The Man Who Stopped Going to Church (Shorts in Support 2018)

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John Murdo McAuley | 2017 |  5 min

The story of a godly young man, disillusioned in the wake of a betrayal of trust. In the midst of his conflict, a stranger invites him on a journey to discover the truth for himself. Placing a traditional story in a modern setting, this Gaelic language short won three prizes in the 2018 FilmG filmmaking competition.

John Murdo was born and raised on the Isle of Lewis. He started filming wedding videos locally whilst at school, then camera assisted on Katie Morag. He currently works for Corran Media in Stornoway, and in 2017 he cut his first four-part programme The NC500, directed by Callum Angus MacKay. More recently John Murdo has been the trainee director on BBC Alba drama Bannan.

Was it a particular challenge to modernise the classic ‘loss of faith’ tale? Yes for sure. The story takes place in the 1960s so adapting it in a modern setting definitely had its challenges. Trying not to lose all the authentic moments from the original story was difficult. We had a time limit of five minutes and the total duration of the narration was about 8 minutes, so we had to carefully dissect the story without losing any important beats and then we had to decide on appropriate modern scenarios to juxtapose the narration from the past.

Who was the storyteller doing the narration? Also, his dialogue continues over the closing credits, unsubtitled – what is he saying and why did you choose to include that? The Narrator was a well-known storyteller called Angus Macleod from Bragar on the Isle Of Lewis. The story was recorded in 1964 and added to the Tobair an Dulachas archive. Regarding the narration on the closing credits, sorry I’m afraid I can’t tell you. It’s a little bonus snippet for any Gaelic speakers watching the film. So I guess its time to get some Gaelic lessons.

How important do you feel the medium of short film is to young Gaelic speakers who wish to enter the industry? We are very fortunate to have a Gaelic short film festival called FilmG. It’s a great incentive for young people to make films specifically in Gaelic. You’re given a theme each year, you get to go to the awards evening and if you’re fortunate enough to win they have fantastic prizes ranging from GoPros and work experience placements to getting your film screened at the GSFF. There are a lot of great old Gaelic stories that are begging to be told on screen so I think it’s our due diligence to pass the stories of the past on and tell them in a new medium.

What do you believe could be done to bring Gaelic-language film further into the mainstream? That’s a hard question. I think mainstream film festivals like the Glasgow Short Film Festival being open, considerate but most importantly interested in Gaelic films is a solution. It gets the films to an audience that wouldn’t normally watch them. That being said, we as Gaelic speaking filmmakers need to make sure the films we create are of a high enough standard to be taken seriously.

You’ve moved into television recently as well, working on several projects with BBC Alba. What new trials have you had to overcome as a creator? It’s been a rather crazy year for sure. I’ve just finished directing an episode of BBC Alba’s drama Bannan. This was a massive step up for me; going from making short films with a crew of three to a full two camera crew was scary and very daunting, but an insane amount of fun.

Mar a Thachair do Dh’fhear a Sgur a Dhol Dhan Eaglais (The Man Who Stopped Going to Church) screens before Nae Pasaran, 2-8 November.

Glasgow Short Film Festival’s Shorts In Support scheme aims to revive the tradition of the supporting short film by distributing eight fantastic new short films (including two selected by the Scottish Queer International Film Festival) to cinemas and film societies to screen before features during autumn/winter 2018. Shorts in Support is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network.