This evening I went to the Poetic Cinema event, organised by Edinburgh's Filmhouse and the Scottish Poetry Library. An evening of cinema inspired by poetry. Including three film poems from Margaret Tait Where I Am Is Here (1964), Colour Poems (1974) and Hugh MacDiarmid; A Portrait (1964). Although there are moments of great beauty in the first two of these and all of them offer interesting historical snapshots, I felt that they lacked coherence and any sense of either direction or wholeness.
Much more interesting and successful for me was Neil Kempsell's visual interpretation of Sorley MacLean's poem Hallaig, about the tragic loss and memories of a highland community on the Island of Raasay. This is a stunning film of animated characters moving over filmed broken houses and landscape, as if the ghosts of the original inhabitants have returned. The soundtrack was wonderful too, composed by Martyn Bennett.
The evening ended with Bernard MacLaverty's film inspired by the Seamus Heaney poem 'Bye-Child', a film of eerie beauty with a disturbing story to tell.
After the screening Bernard MacLaverty and Neil Kempsell discussed the films and some of the challenges around adapting poetry for the screen. The most interesting discussions for me centred around narrative and how to adapt a poem to fit the narrative requirements of the cinema. Of course Margaret Tait chose to sidestep any real narrative and that for me is largely why her films didn't work. However I have seen other films that have chosen to take a non-narrative, poetic approach to their subject matter and have succeeded as a more meditative type of cinema, possibly blurring the boundary with video art. The other question is how to judge how much material to add to a poem in making it a film and where is the line between the film of a poem and a film inspired by a poem?
This week, Poetry Thursday suggested we take an Artist's Date, I think this fits the bill!