Scotland’s Film Access Sector grew out of a community filmmaking movement often referred to as the Film and Video Workshop Sector. The history of this Sector is particularly inspiring.
Influenced by the resurgence of the political Left under Labour’s Harold Wilson, the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the beginning of the British Workshop Movement. During this time, there was a steady emergence of independent film groups and workshops, primarily in London, tackling social and political issues through film production, distribution and exhibition. The London Film-Makers’ Co-op (LFMC), formed in 1966 is the first and most famous example – a cultural centre and facility serving an open membership and a growing pool of individual filmmakers. Notably, LFMC merged with London Video Arts in 1999 to form LUX, and we now have LUX Scotland as part of that legacy. Another interesting group formed at this time was Amber, which came together as a film and photography collective in 1968. Their work focused on documenting working class and marginalised lives and landscapes in North East England, but grew to celebrate wider documentary traditions and is still in existence today.
In his article “Peripheral visions? Alternative film in a stateless nation”, Robin Macpherson argues that the Workshop Movement failed to pick up speed in Scotland in quite the same way during this time: “The limited infrastructure and funding available to filmmakers in 1970s Scotland ensured that, despite the Edinburgh Film Festival promoting oppositional film culture (Lloyd, 2011), its engagement with Scotland depended almost entirely on visiting filmmakers from the south.” However, the Workshop Movement slowly began to emerge in Scotland with Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust establishing a model for community filmmaking in 1977.
The 1980s saw an exciting period of growth for what became known as the Scottish Film and Video Workshop Sector. Born out of a cultural response to Thatcherism and post-industrial decline, as well as advancements in and greater access to filmmaking technology, independent filmmaking experienced a revival. The Workshop Declaration, a funding alliance between Channel 4, the BFI, regional arts associations and local government, encouraged the independent Film and Workshop Sector to expand in scope and scale in the mid-1980s. However, aside from a few scattered television and film projects and funding for Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust, Channel 4’s influence on the Scottish Workshop Sector was limited in comparison with England. Scotland was still barely recognised as a part of the wider industry, with organisations having to rely on smaller, unstable funding pathways to deliver projects.
Yet this period still saw the rise of community organisations with a focus on issue-based filmmaking being established across Scotland. Several influential organisations included Red Star Cinema in 1980, Video in Pilton (VIP) in 1981 and Glasgow Film and Video Workshop (GFVW) in 1982. By the late 1980s there were around a dozen community filmmaking groups which were radical in their objectives to get under-represented people accessing film, making videos and empowering them to tell their stories.
In the late 80s and early 90s, the future of the Workshop Sector suddenly appeared uncertain. From 1989, the Sector’s structural foundations collapsed as Channel 4 progressively withdrew its support of UK workshops and other forms of alternative filmmaking under its new chief executive Michael Grade. Combined with government funding at an all-time low in Margaret Thatcher’s third term, this was a huge blow to the Workshop Sector. Many workshops across the UK, not least in Scotland, lacked the facilities to adapt to this changing climate, and the Sector saw a distinct ‘down-cycle’ in this period.
Despite these pressures, two early formations of our members, Glasgow Film & Video Workshop and Pilton Video, held strong and fought to establish themselves as valuable cogs in their respective communities. They continue to deliver life-changing Film Access activities today, and are now joined by Media Education, Station House Media Unit (shmu) and The Portal Arts, as well as many more open access film projects – all growing out of the enduring proof and knowledge that film is a valuable tool in community development. The work of these organisations proves that Scotland’s Film and Video Workshop Sector, which we have seen grow and evolve into today’s Film Access Sector, is just as needed now as it was at the time of their founding.
For many organisations and individuals paving the way for open access film activities in Scotland, there has always been a fight to achieve recognition and funding. Under constant pressure to adapt to changing political agendas with limited time and resources, putting down the roots for survival has not always been easy. Film Access Scotland was therefore founded with a very distinct task to do. Firstly, to act as a unifying body to bring these organisations and individuals together with a set of values and goals, and secondly to represent them, bringing them greater visibility, advocacy and securing funding - ensuring the well-deserved stability that has been so hard to come by.
TIMELINE: FILM ACCESS SECTOR IN SCOTLAND
Within this context, the timeline below shows the emergence of our five founding members: GMAC Film; Screen Education Edinburgh; Media Education; shmu and The Portal Arts, as well as some of the policy initiatives that proved fundamental to the development of the Film Access Sector in Scotland.
