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Land Makar

Margaret Tait

UK, 1981
32 minutes, colour, opt
Available formats: 16mm / DVD / Digibeta tape / SD Digital file
Land Makar

This is a landscape study of an Orkney croft , with the figure of the crofter, Mary Graham Sinclair, very much in the picture. The croft is West Aith , on the edge of a small loch, which almost every passing visitor stops to photograph or draw or paint. I have been filming this beautiful place since 1977, observing many of the human activities which alter and define how it looks. The croft is worked in the old style, and has unfenced fields, tethered animals, and flagstone roofs. Mechanised aids are brought in when appropriate, but much is done by one womans labour . The film is constructed so that the sequences are like a number of canvases.
The film is divided into seasons, starting with harvest – a hard-won harvest, as the black-and-white sequence suggests. Nevertheless, the oats look golden and beautiful when standing in stooks of sheaves. Then we look at some other winter stores, accompanied by Mary Sinclair talking about how people in Orkney used to grow much more. Winter is suggested by the glowing fire indoors and the ice on the loch; the day of spring ploughing is still rather bitter. We then see the sudden burst into summer, with flowers everywhere, and Mary Sinclair tells of the many birds nesting and hatching on her land. She inspects the nest of a swan at the lochside (telling how she gave the swan some help in the building of the nest).
An evening view of the landscape accompanies Mary Sinclairs account of her yearly midsummer walk with a friend (up the hillside in the background). Then theres the hay harvest, a long spell of communal work; and, after one haystack is blown down in a gale, the rebuilding of the stack. By this time its autumn again, the swans family has grown up, and the fields are much more bare.
In the long shadows of a winter afternoon, Mary Sinclair carries a sack of grass she has just cut from the meadow, and lays it down at the door of her barn; then she feeds her hens, and talks about them. The film ends with a brown winter landscape and the sound of whooper swans – winter visitors which were also heard in the winter stores sequence at the beginning of the film. -Note: Makar is a Scots word, meaning poet.