Miranda Pennell, still from The Host, 2015. Courtesy of Miranda Pennell and Lux, London
Miranda Pennell, still from The Host, 2015. Courtesy of Miranda Pennell and Lux, London

The starting point for AND OTHER FAMILY STORIES is a short letter, now preserved in Dumfries Museum and previously part of the collection at Grierson’s Museum in Thornhill. The museum opened in its New Street location in Thornhill in 1872 and was closed and dispersed in 1965. It housed many items of natural history, archaeology, material culture and ephemera that testified to a gradual and fascinating interlacing of family exchanges and economies with far-flung places and world events.

The letter, written in Modern Greek and dated 1854, is an invitation to a baptism. With great economy, it tells of a birth and a christening at the very onset of the siege conditions in Sebastopol in the Crimea. The letter itself was presented to Dr Grierson by Mr Benjamin Dickson, a local Sheriffs Officer whose brother picked it up in the street upon entering the sieged city in 1855 with the British forces and then gave it to him.

Did the letter ever reach its intent recipient? How did it come to be on a street? Was it read and discarded, or lost accidentally in a panic? Why did Mr Dickson’s brother choose to keep it? Was it a curiosity or souvenir to be retrieved along with bullet casings and other tokens from a long military campaign? Eventually translated at Dr Grierson’s request by John Stuart Blackie, Professor of Greek at the University of Edinburgh, the letter’s modest invitation might have seemed rudely mundane given the theatre of war it was found in.

As we enter 2017, much about the story of the letter seems to resonate. The ritual business of families or communities can appear sidelined in a world increasingly driven by larger narratives and by interests that dwarf our own. Yet often they are bound or woven together in ways that are inextricable. May You Live In Interesting Times, and other family stories will include a range of films and film styles that each in their own way locate the family in the crosshairs of a changing world.

The progamme begins with a selection of poignant and reflective films by Miranda Pennell, Werner Kissling, Corin Sworn, Laura Horelli, Rania Stephan and Fiona Tan. These films are all rooted in stories of family that reach far across space and time. Personal discoveries lie behind them: family photographs, slides, a piece of video footage. And in each case, the filmmaker draws our attention – by means of the consideration of images and memories – to particular places, people and events that influenced their upbringing or intruded upon it. Images and memories are questioned, long-ago situations, exchanges and events imperfectly recalled, and places and people revisited.