For some time there’s been a desire for a film festival in Orkney, but quite how that should look was quite a challenge. One idea was that rather than a packed 5 days of multiple screenings in one location, we could have a slow film festival. Not a festival of slow films, but rather showing films over a length of time, enabling travel the length and breadth of Orkney, allowing quality time to not only take in films but also connected tie in events that Orkney has to offer.

When West Side Cinema received some funding to pilot a film festival, we jumped at the chance to put ideas into fruition. We didn’t programme the festival, rather we gathered film related activity that was happening over a 2 week period in November, and promoted it under an umbrella website. We knew we were capitalising on the visit of the Screen Machine and that the regular local screens would probably increase their programming content to fit with the festival. Little did we realise quite how much activity we would gather.

In November 2017 Orkney held its inaugural film festival. Film Fortnight brought in approximately 2,300 people to over 90 film events across 13 locations in Orkney. An evaluation survey indicated that: 

  • 60% of organisers programmed extra events 
  • 50% of venues experienced an increase in audience numbers
  • People’s experience of Film Fortnight was 8.2 out of 10

The pilot was deemed a success, so much so that in 2018 Film Hub Scotland offered further support to West Side Cinema to project manage a film festival this year and hopefully for a few years to come.

And so we have the FILM FOCUS FESTIVAL. 24 days, 25 venues across 16 islands and parishes.

The Screen Machine is returning to visit seven islands over 14 days – Rousay, Westray, Hoy, Shapinsay, Sandy, Eday and Stronsay. The four regular screen venues – Phoenix Cinema, West Side Cinema, Gable End Theatre and Screen In The Square are all involved again, as is Papay’s ØY Festival. UHI Fine Art Students follow up last years experimental film and video exhibition with Action Take 2.  And there’s plenty of new additions this year – Margaret Tait 100 celebrates the centenary of the birth of Orkney filmmaker Margaret Tait, with events at the Pier Arts Centre, Northlight Gallery and the Gable End Theatre; St Magnus Cathedral will be the canvas for a specially commissioned outdoor film to mark the Centenary of the Armistice; Stromness Books & Prints will host readings from a newly published creative writing anthology ‘Reel to Rattling Reel: Stories and Poems about Memories of Cinema-Going’; Orkney Library & Archive will shine a light on their fantastic audio-visual collection; and West Side Cinema is running six events under its Wild Lives theme with an end of festival party with those wild boys The Driftwood Cowboys. There’s also new pop up community cinema venues at Burray Hall, Milestone Community Church in Dounby, Graemsay Community Hall, North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory, Shapinsay Boathouse and The Grand Old Byre in Westray.

We hope you, the audience, enjoy the festival wherever, and whenever, you can make it. We’ve plans for the future. We want even more screen facilities and organisations across Orkney to get involved in the forthcoming years in celebration of all things film.

Mark Jenkins, Project Manager of the Film Focus Festival and Chair of West Side Cinema.