The Cinema In The Woods

And so, from wild camping atop Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh to relaxing in relative luxury at Tullibole Castle just outside of Kinross. It’s amazing what can happen in a week.

Having been invited to Just About Movies film festival by Glasgow Evening Times critic Paul Greenwood, I departed Dundee for Kinross Park & Ride on Saturday morning, where we had arranged to meet prior to the evening’s festivities.

A sort of dry run for 2014’s official launch, the event was designed to test out the equipment and venue on a hundred or so volunteers, selected via the site’s Facebook page. We arrived just after one, and were shown to our room at Tullibole Castle ahead of David Koepp’s Premium Rush, which was set to kick things off at 16:00.

Built in the 17th Century by the Halliday family, Tullibole Castle is today home to their descendants, the Moncreiffs, who were only too happy to end JAM’s months-long search for a suitable location. The storied grounds seemed the ideal home for the event, which traverses genres, not least because the castle is alleged to be haunted by the witches once executed at the nearby church, now in ruin.

JAM

With some time to kill, we left our belongings and set off to explore the grounds. On the lawn opposite the castle stood three marquees: one housing the larger of the two screens, another built to shelter the band when they arrived, and a final tent to keep everyone’s dinner dry. An outhouse, meanwhile, had been fashioned into a small bar, while four Portaloos were positioned with some discretion around the lawn.

Crossing the moat, we followed a trail of fairy lights to the second screen, located in a small wooded area near to the old pigeon house. To be used as the venue for a couple of late night horror movies, the arrangement was incredibly atmospheric even in daylight. Indeed, a little further exploration revealed the medieval graveyard to be unnervingly close by, on the other side of The Witches Maze.

The maze was also impressive. Commissioned (and constructed) by Lord Moncreiff in 2003, the beach tree walls now stand at a fair height. At its centre sits a five-sided sandstone pillar with the names of the eleven victims inscribed on it, which is surrounded by a series of plaques carrying positive attributes to contrast words like ‘perfidy’ and ‘malice’ which met anyone directionless enough to take a wrong turn.

The graveyard itself was located on the other side of the memorial, where it surrounded the foundations of what was at one time the local church. Unsure whether the long-decomposed remains of witches worked the same way as your average Indian burial ground, we left them to rest in pieces while we returned to the main screen for our first film of the night.

Tent

Unable to seat more than fifty people (the marquees had been furnished with deck chairs, which could be notched if not tiered), the screen was packed almost to capacity. Luckily, a number of people had decided to wait on dinner instead, while various others arrived later on, in time for the evening line-up, which included the likes of Good Vibrations, The Commitments and My Cousin Vinny.

The Saturday was a terrific success, and culminated in a midnight screening of Drew Goddard’s The Cabin In The Woods in the tent in the woods. The film played to a scattering of blanket-clad endurance campers and approximately four hundred crane flies. We caught almost half of it, having misjudged the length of Drive, and enjoyed the sleepy suspense of not knowing whether we were going to drift off, swallow a daddy-longlegs or be attacked by zombified witches.

Leaving the rest of the audience to stumble back to their tents, we returned to the castle and made our way up the nearest spiral-staircase to our own lodgings. The room was an eclectic yet elegant affair, with two packets of slippers, a cloth-covered box of tissues and several editions of Olde Magazine at our disposal, and an imposing portrait hung on the wall facing my bed. It was the sort of painting that held your gaze, and which seemed to follow you around the room.

Thankfully, we survived the night, or at least the few hours of it we actually spent indoors. Having gone to sleep at around three o’clock — or as soon as we had convinced ourselves that the rustling duvets were not in fact shuffling feet — we were up again for breakfast at 08:30. Blueberry-strewn cereal, freshly-squeezed orange juice and a full Scottish breakfast awaited ourselves and the photographers staying in the room above; if I hadn’t been sold on Lord Moncreiff’s lifestyle beforehand, I certainly was then.

Peacock

I napped for maybe another hour and then headed out to watch The Breakfast Club in screen one, the final film of the festival, with whoever else was up. By the time it had finished many of the campers had already packed up and gone. In no hurry to leave, I stalked one of the ground’s peacocks around the lawn with my camera for a bit, thanked the organisers profusely, and then set off with Paul for lunch in Kinross.

Finding a small, family-owned cafe on the high street, we ordered a second breakfast and tried to think of things to do. At this point in the 21st Century we had expected to find a few more people milling about, and a lot more waiting to invite them in. Deciding to just wander around town, we eventually found our way to Loch Leven a few minutes walk to the east, and braved the occasional rainfall to follow the Heritage Trail at least part of the way around its North bank.

This took us around Kirkgate Graveyard, past Kinross House (which could be glimpsed on the other side of the Fish Gate) and through the woods to a crossroads at Mary’s Gate. Just shy of two miles into the eight mile walk we turned back, disheartened by the obscured view of Lochleven Castle, the looming black clouds and the toll already taken on our bodies by nine hours in a deck chair and ever so slightly too much cider.

Paul left at this point, and with two hours to kill until my bus back to Dundee I headed for Boathouse Bistro. Attractively placed on Kinross Pier, the veranda offered near-panoramic views out over the Loch. Ordering a gingerbread latte I took a seat by the railings to watch the ferry transporting visitors back and forth to Castle Island, where Mary Queen of Scots was once held between 1567 and 1568.

And so concluded one of the most novel, entertaining and downright surreal weekends of recent memory. Speaking to the organisers at the event it was clear that they had big plans for the future, and I for one can’t wait to see what they do with the festival in 2014. Even if next time I have to camp.

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