Our August Diary
by Alastair Hamilton -
August is always eventful and this year is no exception. There are all the usual summer diversions, such as Sunday teas, cruise ship visits and activities for children, but this month also sees one of our biggest festivals and most of our agricultural shows.
The festival is ScreenPlay, Shetland’s celebration of cinema, which runs from the 25th until 2nd September. It brings together directors, actors and movie fans. It’s curated, as always, by Mark Kermode, film critic for the BBC and The Observer, film historian Linda Ruth Williams and our own Kathy Hubbard.
The programme they’ve put together is, quite simply, a cracker. There are seventeen feature films, seven documentaries, lots of shorts, plus talks, Q&A sessions – and quite a lot of Plasticine.
One of the special guests this year is Timothy Spall OBE, who of course has a very long list of acting credits including the Harry Potter films, The King’s Speech, The Damned United and Secrets and Lies, not to mention many TV appearances. At ScreenPlay, we’ll be able to see him in Stanley, A Man of Variety (2016), in which he plays an inmate in a Victorian psychiatric prison; that’ll be followed by a Q&A.
Also showing is director Mike Leigh’s superb Mr Turner, exploring the English painter’s later years, in which Timothy Spall gives an unforgettable performance that won him the Best Actor award at Cannes.
Another special guest is the man behind Wallace and Gromit, Nick Park. We’ll be seeing The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, A Grand Day Out, A Close Shave, Early Man and a short film, Creature Comforts. For those wanting to get to grips with plasticine animation, there’s a workshop in which participants can model their own figures; that's very tempting!
Shetland and its people always feature prominently in the programme. Returning to Shetland after thirty years is Rosie Gibson, with the drama documentary she made for Channel 4 in 1985 about women’s work in Shetland, The Work They Say Is Mine. Featuring a host of Shetlanders including Rosemary Inkster, Maureen Burke, Kitty Bairnson, Laura Malcolmson and Jeannie Hardie, this is a true ‘blast from the past’ and a rare opportunity to see it on the big screen.
Festival director Kathy Hubbard said “Screenplay is an opportunity to immerse yourself in cinema – we have so many feature films, documentaries, family films and our usual ‘Look North’ strand of films from Scandinavia and Canada that folk will truly be spoilt for choice; and of course, our usual screenings of short films made by Shetlanders, which are always popular.”
The programme includes titles like the recent comedy Swimming With Men (starring Rob Brydon and a stellar British cast), Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton’s final cinema appearance) and what Kathy describes as “the quintessential Screenplay Look North film”, Tongue Cutters, a documentary about the children who help process the cod catch in North Norway.
There are première and preview screenings of films not yet available in UK cinemas, including The Etruscan Smile, which stars Brian Cox, and the utterly moving documentary Nae Pasaran, about the East Kilbride Rolls Royce workers’ refusal to work on Chilean Airforce jet engines in the 1970s. The Icelandic black comedy, Under the Tree (Undir Trénu) looks very appealing, too.
Before we settle down for all these cinematic treats, there’s a great deal more to enjoy. The annual series of agricultural shows is almost upon us and it kicks off at Voe, in the north mainland, on Saturday 4 August. Next up is the Cunningsburgh Show, ten miles south of Lerwick, on Wednesday 8th. It’s followed on the 11th by the Walls Show, on the west side of Shetland. In our northernmost isles, the Unst Show takes place on the 25th and the Yell Show is on 1st September.
The shows may all be labelled as ‘agricultural’ but they appeal to all sorts of interests. There are, of course, farm animals on show including cattle, sheep, goats and hens; and no show would be complete without Shetland ponies. But the marquees house home baking, vegetables, jams and other preserves, photography and sometimes painting, craftwork in wood or maybe leather, and – of course – knitwear and beautiful lace.
The social side of the shows is just as important – if not more so – than the exhibits. It’s an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones over a cup of tea and some cake, or maybe a beer. There are always lots of things to keep kids interested, too.
Back in Lerwick, the town’s annual Shopping Week runs from the 6th until the 12th. Traders work even harder than usual to draw in customers, supported by a string of events on or around the town’s main shopping area, Commercial Street.
Like most town centres, Lerwick’s has had to adapt in order to cope with competition from supermarkets and the internet, and things are certainly changing, with a shift from retail to leisure. Two new cafés have opened recently, with another one – incorporating an intimate music venue – due soon. A pop-up shop selling Shetland food has been attracting lots of attention.
And, talking of food, we’ve had another visit from BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme; presenter Sheila Dillon was in Shetland during July, meeting those who have been transforming the food scene in recent years. You can hear the programme on Radio 4 at 12.32pm on Sunday 12th August, with a repeat the following day at 3.30pm. It’ll also be available on BBC iPlayer Radio.
Meanwhile, preparations are already under way for the next Taste of Shetland Festival, which runs from Friday 5 October until Sunday 7 October. As well as dozens of local food exhibitors, it features demonstrations and a Cooking Challenge competition. Last year, more than 3,000 of us attended and the organisers say that this year’s event will be the biggest and best yet. If you’re thinking of visiting the islands in the autumn, it would be well worth including the festival in your plans.
Boats are very much part of the summer scene and the Shetland Boat Week runs from the 11th to the 19th. Although this year’s event is a little smaller than last year’s – the intention being to alternate large and small events – it’s a very full programme. There are displays of boats around Hay’s Dock, site of the Shetland Museum and Archives, together with photographic displays, sailing and rowing boat trips, wildlife cruises, talks and tours.
More unusual opportunities include a demonstration of a remotely-operated underwater vehicle; there will also be visits to the morning fish auction, net-makers and the Coastguard emergency towing vessel. Musical moments include a performance of sea shanties and a Sunday service led by the Fishermen’s Mission. Children can, of course, join in too, with a craft day, knot-tying and story-telling.
Two concerts in the last week of August, both staged by local promoters Ragged Wood at Mareel, offer Americana at its best.
The first, on Monday 27 August, features I’m With Her, who’ve been playing together since 2014, when they got together in an impromptu performance in Colorado. The Guardian said: “Together, their sound is both ethereal and purposeful, a combination of searing musicianship and tender vocals”. For The New York Times, “when the three women sang together, their voices became one instrument, sharing every breath.” Two of the trio have visited Shetland previously, when in other bands.
Three days later, there’s another opportunity for Shetland folk to see The Lone Bellow, now based in Nashville. Their reception has been equally enthusiastic, and they’ve made a long list of TV appearances, including Later…With Jools Holland, The Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Late Show with James Corden. Their Shetland show in January 2016 was a sell-out and this one is heading the same way.
Our restored sail training vessel, the Swan, is going to be spending some time cruising Norwegian waters, exploring the coast between Trondheim and Bodø from the 20th until the 27th and then sailing from Bodø to Lofoten between the 29th and 5th September. Closer to home, lots more cruise liners will be calling in Lerwick.
Other possibilities, among many, include a Just Dance session in Mareel on 3rd August, life drawing workshops on the 26th and 29th and the Mind Your Head charity fun run in Cunningsburgh.
And these are, of course, just the organised events. With the ground so dry underfoot, this is an ideal time for exploring the moors and the clifftops. A walk in Lerwick’s lanes is always rewarding, too; on seeing the photo below, more than one friend thought it had been taken in the south of France or Italy, but this was indeed Lerwick in July. It’s a very appealing area.
Clearly, we’ll not be short of things to do.
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