her film career a laboratory mislaid the negative of Rose Street (1956). It has never been found.
She preferred that all original material and printing masters be returned to her studio instead of being placed into store in laboratory vaults as is customary. As a result all the elements of the film, camera reversals and negatives, have been affected by damp and mould, not just the projection copies that a filmmaker would normally have in their possession. Most alarming is the evidence that original copies (sometimes the only existing copy of a work) had been used as projection prints, original negatives were scratched, and damaged, prints had been re-edited after printing, with paint added to some to produce different endings.
The Margaret Tait retrospective begins on Monday August 23 at Filmhouse in Edinburgh and continues until Saturday August 28, when her only feature film, Blue Black Permanent, will be screened.
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