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For my master's at the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology, University of Manchester, my final project was a short film and accompanying thesis titled, The Rhythm of Uist. The Rhythm of Uist is a lyrical meditation that takes the audience to the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, immersing them in the sphere of life for three young adults who have grown up in these unique and cultural islands. By focusing on the stories and everyday activities experienced by each protagonist it aims to provide a new way of understanding island life, particularly how young people experience island life and reimagine their connection to the islands.

Filmed in an observational style, it offers a glimpse into the local everyday life on the islands and explores the relationship between young people and their connection to their culture and traditions which have been passed down through generations. As the film reflects on tradition and modernity, it also asks questions about island life, island communities and the Anthropocence. 

By taking the audience closer to the stories and everyday activities experienced by each protagonist it aims to provide a new way of understanding island life, particularly how young people experience island life and reimagine their connection to the islands.

The Rhythm of Uist aims to delve deeper into island communities, the culture and traditions that are ever-present and changing, and how younger generations feel having grown up in such a distinctive place. How has this helped form their connection with these islands and shaped who they are today and how they choose to continue to live their lives everyday?

Coming from a background in anthropology, The Rhythm of Uist, is my first experience of presenting my research in a visual format and using filmmaking as a main research method. The project was fully self-shooting and stems from spending eight weeks, over the months of July and August 2021, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, on the Isles of Uist. Drawing on anthropological literature on island communities and the Anthropocene the film intends to open doors to how people, particularly young people, experience life and reimagine their connection to the islands.

Watch Film Here: The Rhythm of Uist

The ethnographic film is filmed in an observational style going through each protagonists’ own stories. Showcasing a snippet of life for each of them, it is intertwined with voice over from each participant speaking about their own experiences of growing up and becoming an adult in these distinctive islands. In a world that is becoming progressively technologized there are fewer areas that can maintain their stamp of distinction from a complete modernised overhaul. The western isles of Scotland, also known as the Outer Hebrides, are of particular interest as they do just that. With some of the last Gaelic speaking communities that exist today, importance is placed on the strong sense of community and the traditional crofting way of life. These islands are some of the last places within Europe where traditional life is still strong.

The young people on the islands are trapped between an ageing population and decreasing economy, where jobs and studies are limited. As they grow older and finish school, they often are faced with the hard decision to stay or leave their home and explore the vast variety of opportunities available on the mainland. Despite this, what I found was not a dying culture but rather I found young people reinterpreting traditions and reimagining their connection with the land. Through the creation of the ethnographic to present my fieldwork findings this project aims to look further into how the everyday, mundane activities play into one’s individual and collective island identity and sense of belonging. I believe this project and the film can open an interesting ethnographic window into the different experiences of young people from island communities, within the UK. The sense of belonging and yearning for a place presented through the film creates an interesting dialogue between person and place. Additionally, by connecting arguments within the anthropology of islands to more than human, human/ landscape connections it opens the scope of research for island communities.

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Introducing the Protagonists in the Film

Calum Macmillan , aged 18

First we have Calum Macmillan. Calum, aged 18, has grown up in South Uist and to this day only speaks Gaelic with his dad and the rest of his family. He is a passionate piper and frequently plays within the community and for larger organisations. He spends a lot of time outside fishing with friends or helping his dad on the croft with their Highland cows. Having just finished school he was getting ready to leave the island and move to the mainland for University in September.

We spoke a lot about what it means to him to be from these islands and what the future holds. It was clear, most young adults feel they have to leave the islands at some point either for further education or job opportunities, but it was clear most people want to come back. For Calum this was certainly true and while he was excited to experience life on the mainland and university, Uist would always be home.

Calum Ferguson, aged 23

Calum Ferguson, the second protagonist in my short film, grew up in North Uist. He grew up speaking more Gaelic than English, playing outdoors and helping his father and brother shear their native Hebridean black wool sheep. Having moved away for university, where he studied at Glasgow School of Art, he has spent time living off the island.

During covid in 2020 he found himself back on the island and was inspired to complete his final year degree show work based around Uist. Calum’s work addresses the challenges faced by young people as they begin crofting. Ultimately, he is interested in the housing crisis and effects of climate change on the island and what this means for the younger generation here.

While filming with Calum it was clear his love for the environment and the island was a part of his identity. He is a surfer, artist and ultimately a Hebridean and I tried to convey all these traits through out the film. While he isn’t sure living on the island is exactly where he wants to be in this moment he can always see Uist as being his home base.

Chloe Steele , aged 22

The final protagonist in my short film is Chloe Steele. I first came into contact with Chloe over Instagram and she was the first person I spoke with who was from Uist. After a zoom call one afternoon I knew heading to Uist to complete my final film with Chloe would be a great idea. Her passion and love for her island and the culture that surrounds it was evident from the very beginning.

Born and bred in South Uist, Chloe grew up surrounded by music and Gaelic. Pursuing her passions, she is now a singer and piper living on the island. She is very passionate about the culture and way of life that continues to exist on the islands, and she works hard to ensure those who follow her will be inspired to protect and celebrate the strong island culture that is ever-present.

At 16 she was ready to leave the island and never return, but it wasn’t until she left she realised how special this place was and how strong her sense of belonging was to Uist. Inspired by how unique these islands are she dedicates much of her time to the local community in South Uist. Motivated to continue the culture and traditions for the next generation and generations to come she runs monthly ceilidhs for all age groups and teaches the younger generation traditional Gaelic songs and chanter. For Chloe, Uist will always be home.

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