By Ross Hunter
There is often a moment in the lives of our favourite artists where they find their own voice. Where the inspiration of the artists before them melt into their own thoughts, feelings, style and unique creative practice. For Glasgow born filmmaker Harvey Gardner, this moment was not a bombastic revelation nor a defining moment of trauma. It was a comment from his most trusted audience; his family.
Early on, when Harvey had just started making films, he had made a ‘dark and twisted film, trying to emulate American characters and films’ that he enjoyed at the time. His dad, after a long day at work, sat down to watch his son’s latest creation:
“He’s always been incredibly positive about everything I’ve done, but he subtly hinted to me ‘well, what’s this got to do with you?’”
It was at this moment that Harvey decided he wanted to make films for people like his dad. A film buff, yes. But also, someone who, after a hard day’s work and living in a turbulent time, sought warmth, joy and humour from the big screen.
Family plays an important part in what Harvey chooses to offer his audience. His debut short film, SHED, tells the story of two brothers at odds with each other, who have both been asked to paint their gran’s shed. Where Harvey shines as a director is taking something simple and elevating it, creating a vibrant, technicolour world where relatability trumps realism. By loosely basing the relationship between the eccentric Stanley and world-weary Miles on his own relationship with his cousin (who plays the part of Stanley with an awkward effervescence), Harvey connects us with those who may not share our path through life but understand us through the shared history of their upbringing. It is here that Harvey enjoys the impact that he can have on an audience. He reminisces with pride a time when an audience member, immediately after watching the film, tells Harvey that he has texted his brother to reconnect with him.
In his next film, UFO, Harvey initially wanted to tell the story of a daughter who struggles to connect with her alien-fanatic father, but realised quickly that such a father would be excellent at explaining where Miles and Stanley have grown from, with such polarising outlooks on life. Harvey takes the staples of Scottish miserabilism in our national cinema such as the absent father and quarrelling brothers and rather than coat them in the grey emulsion of expectation, he paints the night sky with multicoloured ray beams without missing a single emotional beat. Harvey draws from his world the ‘laughs and tenderness’ in his life and carefully places them on our screens for us to enjoy.
Harvey’s desire to share himself with us through the medium of film stems from his ‘mini revelation’ at 13 years of age whilst watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as his tear-filled eyes locked onto the credits for the first time and considered the fact that ‘people made this’. It figures then that at some point, the extra-terrestrial was going to feature in his own career.
This excellent start to his career has solid foundations in Ayrshire. Harvey moved from Glasgow to Ayr to study Filmmaking and Screenwriting at UWS. Studying film isn’t a necessity to become a filmmaker but for a young Harvey, the course gave him the structure that immaturity would have otherwise robbed him of. From arriving in the town by train, walking past the cascading river and lush woodland of Craigie to arrive at the campus, Harvey found a passion for all aspects of the filmmaking process, whether that be working with actors, spending long hours in post-production or cleaning out sand from the tripod to avoid the wrath of Keith, Gareth and Jamie in the kit room, after the inevitable Ayr beach film shoot. These auspicious beginnings led to awards, a place in prestigious programmes like the Glasgow Short Film Festival and Short Circuit and acclaim from audiences and peers alike.
However, talent, resolution and a body of work doesn’t leave a filmmaker such as Harvey immune from the trials of being a filmmaker in Scotland. Harvey’s prominence arrived as the nation was thrown into the turbulence of a pandemic where the creative industries ground to an agonising halt, changing the expectations of our most promising visual storytellers. Organisations like Screen Scotland do their part, but when gargantuan Hollywood productions roll into town, the financial impact is rarely seen by our own hard-working industry. Runner jobs from ad agencies aside, Harvey spends his working days as a coordinator for an Edinburgh-based charity, a job he cherishes (“it’s flexible, which gives me more time to write”) but it is imperative that our film sector do not lose talent such as Harvey to the allure of a working life without knockbacks, financial uncertainty and challenging working conditions. The big screen is a mirror. Harvey’s imagination helps Scottish audiences to look at themselves and see a version of us to be proud of. A tender, joyous and spirited reflection that makes us smile at ourselves. The more we support people like Harvey, the more we get to enjoy gazing upon that reflection.
Harvey’s award winning short film UFO can be watched by following this link: https://vimeo.com/371381887