Reflection: “The Forgotten”, A Film About Glasgow’s Ghosts

Lindsay Kennedy, 2020

Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, everyone has their own ghost story – an unexplained encounter that troubles them even when they try to laugh it off as irrational. At the same time, we are all looking for ways not to disappear, ways not to be invisible, ways to leave our mark. All the more so when we’re told we don’t have the right to be seen.

This was my starting point for The Forgotten, a short film that weaves together ghost stories, abandoned locations and conversations with people in Glasgow that the city tends to pretend don’t exist. When I leave my flat and walk through Partick, I have the uncanny sense of walking amid overlapping realities simultaneously, in the same physical space. There’s the hipster-student version of Dumbarton Road, with its boutique cafes, Italian delis, dim sum restaurants and quirky bars. And then there are its rawer counterparts – rough sleepers, substance abuse, pawn shops, betting shops, young Vietnamese girls working in suspiciously empty nail bars. It’s as if we live in different dimensions, present but absent, weaving past one other like a ghost in each other’s worlds. 

I was interested in when, where and perhaps why people see ghosts, and if these apparitions could be linked back to anxieties (and, perhaps, shared social guilt) over the people and places that continue to haunt us, refusing to be forgotten.

To begin with, I put out calls on social media and asked people I knew to share their ghost stories with me. I then started asking around in pubs in the city – every Glasgow pub has a ghost, it seems – which led to some of the funnier and more bizarre stories in the film. Next, one bitterly cold winter afternoon, I thought I’d try my luck asking strangers on Sauchiehall Street for their supernatural tales and their beliefs about the afterlife. This got me talking to Mark and Paddy, two lovely guys who were homeless at the time. Both men had a moving ghost story that they generously shared with me, but Mark went a step further: while selling the Big Issue on New Year’s Eve, he’d been robbed and stabbed, and had been dead for several minutes before being resuscitated. 

Mark is obviously a real person and not a symbol. In the film, though, his story figures him as a manifestationof the between-state, a living ghost, haunting a world that has tried to discard him – all the more tragic given his personal warmth and kindness, which I hope radiates through the screen. 

“What I got from the film was a sense of increasing decay and that the ghosts were somehow vanguards of a time and society that had now vanished and that they would walk the earth, trapped for ever as a reminder. Also, the homeless guy seemed to be almost a ghost-in-waiting, an apprentice that would one day would become a trapped spirit himself.”

Follow-up message from an attendee at the screening

As I edited the film, it struck me that perhaps people are scared of ghosts because they perceive them as having an agency they shouldn’t have, and their persistence is a rebuke or a retaliation against the living for failing them. But then, in the film, you have Mark, patiently persisting, undefeated and upbeat, with so much reason to be angry, and so little agency – he just doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Which becomes, like all homelessness, an inconvenient and uncomfortable reprimand to people walking by, and is then (unfairly) imagined to be some kind of threat or attack, as if the person made to feel guilt is the victim of the encounter, rather than the other way around. 

It made me think – and I hope it encourages viewers to think, too – about how every society designates which people are derided and ignored and blamed for simply existing, and how at the same time, every culture has the idea of ghosts: those who can’t just be ignored or moved on or erased, however much we insist.