Film-makers look to fund Isle of Harris crofting documentary

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A film-making duo from the London College of Communication are hoping to crowdfund a film about the crofting culture on the Isle of Harris.

Student film-makers Joya Berrow and Lucy Jane are hoping to crowdfund a short documentary titled Until The Cows Come Home which will explore the tradition of crofting in the Scottish Highlands and Islands through a detailed portrait of one crofter.

Donald John Macinnes, a Harris crofter who features in Until The Cows Come Home

Donald John Macinnes, a Harris crofter who features in Until The Cows Come Home

Berrow Berrow explained that she was inspired by a trip to the Isle of Harris where they met Donald John Macinnes, a crofter living in the village of Bunavoneader.

“I was researching eco-communities in the UK. Community identities, the themes of diaspora and rehabilitation farming.

“These ideas of identity, diaspora, rehabilitation and lifestyle - all these topics led me to discover crofting.”

After researching the crofting communities on the internet, Berrow headed to the Isle of Lewis to experience the culture first-hand.

A shot of Donald John surveying the land in the Isle of Harris. Picture: Joya Berrow / Lucy Jane

A shot of Donald John surveying the land in the Isle of Harris. Picture: Joya Berrow / Lucy Jane

“I realised I wasn’t going to make a film about this sitting in London - or understand more about the culture. So I’d thought I had to go on an adventure and make this truly worthwhile instead of looking on the internet and trying to find something.

READ MORE: Crofters innovate with golf courses, caravan sites

“I took the train from London and rented a car a few days. I spent a few days with a man who my mum had met in Sri Lanka. He organised lots of meetings for me with different crofters around the Isle of Lewis.”

“I then went to Harris one day and drove along a 14km stretch of road which leads to Hushinish.”

After talking to locals, she was introduced to Macinnes who became the main focal point of the film.

“I found him and we were just instantly friends. We just hung out for a few days. I helped him on the farm, feeding the cows and we just talked. It was a really nice time. It was May and the lambs had just been born”

“I decided to find a character and explore the struggles and inner-conflicts. The amazing things about the culture but also the darkness of it, through Donald John”

“It’s like fundamentally about this area. All the people who live around there seem to really still work together a lot and help each other out, free of charge. They pass on knowledge to one another, even if they’re not family. Just friends or people in the village. They’re still very close. I don’t think that goes for a lot of other crofting communities. I think this one is especially is continuing to be very open and collective. Looking out for one another.”

“There’s so many different things against them - the dark winters, the strong winds - but it’s the only way of life for them.”

The history of crofting in Scotland dates back to the 19th century as a system of small-scale food production which developed in part due to the Highland clearances.

READ MORE: Number of crofts in Scotland reaches 2,000

Although there are still practitioners such as Donald John, crofting is a declining tradition due to the lack the lack of interest for a younger generation, says Berrow.

“I think it is prevalent and a bit of a dark cloud always. But I feel like the attitude of a lot of these people is whatever happens tomorrow happens.”

“The weather dictates, they live by the day, by the hour. I don’t think it’s in their nature to worry continuously. Donald John’s son isn’t crofting - he does estate work. It’s still working with the land and a similar way of life. But it’s not strictly crofting. Donald John has accepted that. They all feel like they’re the last generation to croft.”

The filmmakers are hoping to finish Until The Cows Come Home in June and submit the documentary to a number of different film festivals. Berrow hopes that the project will help to boost awareness of the local community and push tourism to the area.

“Hopefully people will write about it and talk about it too. I hope it raises awareness about their way of life and crofting.”

“I hope it sends people to island too. Because they’re inspired by the film and want to go there for themselves and meet these people.”

“Hopefully that will boost the economy, bringing tourism there. That will, indirectly, help crofting to continue.”

“It’s good to educate people about the Gaelic culture and language. Indigenous cultures like this are so important to our history. People should be aware of it.”

Berrow admits that her initial romantic vision of the crofting communities of the Highlands and Islands was altered when she met the people who live there.

“I wasn’t shocked or horrified. I had empathy with these people and it made me more interested in them. It fuelled my interest, the harshness of the way that they live and the things against them.”

“I’m still in awe of these people and still think it’s the most beautiful place ever. The grittiness and the fact they don’t live in these thatched houses and they don’t live the way I expected. It’s what so interesting to me. It was completely unknown and not what I expected it to be.”

“Things like the Tesco delivery being so much a part of people’s lives. That’s one tiny thing we all take for granted. But it has such an impact on places. It’s all about circumstance and location.”

More information on Until The Cows Come Home and their crowdfunding efforts can be found on the Kickstarter page.