After 20 years, I've discovered how to persuade people to watch weird films. Throw in naked swimming at 3am off the coast of Scotlandby Mark Cousins / October 25, 2008 / Leave a comment
I suddenly went deaf in one ear the other day, so I went to the nurse. She looked in my ear and, startled, said, “There’s something in there.” I was intrigued. She warmed her syringe, scooshed and scooshed and, eventually, out came a lump of seaweed the size of a pea, from the Cromarty Firth in the north of Scotland, where I’d been swimming naked at three in the morning the previous weekend with 25 people from around the world I’d just met.
There was something Lynchean about this seaweed in my ear. When the nurse told me what she’d found, I imagined David Lynch’s camera gliding into the roaring gloom of my ear canal. The thought took me elsewhere, but when I snapped back to the surgery I found myself blurting out the bit about 25 naked strangers. I know nurses see humankind in its infinite variety on a daily basis, but I suspect that mine found this story a bit weird. I admit it sounds so, but it wasn’t.
Nairn is more Bill Forsythean than Lynchean. It’s a small place, but people bustle and fizz with humour. Chicken rogan josh is easier to get than haggis. Women in their eighties are Johnny Depp fans. At the start of this year, the actress Tilda Swinton, who lives in Nairn, rented a smelly old sandstone former dance hall and bingo parlour that used to be called the Ballerina Ballroom and asked me to help put on a community film festival. In a moment of mental flooding, I said—absolutely.
Five months later, after layers of paint, loads of Chinese lanterns, glitter balls, UV lights, gorgeous dream murals by artist John Byrne and swags of cheap, glittery, velvety material, the smelly bingo hall had been transformed into a bedraggled cinema of dreams, lit like Christmas in the 1950s.
Festival reports usually focus on the content of the festival, but I’d like to talk about what it felt like to be in the Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams, the form of our festival, because I don’t think I have ever felt it before. As people arrived from all over the world—six times as many as we expected—they walked along a tunnel of twinkling stars, passed bendy mirrors and then glimpsed our childish little movie grotto, where the music was anything from “I Saw…