1974: Independent Film-Makers’ Association (IFA) founded
The IFA was set up to promote the interests shared by a diverse coalition of independent filmmakers working in Britain, and adopted a philosophy of the ‘cinema of social practice’. The IFA’s lifespan runs from the autumn of 1974 to the spring of 1990.
1977: Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust founded
The Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust established a model for community filmmaking, with a not-for-profit organisation supported by the local authority providing training, low-cost access to equipment, facilities and expertise for local groups and projects.
1979: Project Boy with Video Camera - Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust
Credit: David Halliday
1978: NETS founded (part 1)
In 1978 there were around 60 freelancers working in Scotland’s film and television production sector but there were no formal training schemes for potential recruits. NETS (New Entrants Training Programme) was therefore formed to fill this gap and provide on-the-job training in production, technical, craft and design areas.
View Generations NETS: 30 Years in the Making
1978: NETS founded (part 2)
NETS was formed by freelance technicians - all members of the trade union, Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT, which later became known as BECTU) - with funding support from the ACTT and the Scottish Film Council. It was the first of its kind in the UK. Later in 1993, NETS became part of Scottish Broadcast & Film Training, and in 1997, it came together with three other bodies to form Scottish Screen (a predecessor of Creative Scotland).
1979: Red Star Cinema Founded
From 1979, Red Star ran a fortnightly Cinema at the Netherbow on Edinburgh’s High Street (now the Storytelling Centre). Red Star was established with funds from School Press, a small left-wing printer based at the Trades Council in Edinburgh. Red Star began by covering demonstrations and labour movement activities missed by regional TV.
View Red Star Cinema video
1981: Video in Pilton (later to become Screen Education Edinburgh) founded
Video in Pilton was founded in 1981 to develop people, support the work of local organisations, and be at the heart of community development exclusively in North Edinburgh, through film education and production. It was renamed Pilton Video in 1988 after receiving European Aid funding for 7 years. In 1995 the organisation grew to become an Edinburgh-wide resource, before rebranding to Screen Education Edinburgh in 2011.
Shooting ‘Operation Calamity’ at Craigmuir School
Joel Venet of Video in Pilton is shown teaching a youngster how to operate a video camera.
Graham Fitzpatrick (Development Officer at SEE) begins his career as a trainee at Pilton Video (1993)
1981-1982: Launch of Channel 4
Some initiatives to set up community filmmaking groups across Scotland were consolidated in the 1980s, with the launch of Channel 4 in 1982. With its clearly defined public service broadcasting remit, Channel 4 set up an innovative Independent Film and Video Department and promised to introduce new voices, encourage diversity, and sponsor regional initiatives. This led to funding and new opportunities for community filmmakers to make programmes for broadcast.
View Channel 4 launch day video
1982: The ACCT Workshop Declaration (part 1)
Finalised in 1982, the Workshop Declaration was an agreement made between the newly established Channel 4 and ACTT. It was created through consultation with the Independent Filmmakers’ Association (IFA), the British Film Institute (BFI) and Britain’s regional arts associations.
1982: The ACCT Workshop Declaration (part 2)
The Workshop Declaration provided financial security and new audiences for independent film and video workshops. It aimed to instigate a model of "integrative practice" - that is, workshops were required to include distribution, educational activities and the provision of film and video equipment, alongside producing work. It also provided full-time regular work for people working in each workshop.
View ACTT Workshop Declaration
1982: Glasgow Film & Video Workshop (later to become GMAC Film) founded
GMAC Film started in 1982 as Glasgow Film & Video Workshop. Above all, the purpose was to widen access and offer low-cost facilities and equipment. The organisation further wanted to enable a greater diversity of people to make films. This remains their core purpose today.
1989: Media Education Edinburgh founded
Media Education was established as a community interest company in 1989 and developed a strong track record for producing a wide range of media outputs including digital media, creative films, documentaries, training videos, animation and graphics. Across the years they have worked in co-production with groups, individuals and organisations to make media outputs which are appropriate, accurate, accessible and attuned to their audiences.
Iain Shaw of Media Education with primary school children from Flora Stevenson Primary School in Edinburgh (1989)
1990: Workshop Declaration/ Channel 4 Funding Ends (part 1)
The Workshop Declaration remained in place until the late 1980s, when Channel 4 began to withdraw funding. Channel 4's policies were forced to change under the influence of the Broadcasting Act of 1990, which made the Channel responsible for selling its own advertising, tying it much more closely into the TV marketplace. The Channel became more and more subject to market forces, finding it harder to act primarily as a public service. As a result, many open access film organisations began to partner with local councils and focus on community education in order to secure funding.
