Well, here we are, the start of the 14th year of the Screen Machine, Scotland’s only mobile cinema. 2011 saw the Screen Machine carry out six eight week tours to 28 venues throughout the West Highlands & Islands, as far north as Bettyhill in Sutherland and south to Brodick on the lovely Isle of Arran.
Almost 13,000 miles, 1,550 of which were on CalMac ferries as we serve 10 different islands as well. Not a high mileage by modern standards but they are very hard miles on Highland roads, a lot of which are single track!
We stopped touring last year on 13 December, but Christmas wasn’t holiday time for the Screen Machine staff. We choose the time to carry out essential maintenance on the generator, truck and trailer. The harsh winters of the last two years have meant a higher than normal weekly maintenance programme. The underside cables and pulleys which open and close the cinema are vulnerable to the road salt and dirt and have to be lubricated once every week. A large can of WD40 gets used every week on all the moving parts.
The Screen Machine is now ready to start another year of touring, starting on 4 January in Tarbert, Loch Fyne. This venue was cancelled in December due to the massive storm which swept over most of Scotland and saw the truck marooned on Islay for 24 hours.
After Tarbert we head out to Castlebay in the Western Isles and then work our way through the Uists to Benbecula and then onto Harris with a great choice of films for everyone. This tour we have Puss & Boots for the young ones, Hugo (in 3D) for the families followed by Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and My Week With Marilyn.
As an addition to our mainstream films this tour we will be showing a classic film. This time it’s the re-mastered Meet Me In St Louis which will be screened in our larger venues. If this proves successful we will carry a classic film on subsequent tours throughout the coming year.
After the Christmas and New Year period is over and visiting family and friends have left for the mainland, the Screen Machine brings a bit of escapism to the long dark January nights and the first tour is always eagerly anticipated by the Islanders.
Helping provide the cinema service to the people who live in the remote communities throughout the Highlands and Islands means a great deal to me and I get an enormous amount of job satisfaction in giving the villagers a real cinema experience, something that people who live in the cities take for granted.
I wish I could bottle the buzz I get from seeing 80 people leave the cinema with massive grins all over their faces and to hear them talk about the film they have just seen. They will talk about a good film for days after and it’s a happy challenge for me to better it on the next visit in eight weeks.
Iain MacColl is Senior Screen Machine Driver and operator.