16 Years Till Summer: Redemption in the Scottish Highlands
On 18 March the Frontline Club hosted a screening of the BAFTA-nominated documentary 16 Years Till Summer as part of its New Scottish Documentary season. The screening was followed by a Q&A with director Lou McLoughlan.
The film, produced over the course of four years, follows a convicted murderer, Uisdean, struggling to rebuild his life and his reputation in the remote Highland village where his family have lived for 200 years, and where he now cares for his father.
The project initially started as a short film, in which McLoughlan said she “very much let him tell his own story. I didn’t edit it very much.”
The purpose of the longer film was to be “a lot more sceptical, a lot more socially responsible,” and bring editorial balance to Uisdean’s explanation of his criminal past.
McLoughlan said that she “realised that [Uisdean’s] biggest battle would be staying out of prison, and that was probably where the story was going to be.” Her suspicion was right, and Uisdean’s battle to stay out of prison becomes the documentary’s defining narrative.
What makes Uisdean’s story fascinating is the internal conflict between his apparently violent history and his budding romantic relationship that is captured on camera.
Regarding the significance of the film’s stunning imagery of the Highland landscape, McLoughlan explained, “I knew that he was ridiculously romantic about the Highlands – the idea that it would in some way cleanse him.”
The film seeks to redress that “idealistic” image of the Highlands, and illustrate that it is also a landscape of conflict.
“Sometimes there is an issue of the Highlands being more a case of shortbread and [tweed] costume than substance.
“It is a Highland myth that it’s cleansing and pastoral in itself. I became fascinated by the image of a porcelain boy [in Uisdean’s father’s house] which looks incredibly cute, but when you look closely at him, you see he’s throttling a rabbit by the neck.”
The documentary’s soundtrack, which features a score of electronic Icelandic and Scottish-Norweigan folk music was also chosen to reflect that conflict, that “mixture of the beautiful and the ugly going on at the same time.”
The external conflict of his setting was an apt reflection of Uisdean’s own internal struggle. McLoughlan was interested in exploring “when [the landscape] is a healing thing for someone who’s been in a very tiny cell for sixteen years, and when it’s a torment, because there are no other distractions. There is just you, and your past, and your failure to reinvent yourself.”