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The Big Sheep Symposium - Helmsdale and Portgower

5th October 2012

Photograph of The Big Sheep Symposium - Helmsdale and Portgower

Timespan Museum and Arts Centre, Helmsdale, Sutherland, Scotland, UK.

Saturday 20 October: Events across Helmsdale and Portgower, 2.30pm - 10pm

Supported by Scottish Community Foundation, Creative Scotland, Age Scotland, LUX, Scottish Screen Archive, Arsenal Film Distribution

Margaret Tait, acclaimed Scottish filmmaker, poet and writer is celebrated at The Big Sheep Symposium - an event exploring her time at 'Slowbend' near Helmsdale which was her and Alex Pirie's home between 1965 and 1973. The Symposium will open a discussion on four themes: The Sheep and The Land, by way of A Film, and A Poet's Voice. It is timely to revisit Tait's film work and ask why the start of the 60's was a very productive period for both Tait's writing and films.

'Splashing' (1966), recently rediscovered, will be shown as part of a talk by Dr Sarah Neely (author 'Margaret Tait: Poems, Stories and Writings' by Fyfield Books). Neely will highlight the cross-over between Tait's films and poems, both experiments in structure, while capturing the lyricism and the simplicity of the film.

'Caora Mor - The Big Sheep' (1966), shown in 16mm film format and introduced by Peter Todd (artist and co-editor of 'Subjects and Sequences: A Margaret Tait Reader') tells a story of sheep through the seasons, their sale and transportation; subtly considering the 'clearances' as part of an on going sequence of 'Improvements' to effect the lives, games and gatherings of Highlanders.

Margaret Tait was reflecting on 'The Big Sheep' and Sutherland, for an interview with James Wilson in BBC Scotland's Spectrum series: "I don't think it's about the Clearances exactly. You can't live there without some sort of allusion to the Clearances because there's a feeling of them all around you But if its about anything it is about the place as it is now."

"Margaret Tait's work in Sutherland exquisitely reminds us of how to allow ideas to breathe. She evokes a rich sense of the area, the passage of time and unfolding of a rural landscape in these self financed films, which she would describe as film-poems. " Oliver Mezger

'Land Makar' (1980) will be shown in Helmsdale for the first time. After moving to Orkney, Tait followed the year-round cycle of work of her farming neighbour Mary Graham Sinclair - a woman's solitary stewardship of the land, she is presented as a 'poet of the land' - the meaning of the Orcadian term 'land makar'. Cara Tolmie (artist / performer) has been invited to lead an afternoon workshop, where older residents can respond to the film with memories of crofting and their relationships to the land. Cara Tolmie will also respond with a new performance work. Her performance and Lesley Harrison's poetry reading will present the way artist and poets work in the landscapes of Scotland today.

Vintage Bus tour will be led by Esther McDonald (Crofter, Portgower) and Jacquie Aitken (Timespan Archive Officer) to 'The Big Sheep' locations. The tour will be returning to the original screening location of Portgower Hall after nearly fifty years for a traditional Highland high tea. Followed by the talks, performances, screenings, and a time to reflect on " the place as it is now".

You can read more about Margaret Tait and view clips of her films on LUXonline ( and on the Scottish Screen Archive
Artists, Filmmakers, Poets and Writers in the event. Lesley Harrison, Sarah Neely, Margaret Tait, Peter Todd, Cara Tolmie.


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