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  • Alistair Braidwood

You Have Been Watching…We Are Northern Lights

Last weekend’s Dunoon Film Festival was everything it promised to be, mixing the best in Scottish film and documentary with some great examples of new international cinema. Not only were all the films of interest, they often had some people who were involved in the making of them to tell anecdotes and answer audience questions.

One of the highlights was We Are Northern Lights, the film made from submissions from members of the public who, armed only with a camera and their own imagination, told the stories they wanted to tell. Director Nick Higgins was joined by a couple of his ‘co-directors’ to talk about this fascinating project and give further insight into the film

Although I had heard of We Are Northern Lights, which had been highly praised at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, I can’t say I had been in a huge rush to see it. It sounded too simple an idea, but that turned out to be its biggest strength; that and the amount of material they had to work with. Higgins admitted that hundreds of hours were left on the cutting room floor, and in the hands of a lesser director, and editor, this could have been a bit of a mess. But it works wonderfully well, carefully judging when to move from light to shade and back again. We Are Northern Lights captures the energy of people and place, often in an unexpected manner. The fish out of water who is the Weegie hill-walker exemplifies many city-dwellers relationship with country life, believing that it is all midges, rain and bloody hard work, except when it isn’t, and then it is the most amazing place on earth. There are many such examples of people who did not undertake the task lightly, but who never took it too seriously. If there can be said to be a uniting theme to these clips perhaps that is where it is to be found, that fear of being po-faced and self-important. There is a national self deprecation in evidence that is comforting.

All human life is here, and there are moments of joy and pain, courage and fear, hope and despair. There is a surprising amount of humour as well, some of it unintended, but much of it self aware. The film doesn’t have to try to be even handed; by including so many different voices the law of averages sees to that (although you can’t help but wonder what was left behind. Even I’m not naive enough to think there isn’t some editorial voice at work). What was pleasing was that no-one was patronised, either participant or audience, a rare thing when you think about many similar documentaries. It’s to everyone’s credit that the film didn’t become ‘My Big Fat Scottish Wedding’ or something even more terrible.

Here’s the trailer:

This doesn’t feel like a one off film, and Nick Higgins admitted that there will be interactive ‘director’s cuts’ available on line, but it definitely feels like the start of something much bigger. It’s a comprehensive catalogue of an ever changing nation that demands to be added to. It’s also a reminder that Scotland is the same as any other country while remaining gloriously unique.

Although obviously a massive project, I hope that when the next appeal for Northern Lights goes out even more people take part and record their lives (something I’m sure the director and everyone else involved are dreading), I’ve certainly been inspired. Scots Whay Hae! indeed.


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