Filmmaking is alive and well in the Highlands and Islands

By Jan Patience

There’s a lot of shooting going on in the Highlands. But unless you count the gun-toting central character of David Graham Scott’s strangely poignant documentary The End of the Game, it is all of a filmic nature. At this year’s XpoNorth, two documentary feature films which have been made by filmmakers based in the Highlands will receive special screenings on both days of the festival at Eden Court. Both films are set partly in Africa but there, the comparisons end.

In Scott’s film, he follows in footsteps of a mutton-chopped old colonial called Guy Wallace as he takes off in what will be his last Cape Buffalo hunt in South Africa. Scott, a strict vegan since boyhood, is the auteur foil. Tristan Aitchison’s documentary, Sidney & Friends, shot over a period of four years, follows the story of Sidney, who grew up intersex in rural western Kenya, one of the world’s least tolerant regions towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex (LGBTI) rights. The fact that both documentary features are screening at XpoNorth tells a story in itself. That filmmaking is alive and well in the Highlands and Islands and that filmmakers are looking outwards every day.

Tristan Aitchison, who is from the Black Isle, near Inverness, graduated from Screen Academy Scotland in Edin-burgh in 2010. He met Amanda Millen, who heads the screen and broadcast support network, ScreenHI, not long after he graduated. Millen offered him support to make his first short film, CARE, a psychological drama about the abuse of the elderly in the care system, which was shown as part of XpoNorth’s film showcase in 2014. According to Aitchison, happen-stance led to the making of Sidney & Friends. “It really was an organised accident,” he explains. “My sister got married to a Kenyan man in Scotland and there was meant to be a second wedding in Kenya which never happened. “I had booked my ticket anyway so I packed my camera and my mic just in case, thinking that I might make a ten minute short film.”

A scene from Sidney & Friends

As it turned out, what he stumbled upon, set the course for the next four years of his life. He met Guillit, a gender minority activist and ‘transboi’, who told him about the plight of trans-gender and intersex Kenyans living in Nairobi. “Awareness of these issues has increased since 2013. Initially I showed it to a few people and they said, ‘what’s that?’ Now, there is even a transgender actor in Eastenders, which shows how much it has entered into the main-stream. It has taken a lot longer than I ever thought it would to complete Sidney & Friends but it has allowed the issues to become current and the story of Sidney and the other contributors have also moved on in a way which I could never have imagined. We show all this in the film.”

Showing Sidney & Friends in Inverness at this special screening is very apt, says Aitchison, who helped establish and heads up the BFI Film Academy Highlands and Islands. “It has been produced in Highlands with support from ScreenHI and XpoNorth. Amanda Millen is the person who has contributed most to our journey.” The film’s original soundtrack is provided by composer Paul Terry (an IMA-nominated artist), and features vocal performances by Kenyan singer Silas Miami and The Voice South Africa 2016 finalist, Lana Crowster. Both Miami and Crowster will make a special appearance at XpoNorth.

XpoNorth 2017: The End of the Game, 3pm Wednesday 7 June, and Sidney & Friends (cast and crew screening) 3pm Thursday 8 June – Eden Court, Inverness.

Caithness-based David Graham Scott’s critically-acclaimed The End Of The Game, tells the story of his bizarre journey from Caithness to Africa made in the company of ex-big game hunter Guy Wallace. “There is so much more to this film than vegan versus hunter,” says Scott. “It’s about an old man in decline and there’s also the side-story of the complicity of the director – ie. me! It starts with him swearing at me and ends with him swearing at me. I met him when I was making a short film called Arcadia with the Scot-tish Documentary Institute in 2008 which was based around a hunting estate in Caithness. He was living on the estate in his in own little farm. I knew that he would be a good subject for a documentary and came back to him eventually. He has left Caithness now.”

This road trip with a difference could have gone horribly wrong, but according to one film critic who saw The End of the Game at Glasgow Film Festival, “Scott’s camera looks hard and finds the good.” Now working as a news reporter with the John O’Groats Journal in his native Caithness, Scott is delighted that his film will receive a special screening in the Highlands. He has a strong track record as a documentary maker going back to the mid 1990s. His documentary films has documented his fascination for people on the margins of society through works such as the BAFTA-nominated Little Criminals, Celtic Media Festival-nominated WireBurners, and New York Film Festival winner, Detox or Die, which Broadcast as part of BBC1’s ONE life strand. His previous feature film, Iboga Nights, was voted Best UK documentary at the Open City Docs Fest in London (2014).

Jan Patience is a journalist and author. She is co-author of Arrivals and Sailings: The Making of George Wyllie. “A fascinating insight into the great, quixotic life of George Wyllie, and how he came to leave his indelible mark on the Scottish arts landscape” – Alan Cumming.