It was an unlikely pairing. You wouldn’t expect the sort of edgy, urban international hipsters that attend SXSW – the music, film, and technology festival and all-round trend-spotting mecca that sprouts from the desert of Austin, Texas each year – would have much interest in a bunch of bobbing blokes from a small Oxfordshire village with bells on their legs and hankies in their hands.
But when Tim Plester premiered Way of the Morris, his documentary about “the origins and impulses behind Morris dancing and its place within enchanted England’s ongoing story”, alongside the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller Source Code and Jodie Foster’s The Beaver, their reaction suggested quite otherwise.
“We certainly didn’t come close to breaking any box-office records,” Plester laughs, “but we did succeed in attracting several small but perfectly formed audiences who, I hope, left the screenings with their notions of Old Weird Albion sufficiently shaken and stirred.” The film want on to scoop awards for ‘Best Independent Documentary Feature’ and ‘Best Documentary Film’ at the 2011 Southern Appalachian International Film Festival, was selected by the UK Film Focus as one of their ‘Breakthrough’ British films of the year, and both the British Library and The British Film Institute requested copies of the film for their archives.
Plester’s success is not as surprising as you might think, and not just because nostalgia for the bucolic good life is a timeless cultural trope. A new strain of gritty, unsentimental and forward-looking rusticity has been bubbling away over the past five years or so. And to its disciples – in music, fashion and technology, as well as film – native traditions are a way into the future, not a relic from the past.