THERE is a Scots traveller proverb that a story should be told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart. Here, the assumption is that a storyteller is in the same place, the same time and – more simply put – the same room as the people they are telling a story to.

The same might be said about folk culture more generally; that there is a certain assumption of conviviality and togetherness; of a group of people sharing amongst themselves the moment of a song, a story or a dance, all experienced in the same place and at the same time.

The relationship that cinema has with folk culture both in Scotland and further afield – as we have been exploring over the last 8 years as part of the Folk Film Gathering, the world’s first folk film festival – is complex.

On the one hand, cinema cannot help but break the connection between the storyteller, who is no longer in the same room as those who are experiencing the story, in terms of both space and time. On the other hand, as the great, independent American filmmaker John Sayles remarked at the Folk Film Gathering last year, a certain sense of continuity remains: in the cinema the lights go down, and everybody's the same.

Nowadays, if you see a movie in a theatre, it’s something that you share with strangers. There is still this great thing of going to a movie with a bunch of people you don’t know, and if the movie really clicks then you as an audience become a community. That’s a unique experience that I have really missed during the pandemic.

Over the past two years, as we will all at this point be painfully aware, our opportunities to be together in the same room (for those of us not in attendance at No10’s parties at least) have been very few and far between.

For the Folk Film Gathering, that limitation has – on the one hand – opened up new horizons and opportunities to be together in different ways; allowing us in particular to bring together filmmakers like Sayles in Connecticut, the Inuit filmmaker Zacharius Kaboré in the Canadian Arctic and the Bukinabé filmmaker Gaston Kaboré in Ouagadougu, in impossible conversations connecting one side of the globe to the other, that would never have been able to take place without Zoom video calls.

On the other, however, the loss of that sense of commonality or fellow-feeling that Sayles describes, of sharing an experience together within the same room, has been numbingly absent. At the 2021 Folk Film Gathering, pressing the red button to end a Zoom event placed a very abrupt severance on our sense of togetherness, and on conversations that might otherwise have spilled outwards into the bar, and onwards into the night.

All of that means that the chance to bring together an audience once again in the same room, and to share an experience not only of cinema, but of live music, storytelling and discussion as part of our 2022 programme is something we are beyond thrilled about.

Given our disembodied journeys across the world via Zoom over the past two years, our 2022 programme is rather a celebration and reaffirmation of the local: the here, the close-by, and the places beneath our feet.

As a result, we have more Scottish films in our programme than ever before, including rare opportunities to see John McGrath’s biopic of Scotland’s warrior poet Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (Big Mary of the Songs), and – elsewhere – a celebration of the films of Gerda Stevenson (star of Blue Black Permanent, and director of the award-winning, Gaelic-language short An Ìobairt, and the more recent adaptation of George McKay Brown’s The Storm Watchers, both of which are screening in our programme), one of Scotland’s most distinctive filmmakers.

Alongside these rare chances to see some of the buried classics of Scottish screen culture, there are also opportunities to see new adaptations of Scottish community folklore on the big screen, including the Scottish premiere of Hanna Tuulikki’s mesmerising Seals’kin, a startling new imagining of selkie folklore, which is also the subject of Uisdean Murray’s achingly romantic Mara: The Seal Wife, shot entirely in the Outer Hebrides.

Throughout, our film screenings will be enriched with live music, from celebrated Scottish folk singers and storytellers such as Margaret Bennett, Steve Byrne (Malinky), Cathal McConnell (Boys of the Lough), Jess Smith and Donald Smith, and our programme also features a special community-focussed event, celebrating the Films of Action made in Scotland’s former coalfield communities during the pandemic, which articulate a powerful statement of collective resilience.

We are simultaneously aware, however, that not everyone (and particularly those with underlying health conditions, like certain members of our team) will feel able to return to cinemas just yet, and for that reason we will be continuing to share aspects of our programme in an online capacity, where we will be streaming certain films, and holding a series of online discussions with many of the filmmakers whose films are screening.

The experience of trying to run a film festival online during the pandemic has given us a lot to think about, and – in particular – about the role that a folk film festival should play in Scotland, in seeking to carry forward notions of a people’s culture in exploring new interfaces with cinema.

Given the all-come, all-served, ‘come all ye’ implication of a folk cinema, it is increasingly important to us that the Folk Film Gathering is accessible to all, and particularly to those who might normally not be able to afford to go to the cinema, or participate in a film festival.

For that reason, our online programme and all screenings at Scottish Storytelling Centre will be available on a pay-what-you-can basis, and our opening screening of Mairi Mhor at Edinburgh Filmhouse will be entirely free, on a first-come, first-served basis. Please do come along, either in-person or online – whether on a screen or in the same room, it will be great to see your faces again!

The Folk Film Gathering runs from 16th June - 1st July at Edinburgh Filmhouse, Scottish Storytelling Centre, and online at www.folkfilmgathering.com