We are delighted to release this week the official launch trailer for ‘Small Country’, which marks the completion of the film and its submission to festivals across the UK and internationally. You can view the new trailer below.
What follows is my director’s statement on the launch of the film, and its significance to me personally.
I’ve wanted the voices of small, remote communities to be heard ever since I left mine and realised they weren’t. I grew up on a small island in the Orkney Isles, and spent much of my childhood in the Northwest Highlands, in particular the remote Applecross peninsula. Spending my foundational years getting to know these beautiful and intimiate but isolated places made it a revelation, when I did come to move south (as almost all of my generation have done), that the world beyond them is largely urban-centric, caring little for rural and ecological issues.
The Northwest Mainland has an area of nearly 4,000km2, but with a population of under 10,000. That’s a fewer people than live in Clapham Junction, which covers less than 1km2. It’s a sparser population than anywhere else in Western Europe, and yet it accounts for such an enormous part of our country – geographically, yes, but also culturally, ecologically and economically. This is the contradiction which inspired the documentary, and in turn its ironic title.
In many ways, the area is in fact shrinking. The traditional industries of the 20th century (crofting, farming, fishing, working estates), which were all responsible for keeping people and wealth in the area, have partly or wholly disappeared. With them have gone a generation of young workers, of whom I count myself one. What remains, thanks in part to increased publicity by social media, is tourism. The views on this are mixed – to many, it has done little to entice emigrees back, without much in the way of career progression, and making affordable housing nonexistent.
The issues also cross into ecological territory, with questions around rewilding hot in nationwide public debate today. On principle, the prospect of a ‘wilder’ Highland, whose hills and moors were once covered in a thick forest that has since been stripped back by centuries of agriculture, is very attractive. But with ‘Small Country’, I aim to go deeper than these surface-level arguments, and relay the stories and beliefs of those who actually live and work on this land.
The central message of the film, if there is one, is that we must prevent these debates becoming polarised, and that no one view is more or less valuable than another. In listening to those to whom we are most diametrically opposed, we have nothing to lose but our ignorance.
‘Small Country’ – What’s in a Name?
First, some housekeeping: Happy New Year! It’s been a couple of months since I’ve posted on the Scotica blog, with lockdown returning to Scotland shoots have regrettably had to be put on hold. So instead, we’ve put our heads down and are powering through the final stages of post-production on ‘Small Country’. The film is now in a state where it’s ready to be sent off to festivals which, if all goes well, will be back to in-person events later this year. Which brings us to our first feature:
This is the official poster for ‘Small Country’, featuring Ben and David Oakes of Sconser Scallops against a backdrop of their home and workplace, the dramatic Loch Sligachan. This brings me onto something I felt I should commit to writing at some point: why ‘Small Country’?
The Northwest Highlands is a big place. From Kyle of Lochalsh all the way up to Cape Wrath, the road through the Highlands is 200 miles of sublime, weather-beaten scenery without break. For outdoor enthusiasts, there is more than enough hiking, climbing and biking in this area to fill a lifetime. It lays claim to one of the largest areas of wilderness this side of Oslo. The mainland section of this area (ie. not counting Skye or any islands) a colossal 4,000km2.
And yet, it supports a minuscule population, under 10,000 in total. That’s the lowest population density in Western Europe, a fewer number of people than are squeezed into Clapham Junction in London. Their communities are equally small and disparate, with the largest settlement being the village of Ullapool. These communities, though geographically isolated, and nonetheless intimately connected within themselves and between each other. I was able to trace a direct line of acquaintance through every single contributor to the film.
The title ‘Small Country’ comes in part between this contradiction between the landscape and the people within it. But the film is first and foremost a timely one, which aims to document a juncture of turmoil for both. As the communities are shrinking further, with more and more of the population retirees or temporary residents, their role in the wider world is only growing. Large-scale industries and fast tourism are making more of an effect on the Highland landscape every year, and in turn the area is being forced to adapt to changes faster than it has ever before in its long history.
‘Small Country’ will be heading to festivals (virtually and in-person) across the UK throughout 2021. In the meantime, a new trailer will be dropping next Tuesday (12/01) – so mark your calendars and keep an eye on your feeds!