Another time, same place

21st December 2007 at 00:00
A workshop for schools on a film made 25 years ago stimulated more than memories. Jean McLeish reports.

When a Hollywood director and leading actors revisit the Black Isle setting of a film they made 25 years ago, it has special significance for schoolgirl Becky Grigor. Her granny and grandad's farm was one of the film locations and the couple appeared as extras.

Sixteen-year-old Becky is taking part in a workshop organised by Scottish Screen at Fortrose Academy to mark the 25th anniversary of the filming of the Jessie Kesson novel Another Time, Another Place. Leading members of the cast and crew have agreed to come to the school and talk about it with senior pupils from several local schools.

In the lunchbreak at Fortrose Academy, Becky and her friends are talking about the morning's workshop when someone pipes up, "And Becky's granny's in it."

"There's a ceilidh scene and they are sitting in among the crowd," says Becky. "Grandad was smoking a pipe. That was the first time I'd seen the film."

It was the first full-length feature film directed by Michael Radford, whose later work includes the internationally acclaimed Il Postino, White Mischief and The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino. Radford, a former teacher at Stevenson College in Edinburgh, was about to attend the world premiere of his latest film, Flawless, a heist movie starring Demi Moore and Michael Caine, which was released in the US last month.

Another Time, Another Place was also the first big screen appearance for Scottish actress Phyllis Logan, who co-starred alongside Paul Young and Gregor Fisher.

The film is set during the Second World War in a Scottish farming community, and explores the impact on relationships when three Italian prisoners of war arrive. When it was released, it received critical acclaim throughout Europe and launched successful careers for those involved.

This education workshop was the brainchild of film editor Lindy Cameron, a lead practitioner with Scottish Screen. She runs a film and TV production company in Cromarty with her producer husband, Don Coutts. It's the opening event in a three-day festival organised by the enterprising Resolis Community Arts group, under the chairmanship of David Gilbert.

The initial idea to screen the film has grown into a mini-festival with location tours and a ceilidh for more than 200 people.

"It's one of these things. It's grown, it's serendipity and it just took off," says David Gilbert.

Students from Dingwall and Alness academies have joined Fortrose pupils in discussions exploring and comparing two of Michael Radford's films: Another Time, Another Place (1982) and The Merchant of Venice (2004). Adam Seddon, education development manager with Scottish Screen, guides them with illustrative clips to encourage further discussion about narrative structure and character motivation.

"We were talking about representation and stereotypes and how that comes across in the film," says Becky's classmate Roisin Johnston. "We were looking at the opening of the book Another Time, Another Place, just to compare it with the film and did the same with The Merchant of Venice.

"The films were shown in school through the week, but a lot of people had studied them previously - in S2 they had studied the play The Merchant of Venice."

Radford arrives in the afternoon with producer Simon Perry and other crew and cast members, including Phyllis Logan and Paul Young. Each of them circulates round small groups of pupils to answer questions. They ask Phyllis Logan how she managed to cry so much at the end of the film and want tips from Radford on how to get a career in Hollywood.

Phyllis Logan says she paced up and down in a ditch listening to sad music. And she insists: "No onions, anywhere."

Radford says young people should make a film if they are interested in a movie career: "There's nothing to stop you making a film these days because it's so cheap."

He made the transition to movies after winning a place at the National Film School in London with a film he made while teaching. "I made one with a group of students, but I had to buy film and it was very expensive," he says.

"I was teaching liberal studies to apprentices like gas fitters and motor mechanics and coopers and hairdressers. I was hardly older than they were. It was a great experience and that's how I really got into films.

"I made this improvised film with a bunch of gas fitters and hairdressers about being 17. And it just so happened the National Film School was starting that year (1971). So I sent it in and got on the shortlist and in I went."

Thirty or so years after directing the gas fitters, he's directing stars such as Al Pacino and Demi Moore. But his first film remains special.

Back home a few days later, Radford looks back on the festival weekend: "It was a wonderful experience, not just because I was seeing people I hadn't seen for a long time but because the Black Isle and that whole film meant so much to me."

It also reminded him of friendships made in the Highlands 25 years ago. "I think it meant a lot to all of us: it was really our first film and I think that transmitted itself to the people who were there, who were slow to take to us, but when they had, they became really, really firm friends.

"I think what's so gratifying is that it's a good film. So you're not saying it's just any old film that was made there. It is actually a good one - a film they can be proud of. I'm certainly very proud of it.

"The ceilidh, the whole experience, going to the school was part of it. Just to feel that people had made such an effort, it made me so glad that we made the effort to go."

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