Falconer Houston | 1977 | 7 min
A recently rediscovered expressive short about a teacher at the end of his tether. Faced with yet another day teaching music to uninterested boys he decides to take the rest of the day off.
Paisley artist Falconer Houston is well established as a painter and ceramicist, yet his many short films from the 1960s and 70s have been overlooked. Working as an art teacher, he frequently made films with or about children and young people. Sanctuary is his most personal work.
The term ‘amateur film’ has slipped out of fashion. Since the means to shoot and edit footage of a high quality have become widely affordable, the distinction between amateur and professional filmmaking has fallen into question. In this context ‘amateur’ is often used in a pejorative sense. Yet many of the films screened in competition at GSFF – commonly classed within the catch-all classification of ‘independent’ – would have previously been considered amateur films. They can be understood as belonging to a rich and diverse tradition with its own international film festival circuit.
The unearthing of several films by an amateur Paisley filmmaker of the 1960s and ‘70s is therefore cause of considerable excitement, especially because at least one of his films had been sought after by academic researchers and thought lost for ever. Cry of the Peewee (1969) won Best Film at the 1970 Scottish Amateur Film Festival, held at Glasgow Film Theatre – a remarkable achievement in what was an international competition, particularly as it was made by a school. During the course of a four year project at University of Glasgow, Children and Amateur Media in Scotland (2010–2014), researchers wrote to every school in the country in the attempt to find it, to no avail.
This and other films by Falconer Houston, a local painter and art teacher, were finally unearthed when the widow of Alex Sharp, the subject of Houston’s film Bute Potter (1966), contacted the Paisley Museum to see if they had a copy. Richard Weeks, the New Media Worker at Renfrewshire Leisure was already building up a catalogue of amateur film in Paisley, and in searching out Bute Potter he discovered the full extent of Falconer’s work, scattered across various Renfrewshire archives.
Four films were showcased at the 2018 Glasgow Short Film Festival, all of which have benefitted from new digital scans and sound restoration, representing a cross-section of the work Falconer produced over two decades: the artist portrait of Bute Potter, the documenting of typical school activities of the period in Ardentinny Outdoor Centre (1973), the ambitious historical drama Cry of the Peewee and his most personal project, the expressionist Sanctuary (1977). What is immediately clear is that Falconer Houston has an impressive visual eye. His images are rich yet precisely framed. His films may be classed as amateur, but his cinematic sensibility is as strong as any professional artist working in Scotland at that time. The discovery of these forgotten films is of great importance to Scottish film culture. GSFF is excited to present Sanctuary to an even wider audience.
Matt Lloyd GSFF Director
Glasgow Short Film Festival’s Shorts In Support scheme aims to revive the tradition of the supporting short film by distributing eight fantastic new short films (including two selected by the Scottish Queer International Film Festival) to cinemas and film societies to screen before features during autumn/winter 2018. Shorts in Support is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network.