Creative feat proclaims hurray for Ae!

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
Writer Tom Pow reports on how he and film-maker Alex Barclay used words and pictures to capture the forest village of Ae's past, present and future - under the direction of its 10 primary school pupils

In November 2009, Ae Primary near Dumfries employed a film-maker, Alex Barclay, and myself as a writer, to work with the school and the community.

Headteacher David MacIsaac wanted to build on aspects of the celebrations that marked Ae's half-centenary in 1997.

The village of Ae was the first of Scotland's 40 forest villages. It was built in 1947. Some of its first residents still live in the village and have the newspaper clippings that read, "A New Name Goes on the Map of Scotland". A photograph shows Margaret Finlay, aged seven, and her family entering house number one in 1949.

From the beginning, Alex and I saw this project, funded by Awards from All and with the support of Dumfries and Galloway's Create team, as being about making connections - connections with the past, the present and the future. We wanted to use the word, written and spoken, and the image to explore memory, to reflect on experience and to create shared memories for the future.

In all this we were guided by the interests of the Ae project team, in other words, the pupils of Ae Primary. A recent touchstone here lay in observations of how the National Theatre of Scotland had worked, receptively and respectfully, with the pupils of Dumfries Academy in one of its Transform projects to ensure that the pupils' world was fully represented in the end product, Do a Dance No One Can See You Do and Put It in a Little Bag.

Sometimes we took advantage of the Ae pupils' current pursuits, like feeding the squirrels. At other times, we followed their interest in "play", from the play hotspots within Ae itself to the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh.

One line of enquiry and of performance involved researching and interviewing former Forest Queens, once the focal attraction of the local gala day. With the help of dancer Alex Rigg, we developed a story about a mythical Forest Queen that was filmed in the forest of Ae itself.

It was important to film-maker Alex and myself that the project team would be made up of all 10 pupils in the school (the school roll has now risen to 12). The book and DVD we have produced are the result of their combined efforts.

The interviews were carried out, mostly by the pupils, with questions they had suggested. When that wasn't possible, the nature of the interview was determined by their concerns. Poems and stories, likewise, were shaped by pupils' experiences and contributions. The film shows how much of a unit the film-makers and the pupils were.

With any project, the big dilemma is always where to start. Our first thoughts with the Ae project came from the French film Etre et Avoir by Nicolas Philibert. It follows the only teacher in a small rural school as he works with a group of pupils, ranging in age from four to 11. The documentary was shot over the course of a year, and was a record of school life during that time.

The Ae project film would have an entirely different content, but what impressed Alex most about the French film was how a camera crew could work in a small class with a mixed group of people and yet produce results that seem both personal and natural.

The first thing Alex requested was for everyone to pretend that he did not exist: "I am invisible." The response was immediate, and this gave us such a rich source of material to work with - more than 20 hours of footage - that making the final selection was not a simple task.

The Ae project booklet and film complement each other. Both follow a similar structure, though there are features special to each. Together, we hope they give a warm portrait of a school within its community: they show the importance of stories and of play, no matter what age you are.

Commenting on the process, at the end of the Ae project, pupils stressed how much they had enjoyed being "part of a team" - though one pupil also asserted, "I am a star!"

Mr MacIsaac, alert from the beginning to the value of the work, added: "This whole project is what Curriculum for Excellence is about. It ticks all the boxes."

Tom Pow is winner of last year's Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Award for Poetry and an honorary senior research fellow at Glasgow University, Dumfries.

The Ae package of film and booklet is available from Ae Primary, pound;5 plus pound;1.50 postage and packing.


At the start of our blogs about the project, I told the children I was a magician and they had to come up with five words each that described their Ae. These became the 12 Ae words, which are the basis for the Ae rap. We worked at performing it wearing hats supplied by Alex. What a lot of hats he has!

Stranger: Where are you fae?

All: Ae.

Stranger: No, where are you fae?

All: Ae! Ae! Ae!

Stranger: And is it good there?

All: Eh?

Stranger: Is it good in Ae Ae Ae?

All: Aye, it's great! It's great in Ae.

Stranger: What's the best bit?

All: Eh?

Stranger: What's the best bit of Ae Ae Ae?

1. It's the forest.

2. It's the road.

3. It's the bus on the road.

4. It's biking.

5. It's biking in the forest

6. And playing round the school.

7. That's excitement!

8. That's fun!

9. It's family.

10. It's friends.

All: It's home!

Stranger: Where are you fae?

All: Ae.

Stranger: I said where are you fae?

All: Ae! Ae! Ae!

Beautiful, beautiful Ae. HURRAY!

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