Our 2019 festival theme, Human Nature, brought together extraordinary stories of humanity and landscape across an eclectic four-day programme.
In one of the headline events, Niall Iain Macdonald shared the compelling testimony of his two dramatic solo attempts to row across the Atlantic from NY to SY – New York to Stornoway – and the reasons he did it.
Dan Richards discussed his new book Outpost: A Journey to the Wild Ends of the Earth (‘by turns beautiful, funny, evocative and learned’ – The Observer), in which he travels to mountains, tundra, forests, oceans and deserts to embrace the appeal of isolation. His event was twinned with Tìde in which land-artist Julie Brook discussed the philosophy behind her dramatic, elemental sea fire-stacks; conceived on Jura and reignited phoenix-like on the west coast of Lewis.
As part of the Faclan Fringe programme, the festival opened with an exclusive script-in-hand performance of a new theatre version of Alastair McIntosh‘s extraordinary Lewis-set book, Soil and Soul. The book is being developed for the stage by playwright Alan Bissett and Lewis-based arts organisation sruth-mara. The event included a post-show discussion with the whole creative team, following a week of rehearsals and script development in Uig with director Laura Cameron-Lewis and performers Dolina MacLennan, John Stahl, Elspeth Turner, Daibhidh Walker and Mairi Campbell.
Elsewhere, Faclan 2019 explored aspects of Hebridean Gaelic culture. Fiona Mackenzie of the National Trust for Scotland celebrated the life, photography and film of the American anthropologist Margaret Fay Shaw and her time in Uist in the early 1930s. While Neil Rackham launched A Telling of Stones, by Lewis-based publishers Acair, a re-interpretation of the prophecies of the semi-mythical Brahan Seer – ‘the Gaelic Nostradamus’.
Insurrection: Scotland’s Famine Winter, by one of our finest historians James Hunter, tells the story of the Islands and West Highlands famine of the 1840s and the subsequent riots over the price of food: a dramatic yet largely forgotten slice of Hebridean history. And self-described ‘knit-aholic’ Esther Rutter unravelled the social history and allure of knitting, from Fair Isle to Cornwall via the Hebrides as described in her fascinating book This Golden Fleece, published by Granta. And Donna Heddle from the University of the Highlands and Islands took us on a tour of the history, heritage and meaning of the Hebrides’ many Norse place names.
A very different kind of Hebridean adventure was on offer courtesy of cult Scottish writer and musician Momus – aka Nick Currie – who brought his Unreliable Tour Guide to Stornoway for the first time as part of Faclan Fringe. Momus also appears in the main programme, marking the thirtieth anniversary of his best known song, Hairstyle of the Devil, with a unique performance.
As well as food for thought, the Faclan Fringe also include a lunch event – Spirit & Spice – by Scottish food and travel writer Ghillie Başan, whose books have been nominated for the Glenfiddich Guild of Food Writers and Cordon Blue Awards.
Other Faclan Fringe highlights included an album launch – After All of the Days We Will Disappear by Lewis-based songwriter Andrew Eaton-Lewis, his second An Lanntair show after curating Whatever Gets You Through the Night, an evening of music and film in February 2019 featuring Emma Pollock, the Sea Atlas and Ceitlin LR Smith.
This year’s Faclan Fringe also included Nature/Nurture, the festival’s first ever ‘scratch night’, in which Lewis-based performers were invited to share works in progress inspired by this year’s festival theme.
And as ever, Faclan 2019 included classic, thematic films. Among them the original 1963 version of Lord of the Flies, a dark parable for our times about schoolboys marooned on an island who descend into savagery. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre from 1948, a morality tale of greed and gold fever, directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart. And Wim Wenders’ 2014 documentary The Salt of the Earth, which is a testament to the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado’s work with the world’s poor, exploited and deprived.
Faclan is supported by Creative Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Outer Hebrides LEADER.