About Us

The Major Minor Cinema: Highlands and Islands Film Guild 1946-71 project is an innovative study of the impact of cinema on the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This will be the first academic and historical study of what has been an overlooked period in the history of British cinema and culture.

The formation of the Highlands and Islands Film Guild continued a pre-war initiative of the Scottish Film Council to make non-commercial cinema available to rural areas through the substandard gauge of 16mm. This continued during WWII via the Ministry of Information and the Evacuation Film Scheme. The Film Guild was proposed to improve leisure facilities for remote communities, forming part of wider economic and cultural initiatives to bolster community activity, cohesion and recreation. It is a widely remembered but still unwritten part of Scottish cinema history, occupying a period stretching from before the advent of television and extending into its early penetration into these areas. The service was often delivered by travelling operators with the assistance of local communities in spaces such as village or school halls. Localised exhibition projection in spaces shared by the operators, projector and audience generated a unique kind of cinema-going experience.

The project is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Tracing the history of the Highlands and Islands Film Guild
Building an oral history archive of cinema audiences and operators
Exploring the creative possibilities of memory and oral traditions
Comparing the histories of mobile 16mm cinema in different countries
Assessing the impact of English-language film on Gaelic-speaking communities
Collecting responses to and memories of the uneven arrival of television
Extending British cinema studies into rural and island communities
Understanding the policies and compromises that drove exploitation of mobile, non-commercial cinema
Mapping the trajectory from early popularity (1946-50) to decline and termination (1960-71)

The Guild

An Orkney resident recounts her memories of the rural cinema scheme affiliated to the Highlands and Islands Film Guild:

"As a young person, I probably didn’t visit the Rural Cinema very much until I was around 10 years old, in 1955 (a notable exception to this was the showing of The Coronation, which was attended by entire families). Our family lived within walking distance of the Hall and, generally, we only had permission to go to ‘the pictures’ during the summer months, when it was daylight’ or when the content was deemed to be ‘suitable’. My recollection is that the film would start around 7.30, after most of the farm work was finished, however, if there was work to be done, such as hay-making, there was no question of such frivolity – from the very earliest age, we were all expected to lend a hand, in whatever way we could. It was unusual for our parents to come – the expense was a consideration, as was the ‘wark o’ the ferm’.

The benches, to the front of the audience, were invariably used by children. Perhaps it was just a child’s notion, but it seemed totally unthinkable for any child to sit to the rear, on a chair with a back. It was also considered customary for ‘posh’ folk to sit in the front row of chairs!

It must be remembered that, for almost everyone, certainly the local children, this was, indeed, our first and only experience of moving pictures – the motion and the sound were magical, hypnotic, totally engrossing. The only thing, even remotely comparable, might be a ‘magic lantern’ show, which we occasionally enjoyed.

I vividly remembered the anticipation, once we’d read the notice in Astley Cottage, our local shop, and ascertained which film would be showing. Of course, the next big hurdle was persuading our parents to allow us to go, to promise to work to earn the right to go, to argue that nine-pence wasn’t all that much, really."

We acknowledge the copyright of the respective owners to all images shown below, and we make every effort not to infringe copyright. If we have made a mistake, please contact us and we will remove the image(s) from this site immediately.

Photograph of a poster announcing a screening by the Highlands and Islands Film Guild of a James Bond film in Invermoriston
Black and white photograph of projectionist, Bill McDonald, loading all his equipment into a Highlands and Island Film Guild van
Black and white photograph of George Horne, the first of the Highlands and Islands Film Guild operators, setting up the projector ready for a screening
Black and white photograph of an audience in Shapinsay enjoying a film screening


Do you remember the Highlands and Islands Film Guild? Would you be willing to share your memories with us?

Our team of researchers from the Universities of Glasgow and Stirling will be carrying out informal interviews and group discussions, holding creative writing workshops, and putting on special Film Guild programme screenings.

We would be delighted to hear from you if you wish to participate in our project in any way.

Oral History
Case studies will be conducted at selected locations in Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebrides, and Inverness. Working alongside community organisations and heritage groups, we will gather memories from the local community through a combination of oral history interviews, and focus groups.
Film Screenings
Special Film Guild programme screenings on 16mm will be put on at various events throughout the Highlands and Islands during 2016 and 2017.
Creative Writing
We will hold creative writing workshops at various festivals throughout the region. This will include the Glasgow Short Film Festival (March 2017), the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Lewis and Harris (July 2017), Shetland's Screenplay Festival (September 2017), and Orkney's Storytelling Festival (October 2017).

