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Caithness News Bulletins February 2004

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In the best traditions of the Hollywood blockbusters it has brought to communities throughout the Highlands and Islands, the pioneering Screen Machine mobile cinema is to have a sequel.

A grant of 428,000 from the Scottish Arts Council's (SAC) National Lottery Fund, along with 150,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and funding from Scottish Gas, Scottish Rural Challenge Fund and Volvo has enabled owners and operators HI-Arts to order a new vehicle.

Building on the experience of five years on the road with the prototype, Screen Machine 2 will bring a true cinema experience to more film fans across the Highlands and Islands.

The First Screen Machine
Douglas Robertson/Scottish Gas is http://www.douglasinscotland.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/

Robert Livingston, director of HI-Arts, the independent charitable company contracted by HIE to promote the arts in the Highlands and Islands, said: "We are delighted to have secured this funding which will enable us to go ahead and introduce a new and improved mobile cinema.  The Screen Machine was a first for the area and has proved a huge success, making a night a the movies a regular event in communities where a trip to the cinema was previously a major undertaking."

"Improvements in design from what we have learned over the past five years on the road will mean the new Screen Machine will offer a better service to its regular customers and go to places which have not been on the regular circuit."

The Screen Machine, sponsored by Scottish Gas since 2001 in partnership with Scottish Screen, SAC and HIE, is an articulated lorry, with a trailer that expands and unfolds to provide a 102-seat self-contained cinema. The auditorium has digital surround sound, air conditioning, comfortable raked seating and full disabled access.

It is operated by a team of three - a manager based with HI-Arts and two driver/operators working alternate fortnights, driving to venues, setting up, selling tickets, showing the films and carrying out day-to-day maintenance. A locally recruited usher in each location assists the driver/operator.

Although based on the "Cinemobile," operating in France, the Screen Machine had to be designed and built from scratch as the French design at that time was unsuitable for use in the UK.

As a prototype, it has a number of limitations. Its three-to-four-hour set-up time means it has to spend a minimum of two-three days at any location. A huge annual mileage and constant use has resulted in signs of wear and tear.

French company Toutenkamion has been working with HI-Arts to produce a new more robust and efficient vehicle for use in Scotland, with a set-up time of under an hour.  Confirmation of the SAC grant and other matched funding means HI-Arts can now place a firm order with Toutenkamion.

Iain Munro, head of capital for SAC said: "The original Screen Machine has been a great success. It has allowed communities in the most rural locations of Scotland to experience latest release movies. We are delighted to be able to support Screen Machine - 'the sequel' allowing this fantastic facility to travel even further afield and give people a wonderful cinema experience on their doorstep.

Scottish Screen, with HI-Arts, has been considering how the mobile cinema model might be extended to other rural parts of Scotland.

Apart from Inverness, the only communities in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise network area with full-time cinemas are Thurso, Fort William, Oban, Dunoon, Elgin and Kirkwall.

The Screen Machine is now a distinctive sight on the roads and ferries of the Highlands and Islands and its arrival is an eagerly awaited event on the calendars of the communities it visits. Ticket sales in 2003 totalled 20,270 for 548 screenings.

Operating a regular circuit of 12 venues throughout the North and West Highlands, the Western Isles and Argyll, with occasional visits to other locations, it usually takes three different films on each seven-week tour, visiting each community for three or four days.

In the summer of 2001, the Screen Machine proved its adaptability with a four-week tour of duty in Bosnia, hired by the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) as a trial for the Ministry of Defence. During its service at British Army bases in the then war zone it gave 88 screenings, mostly to capacity audiences.  In Bosnia, it operated in temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius - a sharp contrast with to one visit to Lochinver where eight inches of snow did not stop the show going on. Following the success of its military service, the SSVC commissioned its own vehicle.  Two mobile cinemas closely based on HI-Arts' operating model are also now in operation in Ireland.

The Screen Machine has also hosted major conferences addressed by Government ministers, acted as a venue for live music combined with film projection and contributed a mix of video and 35mm film screenings to both the Celtic International Festival of Film and Television in Portree and the Millennium Royal National Mod in Dunoon. It has even made a cameo appearance in Monarch of the Glen.

At present the screen machine does not run to Caithness although this could be looked at again as it used to come to Caithness before the cinema in Thurso opened.