Tracking down Scotland’s own Cinema Paradiso

An Orkney audience enjoys a show put on by the Highlands and Islands Film Guild. Picture: contributed

An Orkney audience enjoys a show put on by the Highlands and Islands Film Guild. Picture: contributed

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It brought thrills and dreams to rural Scotland after the Second World War, with people so determined to see the latest Hollywood films they would even build roads so the show could go on.

Now, 70 years after the launch of the country’s first mobile cinema, former audience members are being asked to share their memories as part of a unique research project.

Picture: contributed

Picture: contributed

The Highlands and Islands Film Guild, set up after the Second World War, allowed towns and villages in northern Scotland to enjoy big releases of the day thanks to a small band of drivers and projectionists.

The fleet of modified vans, carrying the projectors, would set up in village halls, schools, huts or sometimes even private houses if there was no other suitable space.

A team at the University of Glasgow’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television now wants to speak to those who watched the films, as well as the crews involved in putting them on.

The project, entitled Major Minor Cinema, hopes to assess the impact of the travelling cinema on rural communities.

When it was rolled out in 1946 at the behest of the former Scottish Film Council, it was envisaged as a way of enriching the cultural and educational amenities for remote regions.

As well as blockbusters, war movies, westerns, and films about Scotland (including Whisky Galore), the guild’s screenings were firmly aimed at families.

Other programmes included Pathé newsreels, cartoons and A Queen is Crowned, a feature marking the Queen’s coronation.

Dr Ian Goode, a lecturer in film and television studies at the university, said: “The Highlands and Islands Film Guild was a unique moment in Scottish cinema – and Highland and Island life.

“For the first time, a mobile cinema brought the stars of the big screen right into the everyday lives of people across the Highlands and Islands.”

The team is also holding a number of events in the region relating to the project.

The project’s co-investigator, Sarah Neely, from the University of Stirling, said: “As part of the project, we are also looking for participants for creative writing workshops at various festivals throughout the Highlands and Islands which will be held over the next year.

“The first one will be a half-day event held at the Inverness Film Festival on 12 November.”

Anyone with memories of attending or working on the guild’s mobile cinema should contact Dr Ian Goode at ian.goode@glasgow.ac.uk or Dr Ealasaid Munro at ealasaid.munro@glasgow.ac.uk.

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