FOR its 13th year, Inverness Film Festival is promising something new — a trip to the cinema where you can see nothing at all.
Carnival of Souls (Sunday 8th November, 6.30pm) is an audio-only experience based on the cult 1962 horror film of the same name.
Instead of watching the scares on the screen, the audience in the almost totally dark cinema will wear blindfolds and headsets, allowing their imagination to do the scaring.
"It’s like a horror film — but without the film," festival director and Eden Court film programmer Paul MacDonald-Taylor explained.
"It’s all going to be in the mind, which I think is going to be more frightening than seeing things on screen because your imagination is always more terrifying than anything else.
"I will be really interested to see what people make of that. It will be something most people will not have experienced before, which is a good thing about the film festival, seeing new things or doing new things and getting out of your comfort zone a bit."
That seems to be what film festival audiences are willing to do anyway. MacDonald-Taylor believes cinema-goers are more likely to take a chance a chance and see a film that is outside their usual viewing choices when it is part of the festival.
More conventional cinema frights come from Sundance Festival award winner The Witch, set in 17th century New England (Saturday 7th 9.15pm), and Bone Tomahawk (Thursday 5th, 8.30pm) with Kurt Russell as a sheriff on the trail of a cannibal tribe in the old West, but fear is not an over-riding them for this year’s event, which includes 17 Scottish and two UK premieres.
"I’ve trying booking festivals to a theme, but what you end up doing is booking films you wouldn’t normally choose just because they fit the theme," MacDonald-Taylor said.
"It’s always better to book the films and see if a theme comes out of that. This year there are a lot of films about people getting out of their comfort zone to challenge themselves, things like Brooklyn (Wednesday 4th, 7pm), Pawn Sacrifice (Saturday 7th, 7.30pm), Learning To Drive (Sunday 8thm, 3.30pm) and Far From Men (Sunday 8th, 6pm). They all work perfectly for that, but I try not to choose a theme because you are then compromising too much. The most important thing is to get the best films."
Brooklyn, based on the novel by Colm Toibin, is this year’s high profile opening film and features what MacDonald-Taylor regards as the finest performance to date from Saoirse Ronan as a young woman who flees the stifling environment of 1950s Ireland for the excitement of New York. Julie Walters and Domhnall Gleeson co-star.
Also featuring a strong cast is this year’s gala closing film, Black Mass, the story of real life Boston gangster and FBI informant Whitey Bulgar, played by Johnny Depp, with a supporting cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson and Kevin Bacon.
Other major Hollywood releases include Pawn Sacrifice with former Spider-man Tobey Maguire as US chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, and Learning To Drive with Patricia Clarkson taking lessons from Sikh driving instructor Sir Ben Kingsley, but for the festival director, the most interesting films are the lower profile foreign language offerings.
"That’s where you find something new more than anywhere else," he said.
This year’s selection includes films from Georgia (Corn Island, Friday 6th, 6.10pm), India (Court, Friday 6th, 4pm), Bulgaria (The Lesson, Friday 6th, 2pm), Romania (English language film Closer To The Moon, Saturday 7th 6.15pm), Ethiopia (Lamb, Sunday 8th, noon) and the Philippines (Ruined Heart, Friday 6th, 10pm), as well as films from Germany, France and the US.
Scottish films include Iona (Friday 6th, 6.30pm), director Scott Graham’s follow up to Shell, which was filmed in Wester Ross and was screened in the 2012 Inverness Film Festival.
"Iona was screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival, but the director has re-cut it slightly, so it’s a different film," MacDonald-Taylor said.
"It’ll be quite interesting to see what he’s done with it, but I thought Shell was tremendous and I think this is just as good. There’s a very strong story and the lead actress, Ruth Negga, is absolutely fantastic."
All the short films screened at this year’s festival are from Scotland or have a Scottish connection, including the debut film from Eden Court’s own ambassador, Karen Gillan.
Coward (shown as part of the Short Cuts 2 programme at 11am on Sunday 8th) was seen by MacDonald-Taylor at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival and he reckons that the former Doctor Who companion turned genuine Hollywood star could have a future on the other side of the camera.
"It will be interesting to see what she does in the future," he said.
"She has a very good eye and the film looks great visually."
Documentary subject range from film star Steve McQueen’s motor racing obsession (Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans, Saturday 7th, 4pm) to the life of a crofter in Shetland (Clavel, Sunday 8th, 2pm), the story of teenager Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Pakistan for campaigning for female education (He Named Me Malala, Thursday 5th, 5pm) and the Scottish post-punk music scene (Big Gold Dream, Thursday 5th, 6.45pm).
For younger viewers there will be a series of short films tailored to specific age groups and Antboy II: Revenge of The Red Fury (Saturday 7th 1.30pm), a sequel to the Danish superhero comedy that was a hit at last year’s event, while there is also a nostalgic look back at the golden age of British comedy with a selection of Ealing film classics.
Asking MacDonald-Taylor for his one must see recommendation from this year’s programme is predictably difficult for him to answer, but eventually he opts for Hungarian film Son of Saul (Sunday 8th, 7.45pm), about a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz trying to ensure a dead child has a proper burial.
"If I was going to the festival, that’s probably the one I would choose, but it is a hard watch," he said.
"It’s difficult to believe it’s the director’s first film because the performances are so strong. I may be wrong, but I think it’s going to be a frontrunner for the Foreign Language Oscar."
On a lighter note, he also recommends Now or Never (Saturday 7th, 3.30pm) with Leïla Bekhti as a French housewife who turns to crime.
"But there’s a wide spread of films," he added.
"There’s a lot for people to enjoy."
• The 13th Inverness Film Festival, supported by the Inverness Courier, runs at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, from Wednesday 4th to Sunday 8th November.
For full details of this year's programme, go to