Re-imagining Local Film Histories through Critical and Creative Practice: 1300 SHOTS (Mark Lyken, 2020)

Laura Bates
Friday 20 August 2021

‘Re-imagining Local Film Histories through Critical and Creative Practice’ is a collaboration between filmmaker Mark Lyken and the Department of Film Studies to produce a film and exhibition about The Steps Theatre in Dundee during the 1990s. The project is funded by the University of St Andrews’ Knowledge Exchange and Impact grant and expands on the department’s KEI work on local cinema history (Tom Rice) and on the cultivation of local film audiences (Leshu Torchin).

Tom Rice’s local history project, Cinema St Andrews, brings together archival materials, historical research and oral histories, which are collated and presented on a website. The collaboration with Mark Lyken, took this further in providing an innovative, creative response through previously unaccessed archival documents. It involved research support from Tom Rice and Philippa Lovatt and Department of Film Studies’ postgraduate and undergraduate students: Lucy Szemetová and Sam Thomson.

1300 SHOTS takes the form of a single-take portrait film that returns two ex-patrons of Dundee cinema The Steps to their favourite seats, 20 years after the cinema was decommissioned, to observe them watching one last film.

Dundee’s The Steps Theatre was a critically important but largely forgotten exhibition space for arthouse and world cinemas in the 1980s and 90s. 1300 SHOTS explores a pivotal moment in the artists’ own personal history as the cinema was instrumental in shaping his career as an artist and filmmaker. More broadly, the film reflects on the integral role that cinema plays in shaping community, inspiring creativity and providing access to global culture in a place experiencing high levels of unemployment and post-industrial decline. Considering these cultural shifts historically is particularly important today given the recent economic investment and development in Dundee (e.g. V&A and the flourishing Gaming industry).

The Steps closed in the late ‘90s and has fallen from public consciousness, but remarkably remains intact despite major regeneration in Dundee. The cultural significance of The Steps now resides within archive material and in the personal memories of previous patrons, which are foregrounded within the film.

In June, the film screened worldwide via LUX, and Mark contributed to the Centre for Screen Cultures Playlist Initiative. His entry was ‘Engaged Observation’, a list of films that he describes as helping him to work through and confirm his own creative decisions.

The collaboration with Lyken provides an innovative, creative response to local cinema history and memory. This project is part of a move to expand and develop Cinema St Andrews as a means of connecting with other local film histories across Scotland.

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