We Are Northern Lights  (2013)    83/100

Rating :   83/100                       Treasure Chest                     98 Min        12A

This film was commissioned on a fantastic premise: an open call was given to anyone with access to a camera across Scotland to record footage showcasing places that have meaning to them, people that have inspired them, or just generally anything about the nation that they felt might warrant inclusion in this compendium of short clips. The resulting finished product is a gallant mix of comedy, social and political commentary, and a sightseeing tour of some of Scotland’s natural and man-made beauty. Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Highlands feature most prominently, although many of the other cities get a look-in along the way, though I don’t remember seeing any beautiful landscape shots of the city of Dundee … Plenty to talk about and remember, and worth watching whether you yourself are Scottish, or are simply curious about our somewhat distinctive sense of self, and, most notably, our sense of humour.

This is to my knowledge the first documentary of its kind, so it is fitting that it should take place in Scotland where documentary filmmaking has such strong roots (according to legend, the term was itself coined by Scots filmmaker and critic John Grierson). In fact, although this film premiered at a sold out screening in the Glasgow film festival, the Edinburgh film festival was begun in 1947 as a showcase for documentary film, and currently holds the title of the longest continually running film festival in the world (both Cannes and Venice are slightly older, 1946 and 1932 respectively, but have both had breaks over the years).

The project is such a good idea, and has been so well received that it would be fantastic to see it spread to other countries, and indeed for it to become an annual event in Scotland, producing a databank of digital footage that the public could have free access to for research, or entertainment, in years to come. With the widespread ownership of digital cameras and smartphones, such an archive could only grow in popularity and cultural value. Another documentary released at the same time as this, ‘Side by Side’, hits on the same enterprising possibilities now available to anyone who wants to become involved with filmmaking. The official website for this project, complete with access to all the submitted material and a list of all the screenings around the nation, can be found here.

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