Say 'cheese', please

Jean McLeish

It was a social occasion not to be missed in a small Highland community - the premiere of a new film starring several of the locals.

Around 100 folk packed into the local hotel in their glad rags and there was great hilarity - even Jenny the Postie had a cameo role.

The animated film Fiddlemouse of Ferintosh and the Far East Cousins was made by the pupils of Ferintosh Primary on the Black Isle, under the guidance of art project worker John McNaught.

If there are Oscars for school movies, this tiny school should be up for a string of them. Fiddlemouse is only six minutes long but it's funny and imaginative and several pupils have leading roles.

But they'll be hoping not to be typecast after their debut performances - playing mice with long hairy noses and sticky out teeth wasn't perhaps their best look. Olivia Paulin, 11, and Fraser Hickson, 11, were two Japanese mice, Aneka and Kendo Mousaki, who come to Scotland on a flying carp and discover the joys of cheese.

"They all wrote stories and we took bits of everybody's and merged them into one," says John McNaught. "One of the things was that the Japanese don't eat a lot of dairy products, so there was this idea that if you were a mouse in Japan you would be desperate to smell cheese," he says.

Aneka, played by Olivia, was named after the performer of the song Japanese Boy, which features as part of the film's soundtrack. The song was sung by former Mod medallist Mary Sandeman, using the pseudonym Aneka, and went to Number 1 in the charts in 1981.

The mice characters were created by taking photographs which were then animated, using computer graphics to create mouse-like ears and elongated noses. Several photographs were taken in different poses and the scenery was made from artwork created by P4-7 pupils.

"I was really embarrassed," says Olivia, whose mouse character Aneka has a very long, hairy nose. "I didn't want anyone to see it. But in the end I was happy that I did it," says Olivia, now in P7.

"I was the voice-over for Kendo Mousaki," says Fraser. "It was quite hard talking in Gaelic in a Japanese accent. I also helped with the design for the Kessock Bridge."

One of the film highlights is where the Japanese mice get to sniff Scottish cheeses. The room had to be cleared during recording, because the children were laughing so much.

"The Japanese mice were inspired so much by the cheese sniffing that they went back to their car factory and made a special cheese-sniffing compartment," says Fraser.

In another inspired scene, there's a spoof of a well-known car advert which shows the open-topped car the Japanese mice design on their return. It has tartan panels like a Vivienne Westwood creation and is called Toyhatsu FR- Tosh.

One or two of the children involved, who have since gone on to secondary school, have continued their interest in animation. Teacher Margo Fraser is in the film too: "It all stemmed from a class topic on Japan. Then the animation came out of the story about the Japanese mice coming over with a little of their culture into Scotland and Scottish culture making its way to Japan."

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Jean McLeish

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