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Reviews / An exhausting cinematic romp through Britain

Reels on Wheels film poster.

Screening almost one year to the day after the culmination of the Hansel of Film project, the documentary Reels on Wheels: The Hansel Story about Shetland Arts’ Cultural Olympiad celebration was screened at Mareel on Sunday 8 September.

Commencing on 10 June 2012 at Lerwick’s Garrison Theatre (Mareel had not opened yet), Hansel of Film saw more than 100 short home-made films played in 23 venues across the nation with runners delivering the reels from one town to the next.

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It was a mammoth undertaking that kept the crew of Shetland Arts’ Kathy Hubbard, film maker Simon Thompson and Maddrim Media members Cara McDiarmid and Roseanne Watt, on the road for several months.

They were joined regularly throughout their travels by curators of both Hansel and Shetland Screenplay, film buffs extraordinaire Linda Ruth Williams and Mark Kermode.

Reels on Wheels director Simon Thompson of Ronas Media had kept an open mind from the start about the entire project.

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“We knew it would be a challenge to make it into a film because all we knew to begin with was that it was interesting and it should be recorded somehow,” he said.

“Because we didn’t really know how the Hansel tour in itself would turn out we didn’t have a plan going into it.”

Reels on Wheels begins at the beginning, the Garrison, and chronicles the highs, lows, lessons and the forming of relationships along the way as the journey continues.

Any concern that this approach would become monotonous was soon dispelled, thanks to Simon and Cara’s careful editing of the vast amount of footage as well as the very nature of Hansel of Film.

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There were several different layers to the entire experience, with venues ranging from cinemas to churches to a still operating mart; the runners who transported the film reels from one venue to the next; and finally, the short films themselves.

Reels on Wheels explored all these different aspects with natural narration pieced together from interviews with Linda, Mark, Kathy, Simon, Cara and Roseanne, giving the film an almost conversational flow.

Beautifully accompanied by Eamonn Watt’s orchestral compositions, Reels on Wheels offered an incredible insight to this unusual cinematic adventure.

The arduous yet highly rewarding journey demonstrated the creative power and strength of the arts throughout Britain, revealing the amount of work and the rewards gained through the experience of all involved.

Reels on Wheels not only documented the journey successfully, it also drew the audience into the emotions of all those involved.

The premiere was indeed an entertaining success; Mark Kermode, who saw it for the first time on Sunday night, praised both the film and the Hansel project.

“I hope people get to see it because it does give a sense of what a great project it was. It does come down in the end to people like Kathy with the vision to think of it and then the practical power to make it happen – I’m still not entirely sure how she did it.”

Reels on Wheels clearly portrayed what an extremely complex and lengthy undertaking the project was. I was thoroughly entertained, in awe of all the work by whole of the Hansel of Film team and hope to see a similar project in the not to distant future.

I just hope when they embark on another ambitious project they have the resources to document the experience as tremendously as Reels on Wheels.

Marjolein Robertson

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