British indie cinema focus: Screen Machine, Edinburgh

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A salute to the work of Screen Machine in Scotland, that takes a cinema around the country in a truck.

There’s something inherently cinematic about a hulking truck rolling fearlessly through beautiful but inhospitable landscapes, a powerful visual metaphor for mankind’s determination to master its environment. There’s always been some shared DNA between the cinematic depictions of the trucker and the gunslinger: riding the lonely paths between towns on the edge of civilisation, providing aid to those in need. Yep, you can’t get much more cinematic than an articulated truck ploughing fearlessly through the wild… unless you build an actual cinema on that truck, that is.

The Screen Machine is just that. A cinema on wheels bringing the movie experience to the inhabitants of remote towns on the Scottish highlands and islands, who ordinarily might find themselves travelling for many, many hours to reach their nearest picture house. Instead, the cinema comes to them, over 33 tonnes of it, complete with a hydraulic system to assemble upon arrival and 80 plush, dark-red velour seats for audiences to enjoy. Made by a French company which specialises in building mobile hospitals for conflict zones, the current mobile cinema is the second in the organisation’s 21-year history.

As a non-for-profit company, Screen Machine is funded by Creative Scotland and The National Lottery, and is on the road 48 weeks of the year, visiting around 50 towns in the remote vastness of Scotland, typically staying at each location for two days. Whilst the cinema doesn’t typically screen films during their first opening week (in order to make its funding stretch a little further), it still carries a range of movies that you’d find on general release, including something for juniors and a matinee movie for an older crowd.

Screen Machine’s noble endeavour to bring film to communities in both a form and time window that would otherwise be impossible has been recognised by those who honour outstanding contributions to the industry. Senior operator Ian McCall has been operating the mobile cinema around Scotland for 21 years; a year ago, BAFTA recognised his long-standing efforts to make cinema inclusive for so many and he won their For the Love of Film competition 2018, which resulted in him attending the ceremony and walking the red carpet along with the A-listers.

As it stands, the company would dearly love to double its provision. Presently, it takes about ten weeks for it to complete its ‘loop’ of towns and villages. A second mobile cinema would no doubt be welcomed by its many patrons, but the current uncertainty over Brexit is giving it pause for thought as it considers various fundraising measures. Provision has risen 20 percent on last year and the company entertained 30,000 satisfied audience members in the last year alone.

No matter how populous the Screen Machine fleet may one day become, whenever one of those blue, articulated trucks rolls into a secluded Scottish town, one imagines that it will always be a very welcome sight.

Address: 22 Forth Street, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 3LH
Twitter: @screen_machine 
Facebook: @thescreenmachine 

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