By Jamie Chambers

“I WANT to tell you a story. Listen up!” Towards the end of Nadir Bouhmouch’s documentary Amussu, a middle-aged woman from the Amazigh community in southeast Morocco shares a story with her friends as they turn cotton into twine. The story concerns a shepherd who begins to see signs of the end of the world. Finding no water, he goes to sit under an enormous tree that, despite its leaves, offers no shade. Unnerved by the experience, he consults the local wise man who tells him “that tree is the community of the end of time. When you plead it for help, you’ll find it needs more help than you.”

Amussu’s celebration of collectivity under pressure (the film documents the Amazigh community’s decades-long resistance to big industry and the Moroccan state) carries a resonant message for Scotland in 2020. Following a decade of austerity, Covid-19 hits an increasingly dis-United Kingdom at a moment when many of the institutions representing our common wellbeing and shared responsibilities for each other are at their weakest. Amidst such precarity, Covid-19 risks to push us even further into the state of alienated individualism we are prescribed as subjects of late Western capitalism. For the time being, at least, this is a crisis it is not easy to weather together, in close proximity with other people, and it thus seems only too easy to shop for ourselves, hold fast to our own comforts and securities, and close the door behind us.

And yet, the Covid-19 crisis simultaneously serves as a stark reminder as to just how interdependent we are, and the extent to which our health and wellbeing is inextricably tied to that of those around us. Rather than there being “no such thing as society” as Margaret Thatcher so scabrously decreed in 1987, it would seem increasingly there is no such thing as individualism, when the ways in which each of us behaves in 2022 can have horrifyingly serious, life-and-death consequences for those around us.

Rethinking the 2020 Folk Film Gathering (taking place entirely for free, online, this weekend), we wanted to think not only about the new restrictions a film festival faces in the age of Covid, but also to reframe our programme in response to the burning priority we feel must be placed on collective values. Alongside the UK premiere of Amussu, we are streaming Maori director Barry Barclay’s poetic documentary The Kaipara Affair, a film with considerable resonances for Scotland in its depiction of a community fighting to take control of its own land. Barclay’s film highlights the many things we must learn in the West from indigenous land stewardship, and the careful preservation of natural resources. Elsewhere, the Amber Collective’s documentary From Us to Me tracks down a group of individuals Amber first met in East Germany before the wall came down, to explore how their lives have changed since. Whilst not shying away from traumatic experiences within the GDR, Amber ultimately found not everyone’s lives changed for the better when East Germany went from thinking in terms of “us” to “me”.

Thankfully there exists in Scotland a wealth of examples of communities negotiating the complex obstacles posed by Covid-19 to put the collective well-being of the community before that of the individual. Join us for a weekend of films, music and discussion, as we look to celebrate Amussu’s tree of community, and consider how it might provide us all with shelter, both in 2020 and the years to come.

Jamie Chambers is director of Scotland’s folk film festival. See