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Scottish sojourn: "Seeing" a film

Posted at 10:37 AM on September 11, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Greetings from Edinburgh. I have only been here in Scotland for five days, but have already chased all across the country and seen a few wonders. I'll jot down some thoughts in coming days, but a big one which I keep revisiting is, Britain cares more about film than the US.

I say this after looking through various newspapers and magazines in the last few days, and also just talking to people about movies. When people talk film here, they REALLY talk film.

Admittedly I have been visiting friends in the film community, but it's clear they are engaged in a dialog with the larger society, and part of the result of that engagement is a more demanding film audience. The result? Interesting ideas and deeper experimentation. Not everything works, but at least there is an effort on the part of the mainstream film makers.

More on this later.....

Last Friday I had a new experience: I watched a partially edited film. Some friends have been making what may be the first ever Gaelic feature film. There is a small but vibrant Gaelic television industry on Scotland (this is Scots Gaelic, pronounced GAH-lic, as opposed to Irish GAY-lic.) It's an ancient and incomprehesible language to those who were not born into it, or have not studied it at length, but it is filled with poetry. and stories going back millennia.

"Seachd" (pronounced SHAK) tells the story of a young boy on the isle of Skye, struggling between honoring the ancient traditions of his family, represented by his story-telling grandfather, and the draw of the overwhelming English speaking culture all around him. His grandfathers tales both attract and infuriate the boy, as he grows through his teen years and into adulthood.

The film makers shot much of their footage earlier this summer on HD video on Skye. As a result they have already made great progress in the editing, although they have yet to begin the sound recording and mixing.

They invited me to come and see what they have so far, and we watched a film which was missing most of the voice-overs and all of the final music. In their stead there was a selection of classical music, part of the soundtrack from "Last of the Mohicans" and just to top it off, Motorhead pounding through "The Ace of Spades" for a horse racing sequence.

While I had understood intellectually that tiny elements can be hugely important in a film, seeing this unfinished version really brought it home. We watched it through once, and frankly I was a little confused as to what was going on. But at a second screening the producer filled in the voice over, and just those few words made what had been a confusing puzzle into a reasoned narrative.

There's a lot of work to be done yet on this film, not least the composition of a gaelic heavy metal tune for that horse race, but everyone on the film is confident, and they are even hopeful they may be able to snag a US distributor for the film. It will be intriguing to see just how well Gaelic fairy tales mixed with heavy metal works in America!

September 2006
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