Film Reviews

Gallivant (1996) – Film Review

New from the BFI is a release for the low-budget 1996 film (released in September 1997 in the UK) Gallivant. It was the debut movie from Andrew Kotting (who has continued to work ever since in largely low budget fare, but had been relatively prolific, with around a dozen films made, largely in the documentary and travelogue genres, it appears.

At around 104-minutes this Art Council, Channel 4 and BFI funded project records a journey clockwise around the coast of Great Britain with his 85-year-old grandmother, Gladys, and his seven-year-old daughter Eden. Eden has a genetic condition known as Joubert Syndrome. This causes a number of symptoms, but balance, ataxic and vision problems seem to be the most common.

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Beginning with a strange filming style that seems part sped-up, part exacerbated by missing frames, we hear voiceover from locals everywhere the three of them go. The first thing to notice is the positivity of Eden and Gladys set against these figures; while they are being told “Don’t go out, you’ll be mugged” the two of them simply enjoy each day for what it is. A very healthy way to think when both of them have indeterminate lifespans ahead. It has a grainy, home video look that starts at Bexhill-on-Sea and covers around 7,000 miles. Eden is challenged with communication, using sign language, but clearly picking up a lot. A visit to a castle has her telling her dad about the torture of St Catherine, before sweetly asking if they can eat.

Kotting narrates at many points, telling us of Eden’s short life expectancy very early in proceedings. After ten minutes or so, the style settles down for the first time into some normally shot footage, although he continues to move in and out of different styles and films stocks. He is taking a look at a trip he wanted to capture before, as he put it, “the three of us would have to go our separate ways”. This is Kotting capturing what he can before it is gone forever.

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This is all framed by the idiosyncrasies of the communities they visit. Some of them defy explanation, but we see a mixture of traditions involving dressing up, music and festival and even sport, as we see some older ladies playing Lawn Bowls in Newquay. There is no obvious message, other than a unique journey being captured for all time. Far from sad, this film is bursting with positivity, and feels both contemporary and like an ancient artifact at times. This feeling is heightened by occasional footage from the very dawn of film. The chief audience for this will be Kotting himself, as he has caught his memories of loved ones and a summer (we think) of his life he will never get again. As memories can be random and non-sequential, so the film can be. We are in Wales, then we are briefly back in Cornwall, it is as though he has caught it the way his brain processed it. Whilst its appeal will be limited, that alone is impressive.

He appears on camera relatively rarely in the earliest parts of the work, but around the 50-minute mark he is there as his daughter walks unaided for the first time, a moment few parents of any child captures in film, and the look on everyone’s faces is beautiful. Kotting is present far more in the second half. We end up where we stated, back in East Sussex, in Bexhill-on-Sea. A final goodbye proves moving, but as a little postscript, it is lovely to be able to say that Eden Kotting is still alive today, and that she is working in various artistic endeavours, some of which we will see on this disc.

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Alongside the newly remastered 2K print of the film, extras are very decent for a low-budget film. Fifteen of Kotting’s short films – totalling almost 164 minutes – are presented here: Klipperty Klöpp, Hoi-Polloi, Acumen, H.B 1829 (his badblöod), Diddyköy, Smart Alek, Là Bas, Gallivant (The Pilot), Jaunt, Invalids and Me, In Far Away Land, Diseased and Disorderly, The Buzz of the Past. The first eleven (around two hours) pre-date Gallivant, the final four come much later and several of them have been made with his daughter Eden. These are a very mixed bag, but terrific for completists. The BFI warn us of ableist language that may alienate some viewers, however.

Finally, we have the new extra ‘A Gallivant round St Leonards-on-Sea with Andrew Kötting’. This is a 31-minute walk around St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex, with filmmaker and writer John Rogers. This is a bit of fun really, starting with the two men arguing about the differences between St Leonards and Hastings. He has aged well, and remains a vibrant personality, and this is enjoyable to watch, giving us much needed background on the man. This complements a set that does not suit a blind purchase. This is a unique filmmaker with a unique eye, and, as such, his work will not be for everyone. For those familiar with Gallivant, however, this work shows respect to both the film and filmmaker and, as such, we are happy to recommend.

Gallivant is out now on Blu-ray from the BFI.

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