Lighting campfire and settling down for archive movie magic

Made on Our Land is the latest Scottish offshoot from the BFIs Britain on Film project. Picture: National Library of Scotland

Made on Our Land is the latest Scottish offshoot from the BFIs Britain on Film project. Picture: National Library of Scotland

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Made on Our Land is the latest Scottish offshoot from the BFI’s Britain on Film project

MADE ON OUR LAND

At a time when a trip to the movies can easily be ruined by attention deficit audiences texting, talking and tweeting their way through a film, the idea of cinema functioning as a kind of campfire-like hub around which people gather to listen to and share stories might sound a little romantic.

But there is something great to be said for those collective cinema-going experiences that generate good discussions about what’s unfurling on screen, even while the film itself is still playing. The touring archival film programme Made on Our Land is a case in point. When it got under way in Brodick on Arran last weekend, curator Shona Thomson discovered that the archive films featuring the local area resulted in audience members spontaneously pointing out folks they knew, commenting on the changing landscape and reflecting on the fundamental social shifts that have taken place in the area since the films were made.

“The room is never quiet when you show these kinds of films,” Thomson says. “We had one film of a wealthy family going on their holidays on Brodick beach when it was all beautiful white sands. It’s not like that anymore, so when the beach came on there was quite a reaction. In the discussion afterwards it transpired that something like 70,000 tonnes of sand had been exported for commercial use and the beach has never been the same since. These are the sorts of stories that come out that’s what’s going to be fascinating about the tour.”

Set to continue in Liniclate on Benbecula, before heading to Port Ellen, Aboyne, Lochinver, Castle Douglas, Peebles and Tain over then next few months, Made on Our Land is the latest Scottish offshoot from the BFI’s Britain on Film project, which has digitized the various film archives across the UK in order to make them available to the public and create a sort of moving-image map of the nation.

With most of the films sourced from the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive, the tour is focusing on the rural lives and landscapes of Scotland and each night will feature a mix of thematically relevant documentaries, public information films and home movies, several of which will be tailored to each specific stop on the tour. As happened in Brodick, special guests will also be joining Thomson and the audience for a post-screening “blether”. “It’s all very informal,” laughs Thomson.

The area-specific films playing at each venue range from home movies donated to the archive, to public information films and special live audio-visual events. In Liniclate, for example, Thomson is screening a 1961 BBC documentary about the controversial rocket range on Benbecula. The Lochinver event, meanwhile, will host a special performance of the archival film Lost Treasure. “It’s called Made on Our Land so we wanted to show films that would be relevant to the audiences that would be watching them.”

Elsewhere, the more localized films will be augmented by public information films that vary from blatant wartime propaganda (Fighting Fields) and films designed to prevent depopulation (Highland Laddie) to reflective portraits of hill farming in the Scottish lowlands (the excellent Silver Buttons).

Watched together, these films track the changing way Scotland has been perceived on film, with condescending government views of the nation giving way to more democratic views later on. But as much as the tour is designed to get these films out in front of people again, it’s also a celebration of the rural cinema-going tradition.

• Made on Our Land continues in Liniclate on 7 August, Aboyne on 19 August and Lochinver on 25 August. For tickets and full listings, visit www.madeonourland.com

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