SUNDAY HERALD: Gaelic movie leads language renaissance

BAFTA nominee set to make only second ever movie in Gaelic tongue.

One of Scotland’s most experienced film producers is to make an ambitious feature film full of myth and magic, and shot entirely in Gaelic.

It is believed Seachd (Seven) will be only the second ever Gaelic-language cinema feature film.

The only previous Gaelic feature, Hero, was directed by a visiting Englishman called Barney Platts-Mills and starred a bunch of amateurs from Drumchapel who spoke dialogue phonetically. It flopped in cinemas and set a record audience low when it screened on Channel 4 in 1982.

Christopher Young, who produced Gregory’s Two Girls and BAFTA nominee Festival, has drawn on Scotland’s growing pool of Gaelic-speaking creative talent for Seachd. The word means Seven, though the film will have the alternative English title The Inaccessible Pinnacle, after the peak on Skye which figures in the storyline.

Young insists he is not aiming Seachd purely at Scotland’s tiny Gaelic-speaking community which numbers around 60,000 to 100,000.

“I believe there is a potential market for the film as large as any other foreign language, subtitled feature – and that can be very large,” he said. In recent years, Chinese films such as Hero (which had no connection to its Gaelic namesake) have grossed many millions worldwide.

Seachd will present a series of stories told by an old man to his skeptical grandchildren. They illustrate facets of Gaelic history and character and include one story in which a girl enters a horse race on a seahorse.

Although the budget of £600,000 is modest, the film is extremely ambitious in scope and vision and Young believes it can appeal to the same audience as the Ewan McGregor film Big Fish and the family classic Princess Bride.

“There is a place for Gaelic cinema alongside other non-English cinema in the global feature film market. It depends entirely on the quality of the product of course.”

Young has made five feature films, stretching from Venus Peter in 1988 to Festival, which was named best film at the British Comedy Awards in December and is up for two BAFTAS this month.

Although born in Edinburgh, he has lived on Skye for several years and speaks Gaelic. Two years ago, he made a 15-minute film called Foighidinn (Patience), in which an old man relates a story set in the Middle Ages, and the feature film will use the same framework and characters.

BBC Scotland and the Gaelic Media Service are backing the new venture and cinema distributors have also expressed interest.

Seachd has been written by a team of five writers and will have four directors, including the young playwright Ian Finlay Macleod. It will shoot on Skye this summer. Young said he was trying to “develop new Gaelic talent.”

He said: “it doesn’t matter what language it’s in, if it’s a good film, it’s a good film. Up to 100,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland will have the pleasure of seeing a film in their own language and for the rest of us it will be like watching any other foreign language film with subtitles.”

Mark Cousins, of Edinburgh-based 4-Way films, agreed the move was “good news” but added: “It shouldn’t have too much of a commercial impact because it will be competing in the arthouse market, but frankly so do most UK films.”

Christine MacKenzie, of Aberdeen University’s Celtic department, suggested Seachd was part of a Gaelic cultural renaissance.

“It’s part of an ongoing new confidence in Gaelic and I think it’s wonderful,” she said.

A new Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill, approved by MSP’s last year, will given the ancient tongue official recognition and the Scottish Executive is committed to a Gaelic TV channel.

But Young slammed the Executive for failing to fund Gaelic sufficiently.

He said: “Not enough public money is spent on Gaelic in Scotland. If you compare the situation here with Wales and internationally, for example Catalonia in Spain, we have a long way to go. The depths and richness of Scottish culture owes much to Gaelic culture and we ignore this at our peril.”

By Brian Pendreigh