The End of the Game
David Graham Scott is one of the most intriguing, and fearless, documentary filmmakers currently working in Scotland. Over the last couple of decades he's documented the lives of Scotland's last hangman, the daily activities of heroin addicts (relapsing in the process), taking a life-threatening hallucinogen to get off heroin, and worked as The Digger's court photographer to make a film about that organ.
His new film, The End of the Game, sees Scott in a typically bizarre but compelling situation; a committed vegan, he found himself going to Africa on a big game hunt with a crusty old relic from the colonial period, who he affectionately refers to as "Sir Guy". How this determinedly odd couple met was explained to me by Scott: "I grew up in the same area where I found Guy Wallace. I was working on a short film funded by the Scottish Documentary Institute when I encountered him living in a very isolated place on the Caithness moors. He appeared for a few seconds in the film, Arcadia, but I knew right away he was documentary gold dust. The last of a breed of old British eccentrics that are way out of touch with current trends in political correctness, but I still felt that this voice in the wilderness was worth following."
Certainly, much comedy is generated from both mens' wildly conflicting views on nature and diet, but there is an underlying respect for each other which stops the film from being exploitative. Indeed, both are well-matched eccentrics in their individual ways. Scott thinks "he is as far away from me with regard to my veganism, but on another level I could see we were both maverick souls somewhat apart from the conventional way of life. In the film it starts and ends with him shouting at me. It seems that things won’t go well but strangely I feel an empathy for him, especially when I realise he’s actually quite a fragile old soul. There is one touching scene where he gets melancholic about ageing and how he’ll blow his brains out when he knows his day is done."
While one does come to feel sympathy for Wallace, the film doesn't glamourise him - it's very much a warts and all portrait, with at least one spectacularly political incorrect rant that goes far too far, and that will shock some viewers "There are some moments with regard to his old colonial references to black Africans that needed to be tackled. I don’t do this by berating him too much but by allowing him enough rope to hang himself. There’s an incredible scene where he’s banging on about ‘kaffirs’ (an Afrikaner word which is the equivalent of ‘nigger’) and then realises he’s gone too far. It’s a pivotal moment in the film and is a strange mix of ribald humour, irony and regret."
Otherwise, Wallace is of course aware that he's in a film and enjoys playing up, but Scott, as is characteristic of his work, achieves an empathy with his subject that is rare in such work. "I tend to get very involved with the subjects in my documentary. I may not share their beliefs but I know that I have to build a relationship with them if the documentary is going to evolve. I seek out strong emotional moments that can only be achieved by gaining the subject’s trust. That can take some time and with The End of the Game it actually took a few years from having the initial contact with Guy Wallace until completing the epilogue scene just a couple of months ago. I think it’s worth it and I believe the audience will undoubtedly understand that fact when they see the last bizarrely absurd scene in the film."
As is customary in Scott's work, the filmmaker throws himself in at the deep end, becoming fully involved with the hunt, even although it's a process that he fundamentally disagrees with. "I don’t pretend to be heroic in any way whatsoever. In many instances I show myself to be quite fragile and a blundering fool. It’s the truth of what happened when I was out there in the African bush and reflects on my own vulnerabilities. I like that type of realism which is rarely seen in much of the so called documentaries that are routinely broadcast.
"I do seem to be attracted to the most bizarrely extreme characters and situations, and it’s not for some thrill seeking adventure. I look for great character portraits with an equally great narrative potential. When these elements coincide I feel genuinely quite excited that there’s a great story to be told.
"When I’m behind the camera I lose much of my fear whether it be under attack from aggressive thugs on the street, or a charging rhino, as happened in this particular documentary."
Indeed, Scott came to understand some of the motivation of hunters, as he was forced to temporarily enter their mindset. "There’s a key moment in the film that I felt drawn into the hunting mindset on a very primitive level. I realised that I too was a hunter albeit with the camera. I also realised that if I wanted to follow Guy and the professional hunters with him I’d have to ally myself with them rather than stand aloof with a staunch animal rights approach. Perhaps I sold out my principles, but then again the way we define ourselves can be quite fickle and variable according to different situations we find ourselves in."
Scott will be presenting the film at its world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival on February 20, with the film's subject Guy Wallace also in attendance. According to Scott, "I showed a rough cut of the film to Guy and he’s happy with it. He had no issues with the outrageous comments he often made and was more concerned with errors surrounding hunting protocol. As he says in the film ‘I am what I am’."