Film at the Festival: Double-bills and Polish cinema at Summerhall

The Skinny / Jamie Dunn

The moving image continues to be conspicuous by its absence from Edinburgh’s August arts festivals. But if you make your way to The Royal Dick you’ll find Summerhall summer programme bursting with cinema. We preview two of its film strands.

Double Take

For film fans, there’s nothing more indulgent than a double bill. Okay, apart from maybe a triple or quadruple bill. Sadly, though, specially curated double features are about as easy to track down nowadays as a Wimpy hamburger. The idea of back-to-back screenings was once the norm, but in the fast-paced 2010s the average cinema-goer seems unable to sit through a movie’s closing credits, let alone hang around for second helpings. But they should be cherished. Something special happens when you see two movies in one sitting: they seem to speak to each other across the interval, revealing themes and ideas that would never have been disclosed if watched in isolation.

It’s not just a matter of throwing two classics together, however, as Summerhall’s meticulously programmed Double Take season demonstrates. The films have to complement each other; they have to be tuned to similar wavelengths. Take its Lost in the City double bill, which screens Chain, experimental filmmaker Jem Cohen’s look at modern urban living, with Patrick Keiller’s masterpiece London, an ironic visual essay looking at the UK capital complete with a sardonic voice-over from Robinson, its fictional disembodied narrator. Both films are wonderful, but hopefully these two great works of cinematic psychogeography will be even more revelatory when watched in succession.

Another must see in the series is Wanderlust, a tantalising pairing of Agnes Varda’s Vagabond with Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar. Both films are from ballsy female directors with poetic eyes and both deal with haunted women taking to the road. Varda’s extraordinary film traces the last few weeks of a nomadic traveller and the people she meets as she wanders across rural France. Ramsay’s sophomore feature, meanwhile, is a dreamy knockout based on Alan Warner’s cult novel about a quiet young woman who escapes her humdrum west coast port town home in Scotland and becomes lost in a heady blaze of music and hedonism in Spain.

Other double bills in the season include Dark Days, which pairs rarely seen Czech New Wave black comedy The Cremator with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove; Film on Film has 60s experimental film David Holzman’s Diary and avant garde Soviet masterwork Man with a Movie Camera; and Mardi Gras is a screening of The Order of Myths with Easy Rider, films with different takes on the legendary New Orleans festival.

Polish Programme

Realism and surrealism collide in a season of Polish cinema at Summerhall this month. The surreal element comes from the Adam Mickiewicz Institute’s programme of films from the country’s visionary animators. Walerian Borowczyk is celebrated with a selection of his hugely influential short films, as well as a screening of Boro in the Box, Bertrand Mandico’s cinematic re-imagining of Borowczyk’s life, which takes in the filmmaker’s birth and death and all his colourful adventures in between. Little Black Riding Hood & Other Surreal Stories, which includes works from Jan Lenica, Stefan Schabanbeck, Zbigniew Rybczynski and Zofia Oraczewska, promises a night of political subversion and strange worlds; while If You See a Cat & Other Animal Tales provides a less nightmarish slice of Polish animation with a programme of animated shorts suitable for audiences of all ages.

Three contemporary documentaries, part of a series called Guide to the Poles, also screen at Summerhall in August. These films look to explore the mood of the nation during Communist rule and focus in on the people within Poland who strived for a freer and more open society during this time.

Art of Freedom details how a small group of dedicated Polish mountaineers defied their government by circumventing strict international travel restrictions to scale the highest peaks in the Himalayas. Music, meanwhile, is the source of defiance in Beats of Freedom, which explores the passions of Polish rock-nuts over three decades. Fashion can also be an act of political dissent, and Political Dress looks at fashion as a subversive art during Communist-era Poland. Clothes on the high streets were utilitarian, government approved and hideous. Judyta Fibiger’s film looks at how personal tailoring and brightly colour apparel became sources of liberty for many Poles during Communist rule.

A full list of Summerhall’s August screenings can be found at