Sundance Festival triumph for former cameo usher

Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee in a scene from John Maclean's award-winning Slow West. Picture: Contributed

Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee in a scene from John Maclean's award-winning Slow West. Picture: Contributed

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HE’S the local lad who went from clearing up leftover popcorn at the Cameo to brushing shoulders with the world’s biggest movie stars.

Now award-winning director John Maclean is heading for the big time after his first feature-length film, Slow West, scooped a top jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Director John Maclean. Picture: Getty

Director John Maclean. Picture: Getty

The critically-lauded flick, which stars Michael Fassbender, tells the story of a Scottish teenager who embarks on a journey across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves – helped along the way by a mysterious bounty hunter.

But today down-to-earth Maclean, 42, revealed his love for cinema was forged in the Capital, where he studied BA drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art and worked part-time at the cinema.

He said: “I worked in the Cameo and the late-night double bills when I was at art school and that was my film education. I got to see some fantastic films on the big screen every Friday and Saturday night.

“When you’re picking up sticky popcorn in between seats, you’re thinking, ‘One day . . .’. It is quite funny to think they could be showing my film. It’s incredible – I’m very lucky.

“Quentin Tarantino actually came to the Cameo when I worked there, back in the early 90s with Reservoir Dogs. I went along and heard him talk and that was massively inspirational.

“He was just talking about the kind of films he loved, which were the kind of films I loved. In Edinburgh at the time it felt as if you had to like real art-house cinema in order to be considered a film buff, whereas I grew up loving Die Hard, Robocop, Predator – films like that.”

Slow West was shot in New Zealand, where Maclean worked with the same crew that helped to make the Lord of the Rings films. But the director, originally from Tayport in Fife, said he could be tempted back to Edinburgh to shoot movies.

He said: “There’s a film studios out at Nine Mile Burn – they’ve been going since the 50s and 60s. Places like that would be great to go back to, because they are kind of underused.

“It comes down to the politics of it – tax breaks and where you can hire cameras and the practicalities. There’s talk of kick-starting a film industry in Scotland – I don’t whether it’s going to be Dundee or Edinburgh, but people are starting to talk about new studios.”

n Bafta Scotland is hosting a preview screening and Q&A with Maclean tonight at 6.30pm at Cineworld Fountainpark. Tickets at www.bafta.org/scotland.

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com

FROM THE GIG CIRCUIT TO THE BIG SCREEN