A new film shot entirely in Lewis is released this week, but the Outer Hebrides are already looking at the bigger picture.
On the back of the film’s release on Friday, VisitScotland is promoting the Outer Hebrides as a screen tourism location.
How important is screen tourism?
The islands have featured in some well-known films and TV productions but have not made a concerted effort to capitalise on their visitor potential.
Screen tourism is huge across Scotland, with almost one in five visitors saying they are inspired to travel here after seeing its landscape and heritage on screen.
Harry Potter, Outlander, James Bond and Braveheart are just some of the films and TV productions that help lure tourists.
In the past, Barra was the setting for the 1949 film Whisky Galore, and opening sequences of 1968’s 2001 A Space Odyssey were filmed in the Bays of Harris.
The Machair soap opera was filmed in Lewis in the 1990s, while Taransay hosted the Castaway TV series in 2000 and the film The Rocket Post in 2004.
More recently, the BBC series Call the Midwife filmed a Christmas special in 2019 at various locations including the blackhouses, the Callanish Stones, St Clements Church in Harris and Scalpay lighthouse.
Film and TV boom
Other films include Limbo (2021), shot in North Uist; Nobody Has to Know (2019, Traigh Mhor Beach, Tolsta); and Silent Roar (2021, Uig, Lewis).
In addition, Disney’s Brave featured the Callanish Stones and the wizard’s chess set in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was based on the Lewis Chessmen.
While Outlander has yet to be shot in the Outer Hebrides, there are connections to Callanish, as well as Eriskay, where Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in Scotland, and the Skye Boat Song which charts his flight from Benbecula to Skye.
Jenni Steele, VisitScotland film and creative industries manager, said: “It’s an exciting time for screen tourism in the Outer Hebrides and Scotland as a whole with a real boom in major film and television productions.
“Not only do these productions boost the local economy in the short-term, but give viewers a taste of the country’s amazing landscapes, heritage and culture which hopefully inspire them to visit in the future.
“Visitors continuing to cite films such as Braveheart, Highlander and Skyfall long after their initial release, as inspiration for their trips.
“This long-term impact allows for investment and the creation of new experiences to take place, enabling sustainable growth in tourism.”
She said it is perfect timing for The Road Dance to be released in Scotland’s Year of Stories.
“It is just one of many productions which have shown off what makes the Outer Hebrides special.
“We hope viewers will be inspired to seek out the Outer Hebrides and experience this unique destination for themselves.”
Sarah Maclean, chief executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said there is an opportunity for screen tourism in the islands.
One possibility is a film locations trail to guide visitors to different spots featured on both the small and big screens.
She said: “There are lots of cultural references we can claim, but we have never quite capitalised on bringing them all together. However, now feels like a good time to do so.
“We are very enthusiastic about it. The Road Dance gives us a chance to claim something.
“We are in an optimum moment just now to capitalise on a busy few years of productions coming here and being inspired for stories or using locations themselves.”
Ricky Hannaway, who is from Lewis, was locations manager on The Road Dance.
He believes there is potential for film-based tourism in the islands.
He said: “There are tourists who follow films and go to Glencoe due to Skyfall and Glenfinnan because of Harry Potter.
“We are not at that level yet, we’re probably more at grassroots level, but it can lead to visitors going to parts of the islands they perhaps had not thought of before.”
The new tourists may also include cast and crew from island-based productions, he believes.
“These people may not have worked here, or even knew about the Hebrides before. But some extend their break after working here to look around more.”
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