St Andrews film festival unveils its debut line-up

The Sands International Film Festival of St Andrews has unveiled the film line-up for its first event.

Over three days, 25-27 March, filmmakers from around the world will gather in the historic University town, to not only showcase their work, but engage directly with cinemagoers and the larger community in a range of supporting events all housed in the festival hub, the Byre Theatre.

Sands is proud to finally share details of a compact but diverse and lovingly curated programme, comprising of nine fiction and non-fiction feature films (including a special mystery film yet to be announced), many of which have only been seen previously at the biggest film festivals in the world.

St Andrews is often cited as the place where great things first blossomed, and this is reflected in the theme uniting the films of this year’s programme, Beginnings.

Sands is dedicated to championing filmmakers at the beginning of their career, with many of the films showcased being feature debuts for their respective directors.

Leith-based filmmaking duo, Will Hewitt and Austen McCowan, who have received Scottish Baftas for their short films, present Long Live My Happy Head, a documentary love story about comic books and cancer that follows a long-distance couple as they navigate one of the most difficult challenges of their lives during a Covid lockdown. Blerta Basholli’s feature debut and breakout hit at Sundance, Hive, is inspired by one Kosovan woman’s true story of determination in face of patriarchal oppression and family tragedy.

Ascension will feature at Sands

Amalia Ulman’s hilarious and touching, El Planeta focuses on a mother and daughter who charmingly scam their way to luxury in a post-crisis Spain. Nana Mensah writes, directs and stars in dark comedy Queen of Glory, a heartfelt love letter to the Ghanian-American community of the Bronx that won her the Best New Narrative Director award at Tribeca Film Festival. Jessica Kingdon’s now Oscar-nominated documentary Ascension, an absorbing dissection of the ‘Chinese dream’ also won big at Tribeca, having been awarded Best Documentary and Jessica named Best New Documentary Filmmaker.

The programme also features work by filmmakers more established in their careers: Christopher Makoto Yogi’s second feature, I Was a Simple Man, is a palpably personal film, focusing on a family in Hawai’i facing the imminent death of their eldest as the ghosts of the past haunt the countryside. Diego Ongaro’s Down With The King, stars real life rap star Freddie Gibbs in an intimate and raw turn playing an artist who becomes disillusioned with the music industry and the pressures of being a celebrity, leaving his career behind to find himself in a small-town farming community. Finally, Jono Mcleod’s documentary, My Old School, starring national treasure Alan Cumming, follows the jaw dropping true story of Scotland’s most notorious imposter, and ex-classmate of Mcleod.

Over the course of one weekend, Sands will see the small square mile of St Andrews become a buzzing meeting place for filmmakers and cinemagoers alike. The industry offerings at Sands will allow for both audiences and filmmakers alike to connect and engage with each other, especially in keeping with the tight-knit spirit St Andrews is so well known for.

Each screening will be introduced and then followed by a Q&A session with filmmakers, as well as number of talks and workshops with industry members offering audiences an opportunity to directly engage with those behind the scenes, as well as giving filmmakers the chance to immerse themselves in the wider film community.

Alongside the film programme will be an in-conversation session with filmmaker Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame, The Gray Man) who takes to the Byre stage to talk about his career, his love of St Andrews and why he is so passionate about encouraging the next generation of film makers.

The beach at St Andrews

In association with Film Hub Scotland, the To See Ourselves As Others See Us panel event will discuss what Scottish film is and how Scotland is currently represented on screen and look at how local audiences and filmmakers are inspired in seeing themselves represented in cinema. This session includes My Old School director Jono Mcleod as well as short filmmakers Adura Onashile and Laura Carreira who also have the opportunity to show their respective films Expensive Shit and The Shift to new audiences.

Sunday will also see an industry workshop bringing together film festival directors from around UK, Ireland and further afield to discuss the shifting nature of curation and how festivals are put together in 2022 and the future.

Festival director Ania Trzebiatowska said: ‘I am absolutely delighted to finally reveal the programme for the first ever Sands: International Film Festival of St Andrews. Over the past two years, we’ve been reminded of what a privilege the collective cinema experience is, and that it can too often be taken for granted, so I am hugely excited that we will be able to share these nine fantastic films with audiences.

‘The process wasn’t without its challenges, but we are proud to have a programme that doesn’t just reflect the diversity of films out there, but showcases the quality of work that spawns from the inclusion of new voices. If audiences have half as much fun watching the programme as we had making it, then I’m sure we will be in for a fantastic festival.’

Sands: International Film Festival of St Andrews will be an important cornerstone of the Byre theatre’s programme, which integrates community engagement and the growth of its public arts programme with the interests of the University.

Further details of screenings and events will be released in the coming weeks.

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