Latest News

Keep up to date with all the news on our latest film screenings, writing workshops, and other events.

Celebrate the Legacy of the Film Guild

Join us to celebrate the history and legacy of the Highlands & Islands Film Guild. We are holding a one-day event at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow on Friday, 14th June 2019 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with presentations from our researchers, an exhibition of archival material and a poetry reading. Check out the […]

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Reunion of Film Guild Operators

We are honoured to host a reunion for Film Guild operators, their families and friends. Held as part of this year’s Inverness Film Festival, the reunion takes place at Eden Court at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 7th November 2018. Along with the findings of our research, we look forward to sharing the operators’ memories and […]

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Book Launch for Reel to Rattling Reel

We are delighted to announce the launch with Cranachan Press of Reel to Rattling Reel: Stories and poems about memories of cinema-going. Produced as part of our Major Minor Cinema project, this anthology combines a selection of works from our writing competition with new commissioned work from Christine De Luca, Aonghas MacNeacail, Kevin MacNeil, Alison […]

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Reel to Rattling Reel Competition Winner

Our creative writing competition on the theme of memories of cinema-going has been opened a treasure trove of memories. Many thanks to all who submitted an entry – it has been a pleasure to read through the entries as well as a difficult decision for the judges. We are pleased to announce the competition’s winning […]

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Creative Writing Workshop Guide

As part of the creative writing strand of our project, we’ve put together a short selection of readings and writing exercises which were drawn from some of the creative writing workshops we delivered over the past few months.  Enjoy!

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Shetland Life – Memories of Film’s Magic

Delighted to recommend this article by Ealasaid Munro in the August 2017 edition of Shetland Life.  Ealasaid met with Christine de Luca to discuss the poet’s memories of the Highlands & Islands Film Guild and her sense of excitement at attending Film Guild screenings in her home village of Waas in the early 1950s. You […]

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Our Team

Callum Brown
Callum Brown

I am a social and cultural historian with special research interests in the social and cultural history of religion and secularisation, the social history of modern humanism, and the history of community ritual, all in the post 1750 period and more especially in the 20th and 21st centuries.

    Ian Goode
    Ian Goode

    Project Leader

    My current research interests are concentrated on the history of rural, non-theatrical cinema in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and throughout the world, that was made possible by the accessibility of the 16-mm apparatus and the accompanying film production using the so-called sub-standard gauge in the period leading up to the arrival of television. Arising out of this is an attraction  to research that investigates and historicises the particularities of the experience of cinema-going and the exhibition of film in improvised and makeshift spaces such as village halls, Nissen huts and  outdoor areas. For me this is a significant and distinctive strand of cinema and film history. 

      Ealasaid Munro
      Ealasaid Munro

      I am a feminist geographer by training, with a particular interest in cultural, creative and artistic geographies. My research and teaching to date has largely been concerned with the functioning of cultural and creative economies in both urban and rural areas, and the often-precarious experience of working within these spheres.

        Sarah Neely
        Sarah Neely

        My research stretches across a range of areas of film and media studies. Recent work has focused primarily on Scottish cinema and artists' moving image.  At the University of Stirling, I am a member of the Centre for Gender and Feminist Studies and the Stirling Centre for Scottish Studies. Outside of the University, I have also served on judging panels for a variety of prizes and awards including the BAFTA new talent awards and the Margaret Tait Award for artists working with film and moving image. I'll be leading the creative writing strand of the Major Minor Cinema project, which will explore the potential of creative expressions of memory in relation to cinema-going. 

          Nalini Paul
          Nalini Paul

          I was born in India and raised in Vancouver. I moved to Scotland in 1994. I have collaborated across various art forms, including stage and film. I spent a year in Orkney as the George Mackay Brown Writing Fellow, which inspired my 2010 collection Slokt by Sea (Red Squirrel Press). My pamphlet, Skirlags was shortlisted for the Callum Macdonald Award in 2010. My illustrated poem, Hrafn Floki, was purchased by the National Gallery of Modern Art, Special Books collection in 2014. I teach Creative Writing in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and will be taking part in the creative writing strand of the Major Minor Cinema project. 

            The Major Minor Cinema, Film and Television Studies, School of Culture and Creative Arts Gilmorehill Centre, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
            E-mail: roslyn.chapman@glasgow.ac.uk Phone:+44 (0)141 330 6944