1990: Workshop Declaration/ Channel 4 Funding Ends (part 2)
The legacy of the Declaration is the encouragement of a consistent, long-term policy of funding in place of the opportunistic, short-term approach which has been and often still is, the norm.
1999: Station House Media Unit (shmu) founded
In 1999/2000 the Great Northern Partnership (GNP) in Aberdeen submitted a major bid for Scottish Executive Pathfinder funding, including a proposal to commit £30,000 per year (for 2 years to end March 2002) towards a community media component. The project aimed to build people’s capacity to use digital video to improve service provision locally. This bid was successful and resulted in bringing the two strands of GNP Young Filmmakers and Pathfinder Projects under one roof at Station House Community Centre and under one name: Station House Media Unit (shmu). To date, shmuTV has produced over 250+ films, including local documentaries made by community members and activists. The organisation has since expanded to include a focus on radio and music production, as well as traditional and online publications.
2001: The Portal Arts founded
Plantation Productions was set up by Moya Crowley in 2001, founder and Creative Director, with a £2,000 grant from the Greater Govan Community Forum. Initially based in Kinning Park Complex (in the area known as Plantation - hence the name), the ambition was to address the Digital Divide offering local people access to equipment and media training. Plantation Productions was a core contributor to the local regeneration agenda, bringing the passion that the arts are an effective tool for community engagement, development, and regeneration. In 2022, Plantation Productions rebranded to The Portal Arts.
2004: Media Access Projects Scotland (MAPS)
The first effort to establish a national organisation for the Film Access Sector started in 2004 with Media Access Projects Scotland. Despite the enthusiasm of a number of partners across Scotland, including a national seminar on the Sector at Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) in 2007, MAPS sadly struggled to secure investment from what was then the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, and the organisation was disbanded. Though some of the partner organisations involved with MAPS ceased to operate, the relationship between the core partners remained strong, and in 2013 they all met at Media Education’s base in Edinburgh to discuss establishing a new national body for the Sector.
November 2013: Film Access Network Scotland (FANS) founded
Film Access Network Scotland was founded as a consortium of leading moving image and media access organisations working with young people and the wider community across Scotland, both in the formal and informal education sector, within the framework of the curriculum for excellence. It was founded to facilitate consultation and representation at strategic level which had been challenging due to the historic under-resourcing of the Sector. The founding members in 2013 were: GMAC Film, Jumpcut, Media Education, Plantation Productions, Screen Education Edinburgh (SEE), Station House Media Unit (shmu), Scottish Kids Are Making Movies (SKAMM) and Voice Of My Own (VOMO).
2018: FANS rebrands as Film Access Scotland
2021: Film Access Scotland is granted charitable status as a SCIO
2022: Film Access Scotland opens to new members and associates
In August 2022, Film Access Scotland opened to new members and associates. Film Access Scotland now offers a range of activities including networking and Sector development events, training programmes and workshops and an Annual National Conference.
MacPherson, R. (2015). Peripheral visions? Alternative film in a stateless nation. In C. Atton (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Alternative and Community Media, (268-277). Routledge
Holdsworth, Claire M. and Blanchard, Simon (2017). “Organising for Innovation in Film and Television: The Independent Film-Makers' Association in the Long 1970s.” In: Mulvey, Laura and Clayton, Sue, (eds.) Other Cinemas: Politics, Culture and Experimental Film in the 1970s. London : IB Tauris. pp. 279-298. ISBN 9781784537180
Holdsworth, Claire M. ‘The Workshop Declaration: Independents and Organised Labour’. Other Cinemas: Politics, Culture and Experimental Film in the 1970s, 2017.
Roberts, Tom. THE ACTT WORKSHOP DECLARATION PROVIDES FINANCIAL SECURITY AND NEW AUDIENCES FOR INDEPENDENT FILM AND VIDEO WORKSHOPS. Lux Online, http://www.luxonline.org.uk/history/1980-1989/actt_declaration.html.
Scott, Alistair. ‘Community Filmmaking: Diversity, Practices and Places’. Representing Scottish Communities On Screen, Routledge, 2017.
Thanks to Jennifer Souter, the Moving Image Archive at the National Library of Scotland, and all our founding members for making this page possible.