Highlands and Islands Film Guild memories sought

Published: 28 October 2016

Memories of the post war Highlands and Islands Film Guild coming to villages and rural communities are being sought by researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Stirling.

Memories of the post war Highlands and Islands Film Guild coming to villages and rural communities are being sought by researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Stirling.Film Guild Stronsay 450

The visits were often an important social occasion for Highlands and Islands communities, many of whom had no access to television let alone cinema newsreels, public information films or the latest Hollywood releases.

For very remote communities the Highlands and Islands Film Guild filled that important role.

Those first hand memories of life in the Highlands and Islands and the regular visits of the Film Guild are what the research team are trying to capture when they visit the area over the coming year to carry out a series of case studies. The first of these will be in Inverness and Ross-shire and will coincide with the Inverness Film Festival starting on November 9th.

The team, led by Dr Ian Goode, Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow, will be on hand to record and document people’s memories of what it was like when the Film Guild visited, the impact it had on remote communities over the decades and why they think it dies out in 1970.

The Guild had broadly educational objectives to fulfil combined with a need to entertain their audience so they combined educational non-fiction films with feature films.

Film Guild history

Dr Goode explains: “We are interested in capturing the memories of as many people as we can attending the film shows that were put on by the Highlands and Islands Film Guild, and recording them and creating a historical record.

“We will also be putting together a typical film programme that the Guild would have offered to community audiences during the post-war years, and screening that on 16mm in an intimate space as part of the Inverness Film Festival.

“There will be creative writing workshops encouraging people to write and develop their own stories based on their own memories of going to the cinema, with a view to publishing a volume of stories and poems inspired by memories of cinema-going from the period and beyond. We want as many people as possible to come forward, before these memories fade or die out altogether.

The Highlands and Islands Film Guild was a precursor to the current service provided by the Screen Machine, and was established in 1946. The film programmes were targeted at a family audience. Children could go along with their parents and see a programme that would typically comprise of a newsreel, a public information film, a feature film, a cartoon and a trailer for forthcoming attractions.

“The original idea was born out of World War II, for communities of evacuees, to show Government propaganda to such communities, and that initiative was continued in the formation of the Highlands and Islands Film Guild,” Dr Goode explains.

“It was justified by the need to retain the population in these communities and to stop young people leaving. It provided a lot of people with their first exposure to film and moving images.”

The Film Guild held screenings in village halls, community buildings and in some cases people’s front rooms. They were extremely popular with many in the community travelling long distances to attend the regular screenings.

But by the end of the 1960s the popularity of the Highlands and Islands Film Guild visits waned and in 1970 it was disbanded.

“The most common explanation for its demise was television but we don’t really know how many people in the Highlands actually had access to television and where. We know television arrived very gradually into the Highlands and we know the quality of the signal coming into communities was unpredictable, variable and often not very good,” Dr Ian Goode explains.

“So I suspect there are other reasons why it ceased, possibly to do with the kinds of films audiences wanted to see which the Film Guild could not show - such as horror films or thrillers. Cinema in the 1960s becomes a little bit more violent and explicit and the Film Guild could not address that and retain its family audience as well as fulfil its educational remit.

“Other factors could be to do with greater access to transport and travel, other leisure choices other than television and cinema just becoming a little bit old fashioned. People were less prepared to sit in a cold hall watching a scratchy 16mm film so the demands and expectations of the cinema audience changed.”

At the end of the project there will a special event for the surviving Film Guild operators whose combined efforts meant that cinema was experienced by so communities across the Highlands and Islands.

Anyone with a tale to tell about their memories of the Highlands and Islands Film Guild can make an appointment to meet with the team when they visit the Inverness area.

Contact Dr Ian Goode on 0141 330 6500, email: ian.goode@glasgow.ac.uk or Ealasaid Munro on 0141 330 6944, email: ealasaid.munro@glasgow.ac.uk.
Further details about the project: www.hifilmguild@gla.ac.uk


More information: Jane Chilton, Communications Office, University of Glasgow 0141 330 3535 / jane.chilton@glasgow.ac.uk

First published: 28 October 2016

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