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'The show must go on' – Sutherland MP welcomes Dame Judi Dench appeal for Scottish Government to fund 50 per cent of new mobile cinema

By Niall Harkiss

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An appeal from Hollywood icon Dame Judi Dench could be about to hand a lifeline to film-goers in Sutherland and other remote areas in the north.

The Screen Machine
The Screen Machine

The acclaimed actress, known for roles in films such as James Bond and Mrs Brown, has backed calls for the Scottish Government to save the country's only full-time, self-contained mobile cinema.


The Screen Machine – a 78-seat, air-conditioned, digital mobile cinema service – has been bringing the latest films to over 40 remote communities in the Highlands and Islands since 1998.

Regional Screen Scotland (RSS), which has operated the well-know Screen Machine for the past 17 years, was forced to reduce its service last December after one of its two operators resigned and also because of mechanical issues, with the mobile cinema breaking down several times.

Kinlochbervie, Durness, Bettyhill and Golspie were axed from the schedule, leaving Lochinver and Lairg as the only two Sutherland destinations.

A new operator has since been appointed to run a temporary leased mobile cinema, using funding from Screen Scotland for one year.

But as of April, the lease will expire, leaving the future of mobile cinema in the Highlands uncertain.

RSS says it now desperately needs to raise the £1.4m to secure a replacement Screen Machine.

Oscar-winner Dench wrote to Humza Yousaf following calls from children in Barra, in the Western Isles, for funding for a new vehicle. The high costs involved in this venture mean that, without Scottish Government support, it is likely the Screen Machine will be wound down.

She urged the First Minister: “The Cinema Bus is a lifeline in such a rural community and much enjoyed by both children and adults, although so far only the children have written to me for help. The pupils are aged between 8 and 10 years and are desperate for the Scottish Government to help them. They have put a lot of effort into their letters and are most sincere in their pleas.”

Jamie Stone MP says the loss of the Screen Machine is 'unthinkable' for the Highlands.
Jamie Stone MP says the loss of the Screen Machine is 'unthinkable' for the Highlands.

Far North MP, Jamie Stone, who previously referred to the mobile cinema as "a cornerstone of community life in many parts of the Highlands and Islands", expressed his thanks to the Oscar-winner.

Mr Stone said: "I owe a huge thanks to Dame Judi Dench for taking the time to write to the First Minister about the Screen Machine. It truly is a cornerstone of community life in many parts of the Highlands and Islands and to see it fall by the wayside would be a tragedy.

"But perhaps it is the children from Barra who we really ought to thank, who took the initiative to write to Dame Judi in the first place. Their words were powerful and persuasive - words which have had an extraordinary effect!

"I hope this intervention puts the necessary amount of pressure on the Scottish Government to step up and save this much-loved service."

If the Scottish Government can come up with half of the price tag, this will enable the Screen Machine to pay a deposit and begin the construction process. The balance would then have to be covered by embarking on a “massive fundraising effort.”

Find out more about the Screen Machine and their fundraising efforts here.

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