With each of us wrapping up events in the North East and in desperate need of a break, Rocca Gutteridge and I took her newly refurbished mobile picture salon on the road.
Inheriting the caravan cinema from Ewan Sinclair and Joanne Smithers, Rocca has fixed it up for The Mela Festival as well as holding screenings for various events and youth workshops. Only, in all honesty, she has had to admit she knows little to zilch about films (read below for a genuine example). Being the complete film nerd that I am, I rented a few films from the Huntly library (including Murnau’s Nosferatu and Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum) and suggested we take the caravan up north and west to hold screenings wherever we land.
Heading up first to the hippy commune better known as Findhorn, we wandered the grounds and the village, but the giant tourist buses of eco-housing enthusiasts and the overpriced health food store pushed us back on the road within the hour. We then headed towards Nairn as I had heard about this bizarre little film festival spearheaded by Tilda Swinton, and the coastal town was reportedly Charlie Chaplin’s favorite vacation spot, so I thought it’d be a perfect destination for the mobile cinema — except that we didn’t have any of their films — and Rocca actually had no clue who Swinton was.
Driving right through Nairn without even knowing it, we take a random left turn towards a bothy sign, which led us into a small car park opening out to an interesting looking walking path. Desperate for a stretch, we go for a wander trying to figure out where to bunk down as the rain was coming on as well as the night, so Rocca runs up to a group of on comers to ask them if they know of any local places we could plug into. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought the group was just tall and gangly teenagers, but I must have been distracted by their dogs, because when I look up, it’s none other than Tilda Swinton and family listening to Rocca charming them with her story of the mobile picture salon and how we’ve taken it to Nairn, because you know, Tilda Swinton lives around here.
The next little bit is all a bit of a blur, as I’m sure we just started blathering and their puppies were shivering. It was hilarious, but I don’t remember laughing. We walked and talked back towards the caravan, and they gave us a number of a guy who ended up helping us out by referring a nice park where we did screen films all night for ourselves out from beneath the storm of pouring rain.
The really strange part for me was that I had just heard from an old acquaintance, Kate Rennebohm, who spends the end of each summer working for The Telluride Film Festival. The trick with Telluride is that the town is located in a remote location along the southern leg of the Rocky Mountains, and no one knows what will be screened each labour day weekend until opening night. Guesses can be made, but surprises are always in store — which is half the pleasure of making the trek down to the corner of Colorado. Kate had correctly answered a trivia tribute question about Swinton’s film career during the festival and won a free trip to London. I didn’t know exactly when the trip was taking place, but I had joked with Kate that I was just about to hit the Highlands in this mobile picture salon and that if her new pal was around, she should totally come check it out.
Happenstance goes, another guess, another surprise, and while I wasn’t actually shy, I was definitely feeling sheepish as we headed back towards the caravan, but Tilda was rather nice and added at the end her greetings to Kate and to encourage a trip up after London, as the prize was in her name after all, and what’s that without actually visiting Scotland. Also learned that the Cinema of Dreams festival can no longer take place in the ballroom due to new neighbors, Kenneth Anger had once just shown up unannounced, and that her festival had also gone mobile at one point (possibly referring to this).
The next day we continued down and west towards and possibly past Drumnadrochit, driving alongside Loch Ness which I’ve been told by various crackpots that this lake is connected to the Ogopogo Lake in Canada. Some believe the mythical lake beasts of each water source is actually one and the same, as reports of the lake beasts always seem to appear in either location rather than simultaneous sightings. I too could see myself hallucinating if I stared into the loch for much longer, as the light was pure magic.
Onwards and upwards and tucked away behind an old school house and a peaty river, the mobile picture salon eventually made its way up a steep hill where it screened a couple of original short films that dazzled in particular a wee boy of 18 months. That look of utter enchantment on his face, that helpless expression of being enraptured by the moving image on the big screen, I felt like I was witnessing the formative experience of a future cinephile, a feeling I can recall in myself, and the weekend was complete.
As an addendum: I could watch films all day and all night. This is something I haven’t done since those days I bothered making my way to the crevices of Telluride. I go to the cinema when I can, not for particular films so much anymore as for the pleasure of the cinematic experience. Having no cinema in Huntly has been a sore point, as I often like ducking into the movies when it rains, and well, it rains a lot around here.