In Timothy Neat and John Berger’s Walk Me Home – the opening film of the 2019 Folk Film Gathering – storytelling is presented as a means of connection; a magical, uncanny force bringing people and places into closer alignment.

Screening for the first time in Edinburgh since 1993 (from a newly-digitised version prepared specially for the festival), Walk Me Home follows scientist Cloud (Angela Winkler) and former political prisoner William (Berger) who are magically transported from Germany to the Scottish island of Inch Kenneth through a story they tell each other about love and togetherness.

As in Play Me Something, which opened the first ever Folk Film Gathering in 2015, storytelling for Neat and Berger is a powerful source of conviviality; a means of building community.

Storytelling and its ability to build shared experiences are at the heart of the programme for the 2019 Folk Film Gathering, the world’s first folk film festival, which this year explores a series of films from Scotland, Italy, Finland, Mexico and Australia placing storytelling and storytellers at their heart.

Speaking to audience members over the four years of the Folk Film Gathering, I continue to be struck by the extent to which audiences in Scotland still go to the cinema seeking a sense of togetherness.

Sure, there also remains the size of the screen and the ability to disappear into a darkened, dream-like space, but – crucially – it seems audiences still go to the cinema to share an experience with other people.

The programme of films this year looks to build upon that capacity to bring people together through live music, storytelling and audience discussions.

Traditional arts performances introduce almost all our screenings – such as mini concerts from BBC Folk Musician of the Year Rachel Newton (who introduces Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle, a celebration of the Gaelic oral storytelling tradition) and celebrated songwriter Alasdair Roberts (who introduces an adaptation of Alan Garner’s Red Shift).

The annual ‘film ceilidh’ – where short films are interspersed with stories, songs and audience discussion – focuses on the work of Wishaw’s undersung, queer avant-garde pioneer Enrico Cocozza, alongside contributions from Alun Woodward (Lord Cut Glass, The Delgados), Professor Joe Farrell, and Donald Smith (TRACS); whilst, elsewhere, the Folklore Tapes perform – for one night only – a newly commissioned score for Alexander Dovzhenko’s magical masterpiece of Ukranian cinema, Zvenigora.

Considering the resonances explored in Folklore Tapes score between deep-rooted oral storytelling traditions in Scottish and Ukraine, reminds us of another fundamental characteristic of storytelling: it’s ability to transport. Walk Me Home – which uplifts both characters and audience from a divided Germany to a Scottish island idyll – is full of trains, planes, boats, buses and helicopters; means of travel and people undertaking journeys.

So, too, can cinema transport us via the power of storytelling and imagination, beyond established borders, to new points of connection. Following the international solidarities of the Scottish folk revival, our 2019 programme looks again to frame the local as a point of departure.

Amongst a core of Scottish cinema – including a rare chance to see The Silver Darlings in 35mm – our programme invites audiences to journey to Italy, for Pasolini’s gloriously irreverent compendium of folk tales The Decameron, and to Eastern Europe, for Rainer Sarnet’s visionary treatment of Estonian folklore in the spooky, blackly-hilarious November.

With the ability to travel, however, comes a certain responsibility to tread carefully and respectfully, and the programme remains alive to the dangers of Western imperialism and exoticism, with a spotlight on indigenous directors (such as Tracey Moffat’s BeDevil and the Scottish premiere of Itandehui Jansen’s Times of Rain) and a chance to see to Charles Burnett’s neglected masterpiece of African-America cinema, To Sleep With Anger.

Neat and Berger described Walk Me Home fittingly as ‘a child of the Europa Prize’ and, as the UK teeters on the edge of constitutional chaos, its celebration of storytelling as a transnational means of connection and community is as pertinent as ever. This year the Folk Film Gathering celebrates – through both traditional and modern forms of storytelling – Scotland’s many connections, commonalities and solidarities with the rest of the world.