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Frank Sidebottom The Home of the Retrospective


EIFF 2019: Schemers (2019) dir: David McLean

N.B. This film is not on general release in the UK at present. It is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th June 2019.

The ups-and-downs of being a Dundee music promoter

This autobiographical drama is based around the early days of music promoter David McLean’s career. It is set in the Scottish city of Dundee around 1979 during the ascendency of the punk and new wave music scenes. Davie (played by Conor Berry) attempts to make a living for himself by setting up a live music venue with the financial help of his long-suffering buddies Scott (Sean Connor) and John (Grant R. Keelan), his gambling habit and some loans from the local mob - run by the notorious Fergie (Alastair Thomson Mills).

While his energy and persistence leads to him bring in a range of up-and-coming bands such as Simple Minds, The Rezillos and Iron Maiden, his financial debts quickly mount up in the process.

Watch a trailer:

A persuasive effort despite its undernourished budget

Schemers has a high-octane feel not dissimilar to some of the earlier works by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and especially (closer to home) Danny Boyle. In other words, there is a good deal of montage editing, authentically Scottish banter and a soundtrack studded with classic pop and rock hits. While I can’t say that offers anything radically new in the world of cinema, it does capture the requisite youthful spunk and energy of its central characters rather well. Its 90-minute runtime flashes by in one heady rush.

The cast, largely comprised of locally-sourced unknown talents, is pretty decent. The standout is, of course, Conor Berry in the role of Davie. He’s very convincing as a young guy who has a lot of cheek, a lot of brass neck and many ideas above his station. His sense of self-belief is such that it’s really easy to root for him despite his evident flaws.

Conor Berry in Schemers

If Schemers falls short in one area, it’s in that of production values. Since the budget was clearly far too low to recreate late-1970s Scotland on any large scale, the crowd and exterior shots are deliberately framed so as to avoid the necessity of showing too many extras, period vehicles and the like. Even then, the film isn’t always successful in being anachronism-free. We see Conor Berry speaking into the handset of a modern public payphone. There are also one or two shots where we see modern cars driving past in the background. It’s also noticeable that the soundtrack budget didn’t stretch to licensing tracks for a few of the musical artists referred to in the story (such as Iron Maiden, who are the focus of a plot point later in the runtime).

Nonetheless, the film (rather like the young Davie himself) is persuasive enough to pull it off in the end despite being so obviously cash-strapped.

Runtime: 90 mins

Dir: David McLean

Script: David McLean, Khaled Spiewak, Kyle Titterton

Starring: Conor Berry, Tara Lee, Sean Connor, Grant R. Keelan, Alastair Thomson Mills

Rating: ☆☆☆

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