Cinema in the Country: The Rural Cinema Scheme-Orkney (1946-67)

By Goode, Ian | Post Script, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Cinema in the Country: The Rural Cinema Scheme-Orkney (1946-67)


Goode, Ian, Post Script


The act of transporting cinema to and exhibiting films for the rural communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland has attracted a fair amount of press attention at home and abroad recently ("Box Office"). This is partly due to the events pioneered by the British actress Tilda Swinton and the writer and critic Mark Cousins. This began with the film festival The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams held in Nairn on the north east coast of Scotland in 2008, followed a year later by A Pilgrimage which involved tugging a mobile cinema along an exhibition route from Fort Augustus to Nairn incorporating Loch Ness. These initiatives and less publicized others, such as The Small Islands Film Festival (2007-2009), are born of a passionate desire to not only take a preferred vision of cinema to selected areas of rural Scotland, but also, to offer potential audiences a different cinema-going experience by challenging what might be considered the norms of film exhibition.

The vehicle for A Pilgrimage was the Screen Machine, a custom built articulated lorry that converts into a self contained one hundred and two seat cinema. This mobile cinema was painstakingly developed by Highlands and Islands Arts Ltd. in conjunction with Cinemobile of France between 1994 and 2005 to negotiate the narrow and twisting road network of rural Scotland. Screen Machine is currently managed by Regional Screen Scotland and financially supported by a combination of Scottish Screen, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar (formerly the Western Isles Council), and North Ayrshire Council. The mobile cinema serves the communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and has also delivered cinema to UK troops during a four week visit to Bosnia in 2001 ("Screen Machine").

The current impetus behind mobile cinema and other community orientated forms of film exhibition has been supported by the soon to be abolished--UK Film Council. In 2009 the Distribution and Exhibition department of the Council launched an initiative named the Rural Cinema Pilot Scheme designed to give "people in rural areas the opportunity to enjoy the communal experience of cinema" in England ("Rural Cinema"). This scheme was allocated 1.2 million [pounds sterling] of Lottery funding and the use of digital technology offers the possibility of extending the geographical reach of UK film exhibition ("Rural Cinema"). These recent developments in rural provision prompt the question: to what extent has that type of cinema which Barbara Klinger refers to as non-theatrical, and which I refer to here as rural, been written into film history? (Klinger 2008).

Rural cinema represents a relatively under-researched and developing area of film history in different national contexts (Maltby; Allen; Stokes 2008; Meers; Biltereyst; Van De Vijver 2009). This work is expanding the geography of historical research beyond the urban context of cinema. What I am interested in here is extending this history of cinema and exhibition to Scotland, and specifically the remote location of Orkney--the collection of islands ten miles off the north eastern tip of the mainland--and in the policy directives and nature of the conditions under which organized rural cinema becomes possible. This in a period that begins with the formation of the Scottish Film Council in 1934 and in a country where over ninety per cent of the geography of its land mass is rural and historically depopulated ("The Scottish").

UK FILM INSTITUTIONS IN SCOTLAND

The 1930s represents a period of concern throughout the UK over the perceived effects of the commercial cinema on a growing audience. The 1932 report The Film in National Life was commissioned by the Commission of Educational and Cultural Films to investigate "the role of the cinema in education and social progress" ("History of the BFI"). The published report recommended the formation of a central film institute and argued for the "recognition of film as a powerful instrument for good or evil in national life" (Commission on Educational and Cultural Films 1932; Bolas 2009; Napper 2009). …

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