How the Highlands Film Guild brought the moving image to rural Scotland

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It brought the moving image to remote corners of Scotland that had few cinemas and no experience of television.

The Highlands and Islands Film Guild was established in 1946 and travelled thousands of miles to provide entertainment and enlightenment in an era before mass communication.

A screening by the Highlands and Islands Film Guild on Stronsay, one of the Orkney islands. Picture: University of Glasgow

A screening by the Highlands and Islands Film Guild on Stronsay, one of the Orkney islands. Picture: University of Glasgow

Screens were set-up in community halls and church buildings, with the events becoming important social functions in rural communites.

The screenings were targeted at a family audience, with children joining their parents for a programme typically comprising of a newsreel, a feature film, and a cartoon.

Now the pioneering work of the Guild, which was wound-up in 1970, is being reassessed.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow are looking to speak to anyone with memories its work.

The guild travelled across rural Scotland until 1970. Picture: Contributed

The guild travelled across rural Scotland until 1970. Picture: Contributed

A team will visit the Inverness Film Festival on November 9 and hope to speak to fans of the Guild first-hand.

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“We are interested in capturing the memories of as many people as we can attending the film shows that were put on by the Guild, recording them and creating a historical record,” said Dr Goode, who leads the research team.

“We will also be putting together a typical film programme that the Guild would have offered to community audiences during the post-war years.

“There will be creative writing workshops encouraging people to write and develop their own stories based on their own memories of going to the cinema, with a view to publishing a volume of stories and poems inspired by memories of cinema-going from the period and beyond. We want as many people as possible to come forward, before these memories fade or die out altogether.

Dr Goode continued: “The original idea was born out of World War II, for communities of evacuees, to show Government propaganda to such communities, and that initiative was continued in the formation of the Guild,

“It was justified by the need to retain the population in these communities and to stop young people leaving. It provided a lot of people with their first exposure to film and moving images.”

But by the end of the 1960s the popularity of Guild visits waned and in 1970 it was disbanded.

“The most common explanation for its demise was television but we don’t really know how many people in the Highlands actually had access to television,” added Dr Goode.

“We know television arrived very gradually into the Highlands and we know the quality of the signal coming into communities was unpredictable, variable and often not very good,

“I suspect there are other reasons why it ceased, possibly to do with the kinds of films audiences wanted to see which the Film Guild could not show - such as horror films or thrillers. Cinema in the 1960s becomes a little bit more violent and explicit and the Film Guild could not address that and retain its family audience as well as fulfil its educational remit.”

Further details about the project can be found on its dedicated website.