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Reels On Wheels

When thinking about a trip to the cinema most Film fans in the UK will simply scan the local press. For them the choice is what to see and where to see it. In the Scottish Highlands things are a bit more complicated than that. Here a round trip to the cinema can often involve a journey of 150 miles or more.

 The Highlands has a land mass greater than Belgium yet has only 368,000 inhabitants. In this vast area only cinemas in the large population bases like Inverness, Fort William and Thurso are ever going to be viable. So if people can't readily get to the cinema then why not take the cinema to the people?

And that's exactly what the Screen Machine does. When it rolls in to remote Towns or Villages it looks just like the articulated lorry it is. Once parked though, the tardis like trailer expands and unfolds and in the space of a morning becomes a 100 seat cinema. Your probably thinking 100 people cramped in like sardines on plastic stacking chairs. Watching the action on a 4ft by 3ft portable screen projected by one of those 8mm home movie projectors that was state of the art when Ewan Macgregor was a lad. I must admit that's the image I had in my mind the first time I used it. Nothing could be further from the truth we're talking state of the art projection and digital surround sound, air conditioning and raked comfortable seating and all with full disabled access.

The screen Machine employs two Driver Operators. Each one stays with the screen machine for two weeks Amazingly the whole operation from driving to setup on site, selling tickets, showing the film's and cleaning up are all done by this one person.

The Screen Machine operates regular tours throughout the North and West Highlands, the Western Isles, and Argyll, with one-off visits elsewhere as arranged.  It normally takes three different films on each tour, visiting each community for two days, to give four or five screenings in total. The programme is generally Four to Six weeks behind general cinema release. At the time of writing the residents of the Isle of Islay are enjoying. Gosfoord Park [15], Ice Age [U] and Bend It Like Beckham [12].

The visits haven't only been confined to the Highlands and Islands. It has also had two summer tours of Bosnia under hire to the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) the MOD was so impressed by the Screen Machine that it has provided funding for SSVC to build its own version.

The Screen Machine was developed by Highlands and Islands Arts Ltd. (HI-Arts) with funding from The Scottish Arts Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Screen. The total capital cost of the project was over 650,000 although any other community would probably be able to build a Screen Machine for much less than this, as all the spade work has been done by HI-Arts. The project has had it's fair share critics and it's fair share of teething problems to keep the aforementioned critics happy. Happily for us though the Screen Machine has come of age and is now an established part of Highland Life.

The annual turnover is projected at 145,000 with public subsidy of 55,000 coming from HIE, Scottish Screen and Local authorities in addition it has recently attracted sponsorship from Scottish Gas "The motivation behind the service was simple: to provide small and remote communities with access locally to the same level of cinema experience normally available in large towns" the Screen Machine does this in spades.  So popular is it becoming that on a recent visit to Stornaway  on the Isle of Lewis over 400 people tried to get in to one screening.  Its founders can be proud of it.

The Screen Machine is available to hire for trials anywhere in the UK and further information on this and it's current programme can be found at Or Contact the Screen Machine manager  Graham Campbell

Steve Boyle