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A dreamlike, poetic setting

Shetland is a stunning location for cinematographers, but it is far from being a predictable film set. Bright, blues skies, hail and snow can all be encountered in one day and it takes determination to work in such an environment.

However, student film director Simon Massey and a crew of five others from Royal Holloway College in London have the necessary determination and are spending this somewhat meteorologically challenging week filming a short film at Spiggie.

A Day Off School is a ten minute fictional drama and is Simon’s final project for his course in Directing Screen Fiction.

The story centres on a woman who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She is wrestling with the decisions she must make about the fate of her children. The woman is a widow and her children have already lost one parent.

It is, at times, a dark tale and raises difficult questions about what happens when a parent must consider what will become of their children as they face a future without a mother and father.

A professional actress, Victoria Gillmon is playing the lead role. She is supported by two local children, eleven year old Iona Leask, from Scalloway, and four and half year old Callum MacKay, from Spiggie.

The film is not set in the islands as such rather, Simon explained, Shetland’s landscapes represent the woman’s mind. He wanted to create a setting that was dreamlike and poetic. Reality and imagination merge as the woman spends a romantic day with her children enjoying one last picnic together.

Simon’s college was initially very anxious about his project. The logistics of getting film equipment from London to Shetland and the vagaries of the weather all caused considerable concern. However, Simon explained that his is an “aspirational” crew. Whilst most of the other students on his course have chosen to film around the vicinity of the college in London he wanted Shetland to be the location for his project.

Simon was born in Shetland and returned here several years ago when his family took over the Spiggie Hotel. He knows the land and seascapes around Spiggie well and was sure they would provide the perfect backdrop for A Day Off School.

He also feels that Shetland is well known to audiences as a wildlife and tourist location in films, but has not been fully explored as the setting for fiction and drama.

He is inspired by the psychological power of the Scandinavian landscapes seen in films by Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman and felt that Shetland too could be the setting for such intense drama. Eventually he convinced the college that this was the only location for the film.

Along with Simon’s determination, local support in the form of young acting talent and other forms of help, were key to making Simon’s project a reality. Shetland Arts, NorthLink and Star Rent-a-Car all stepped in to help with the logistical and financial challenges of transportation and sourcing film equipment.

The film will be completed as part of Simon’s final year project and is not intended for commercial release. However, it will be entered into film festivals and other competitions and Simon hopes that this means it will reach a wider audience.

(Karen Emslie) 

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