Berwick Film Festival: director bows out with pride

Melanie Iredale, centre right, and her film festival team raise their glasses after a job well done.
Melanie Iredale, centre right, and her film festival team raise their glasses after a job well done.

Melanie Iredale will be a hard act to follow. Director of the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival for the past five years, she bowed out with mixed emotions on Sunday as this year’s five-day extravaganza came to a close.

There was a feeling of pride, of course. Pride in what she has achieved during her time at the helm. But there was sadness too. Sadness because of what she will be leaving behind.

Melanie, who is standing down to become deputy director at the Sheffield Documentary Festival, has been the driving force behind the expansion of the annual event held each September.

She has dramatically increased the depth of the festival’s programme and its audience every year. This year’s tenth anniversary event brought in record audiences of 9,000.

Asked how she felt during Sunday’s closing gala, she replied: “Mixed. I was really, really proud of what has been achieved over the five days. So it was a happy occasion. But at the same time I was really sad.

“I was thinking about some highlights. The commissions that we developed is something I’ll take with me. I’ve also made a lot of friends through the film festival.

“For my closing speech, the theatre was full of people who I’ve made friends with, so it was emotional.

“This was a huge year for us. We were committed to producing a bumper edition in celebration of our 10th birthday and the feedback we’ve had has been overwhelming.”

Highly regarded throughout Europe, the festival attracts more film makers and artists every year. This year they came from beyond Europe too.

“That’s really significant for the development of the festival,” Melanie explained. From Lebanon to Los Angeles, they travelled to Berwick from far and wide.

Using the town as one big cinema screen, the programme featured over 75 new films and moving image art installations from almost 40 countries, with six world premieres and 19 UK premieres. Presented across 12 unique locations ranging from The Maltings Theatre, to heritage sites including Bankhill Ice House, and the Town Hall prison cells, across the town and along the town walls, it drew in the visitors like never before.

The festival’s theme – Border Crossing – returned to its very first theme in 2005, exploring identities and the crossing and transcending of boundaries all over the world. It was particularly appropriate on the week of the Scottish independence referendum.

A live performance from Phil Selway of Radiohead was among the many highlights. The screening of From Scotland with Love at Paxton House, marking the first time the festival crossed the border, was a sellout.

And the Gymnasium Gallery was full to the rafters for the world premiere of The Lawes of the Marches by Berwick’s artist in residence Katie Davies, which involved a live performance of songs from the Borders.

“Audiences and artists alike agree that this has been by far the best edition,” said Mealnie. “I’m incredibly grateful to all those who helped to make it such a success. I’m proud of what we achieved together.”