As people in Scotland get ready to go back to the pictures, communities in the Highlands and islands are waiting in anticipation for the cinema to return to them.
After a lengthy intermission, the easing of Covid restrictions means the Screen Machine can make a welcome return to towns and villages across the region, bringing movies to remoter parts of the country.
Initially, ongoing social distancing measures will mean reduced capacity in the travelling movie house, but it is a welcome sign of normality returning and, in some places, the first social gathering for several months.
The resumed Screen Machine tour starts in Fort Augustus from today until Wednesday.
It will then travel to Mallaig from May 21-22; Raasay from May 24-25; Dornie between May 26 and 27; Kyleakin from May 28-29 and Lochcarron from May 31- June 1.
Throughout June it is also scheduled to visit Gairloch, Ullapool, Lochinver, Kinlochbervie, Durness, Bettyhill, Lairg, Golspie, Newtonmore and Tomintoul.
The Highland audiences will see new films including Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand, which has won four Baftas and three Academy Awards.
Others to feature on the tour are Minari, Tom & Jerry: The Movie, and Iorram (Boat Song), the first cinema documentary made entirely in Gaelic.
Two metre social distancing measures mean capacity will be reduced from 80 seats to 20, but it is hoped this can be relaxed.
Demand for cinema is there
Robert Livingston, director of Regional Screen Scotland, said: “After a difficult year for all cinemas, we’re excited to bring films to communities again.
“We know the demand is there. We got such a good response when we were able to operate before Christmas and that was before the vaccination programme.
“Our drivers got many comments about us coming back around was a symbol of some sort of normality starting to return and that’s what I expect this time as well.
“Because we are a very safe space, with a very effective ventilation system, it may be the first place in some towns and villages that people can safely come together. So it will be quite a big social thing for some places we visit.”
Screen Machine last toured between September and December 2020 when it visited 20 different locations before the latest lockdown began.
It is hoped that in selected locations it can offer day-time screenings of films for primary school children.
People in Fort Augustus are ready to welcome the visiting cinema with the nearest screens about an hour away in Inverness or Fort William.
The first customers will also benefit from cut-price tickets with Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston Community Company receiving community benefit funds from SSE and Falck windfarms which are used for a range of projects including subsidising tickets for the Screen Machine.
Bit of normality coming back
Community company chief officer Angela Williams said: “It’s really important to have the Screen Machine returning. It’s a little bit of normality coming back.
“Pre-Covid it was always well attended and people of all ages really look forward to it coming. It provides a really good local resource and there will be a lot of interest and excitement at it coming back.
“It’s a safe environment and you can have a really good enjoyable experience.”
Now in its 22nd year of operation, the Screen Machine is the only full time, self-contained digital mobile cinema in the UK. It tours more than 40 communities in the north and west of Scotland.
Over its years of the service, the machine has driven the equivalent of the distance to the moon.
Its most successful year was 2018-19, with just under 30,000 admissions.
In November the UK Cinema Association highlighted the safety of cinemas, saying there were no recorded cases of Covid being traced back to any UK outlet when previous lockdowns eased, and that 93% of returning cinema-goers felt safe.
The association also reported that the pandemic had seen cinema revenue drop dramatically by 76% in 2020.
This followed a period in the early part of the year when the sector outperformed both 2018 and 2019, which were the two most successful years for UK cinema-going since 1970.