On Sunday 19th June 2011, 5 years ago next month, my friend Darren Conner collapsed and died during a charity bike ride. He was only 40 years old and had been taking part in the 10th anniversary of the Lockerbie loop, a major fundraising event for Children first.
Some of you like myself would have first met this friendly and warm human being on Tuesday 2nd May 2006 on a ten week ‘Introduction to Film Studies Course’ at the Gracefield Arts centre here in Dumfries led by Darren, who was the Head of Film at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts. Any fear that this course would be dry and purely academic was soon dispelled and those of you that knew Darren would understand why. His humour, his love of the movies and his enthusiasm came across to all of us. In October the same year we moved to the RBC Film Theatre for a regular slot on a Monday night when the cinema had been traditionally closed.
When Alice Stilgoe became Film Officer Talk Cinema, as it was first called then, was incorporated into the main Film Theatre programme. Darren also became a programmer for the RBC. This arrangement lasted right up until his death. The most memorable nights for me personally have been the ones where Darren interviewed a guest, for example Rab Buchanan twice (That Sinking Feeling 1980, Gregory’s Girl 1981), Ian McCulloch (Zombie Flesh Eaters 1979) Morag McKinnon (Donkeys 2008), Peter Mullan (Neds 2010), the only time I’ve ever seen Darren nervous before an interview and not forgetting ‘John Shuttleworth’ (Southern Softies 2009). Without Darren’s unique personally and charisma the club would of never have become as popular as it was.
As a way of thanking Darren and to celebrate his life the RBC Film Club members, with the great support of the staff, decided to put on an evening to raise money to enable us to plant a tree and erect a commemorative plaque close to the cinema that he loved. Unfortunately the Acer tree was planted last December without giving notice so that club members could not be there. Following the more recent placement of the plaque it was decided give club members and RBC staff a chance demonstrate their fondness for the man. To this end we met on a lovely summers evening at the end of May just across from the cinema and overlooking the River Nith and Dumfries town. Each of us were invited, in our own way; to say something about the way Darren touched all our lives and to share a few fond memories. Following an introduction to give some context into Darren’s involvement with the RBC Film Club we all had a chance give our thanks. Rachel Findlay said a few words reflecting on Darren’s life and its influence on her own, Julie McMorran read out the lyrics of Where Do Children Play by Cat Stevens, a song that appeared in one of Darren’s favourite films Harold and Maude (1971) followed by a very moving rendition of The Smiths This Charming Man from Pat Pickering. John Harvey said a few words and the evening was wrapped up by Alec Barclay who played a recording of Darren’s humorous remarks about the influence the film Gregory’s Girl (1981) had on his own life.
My friend was a descent and lovely human being and there aren’t too many of them about. And just to finish I would like to reiterate something that I have said before and although I have moved on still rings true for me today. Darren has been a great influence in my life since I first met him in 2006 and from my own personnel prospective I would like to thank Darren again for giving me the confidence and encouragement to start writing, something that I would never have thought about doing without his influence. From the time I was a wee child I’ve always loved the cinema but Darren have made the experience so much more interesting for my self and I would imagine many others.
I did opine at the time of his death that the good Lord would hopefully provide a decent cinema for him, bet I know whose going to be doing the programming?