In Spring 2019, Scotica embarked upon its greatest journey yet, travelling the length of the northwest coast of Scotland, capturing the livelihoods and stories of its scattered and yet extremely tight-knit populace. We had set out to learn about, and tell the story of, what it means to live in the most remote locales in mainland Britain: the challenges of everyday life, and the effects of an explosion of tourism on traditional industries and communities. Instead, what we came away with was a much deeper exploration of a powerful and complex relationship - that between a landscape and those who subsist from it entirely.
The relationship we discovered was muti-faceted: economic, historical, cultural, social, and always intensely purposeful. As Assynt-born-and-bred Stewart Yates put it to us:
"I just feel I have real roots in the landscape - it gives me nourishment for my soul. The geology, the fauna and flora, the myths and legends and all the things that weave together to make this place so special, because it is an enormously special place. I use the landscape, and I benefit from it. You can still have people living in a wilderness."
Of particular interest became the concept of crofting - a system that many not local to the area may only be tangentially aware of, but one which forms the very foundations of all culture and economy in the Northwest. The crofting system historically was what created communities, bound them together, and provided them with their means of survival. Nowadays, though there are some who still croft in the traditional sense, actual crofting-based communities have disappeared completely and those who still lay claim to crofts have adapted them to a more modern context. Shepherd Peter Stewarts has seen the crofts that historically made up his farm transformed, merged and now reliant on additional support from east-coast areas where the weather and terrain are more amenable. Scallop divers Ben and David Oakes maintain what they refer to as a 'sea-croft' in Loch Sligachan, a protected marine environment. Stewart Yates keeps his croft near Achmelvich as one of the few remaining areas of true ancient woodland in all of Scotland. Carpenter George Graham, having constructed a house on his croft, defines them as "a small area of land surrounded by legislation".
There were many other areas that inspired us in the making of Small Country which I will write about in more detail here over the coming months. Pickups are scheduled for November and December of 2020, with a festival run beginning in early 2021 - so expect more information and media coming your way soon.
Watch the first trailer for 'Small Country' here.
The brief for Scotica's latest project was to create an all-encompassing brand film for multi-disciplinary adventure collective OceanVertical, showcasing both the beauty of the Scottish landscape and their chosen methods of traversal: mountaineering, climbing, coasteering and paddleboarding. The challenge, therefore, lay in combining these four very different experiences into a single unified journey.
In taking the film from brief to reality, then, we focussed in on the ideas and feelings common to each of these experiences. A love of the landscape in all its variety, in particular a need for wilderness for its own sake. An itch to continually challenge oneself physically and mentally in new contexts. A passion for sharing these experiences with others. An appreciation of, and indeed a need for, time and space completely removed from everyday life, where the distractions of work, home and society, if only for a moment, disappear.
Something we latched onto in particular was that in all our ways of exploring in the outdoors, there are moments of intense motion, of sensory overload and a physical and emotional strenuousness - and yet there are equally, and indeed often simultaneously, moments of inner peace, stillness and quiet. On our first shooting day, we found ourselves on the Tarmachan Ridge in a blizzard, the biting wind whipping cold across our faces, a whirlwind of snow endlessly filling every pocket and fold in our gear. There was seldom time to stop or communicate as we hurried across frozen lochans and eased ourselves down precarious slopes. And yet, as anyone who has experienced a white-out will attest to, even in this scenario there come moments of individual detachment, where time seems to slow and the world around us becomes both extremely close and very distant.
Such is the case when making difficult manoeuvres on a sheer rock face, or freefalling from a precipice into the crashing waves below - one finds oneself, amidst an almost infinitesimal moment of incredible senses, feelings and speed, in a meditative state, where thoughts give way to simply being. This was what we intended to capture and bring to life in this film: the transitory experience of being in a beautiful place, pushing ourselves to reach new heights within ourselves in moments of extremities, and there of all places finding, however fleeting, a sense of peace.
Watch the OceanVertical 2020 Promo here.