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Flow Country and Caithness Makar have starring roles in ecopoetic film The Dreaming Bog


By David G Scott

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A new project by a far north filmmaker merges poetry with environmental concerns through the backdrop of the Flow Country, the mires of Finland and a new poem by Caithness Makar George Gunn.

Robert Aitken from Brora crafts his unique pieces of work to target the human senses and his latest film, The Dreaming Bog, is no exception to these demanding standards.

Robert says: "The Dreaming Bog is an ecopoetic story on climate change told through the lens of the bogs and peatlands of northern Scotland and the mires and swamps of Finland. [It is] an exploration of the punishment and preservation by humankind on these vulnerable landscapes."

Filmmaker Robert Aitken.
Filmmaker Robert Aitken.

Recently completed, the film aims to highlight the unique shared landscape of northern Scotland and Finland. The film is based on the opening act of a new poem by Caithness Makar, George Gunn called Six Thousand Years of Sunlight.

The Dreaming Bog seeks to seed a new wave of discussion on climate change where "humans are placed back into the heart and narrative" of nature, and honour that place. Although a complete telling, the film has been created as the opening of a larger body of work continuing an "ecopoetic discourse and engagement with the remaining stanzas of George Gunn’s modern epic".

Caithness Makar George Gunn. His poetry features in The Dreaming Bog film.
Caithness Makar George Gunn. His poetry features in The Dreaming Bog film.

As George says: "I was honoured when Robert wanted to use some of my poem for his new film, The Dreaming Bog. The subject matter of the Caithness and Sutherland bog lands is very close to my heart given the Clan Gunn literally, culturally and historically, come out of the bog.”

Speaking of the artistic collaboration on the project, George adds: “I also think that poetry and film have a shared disciplinary aim in as much that the former hones language so that it shines; the latter sheds light on the everyday and the strange. I think they go well together sharing the virtue of brevity and visualisation. I hope people get to see the film and enjoy its visual music."

Poster for The Dreaming Bog
Poster for The Dreaming Bog

Summing up what it was about George Gunn’s poem that appealed so strongly, Robert said: “When George told me he had written a poem about the bogs, I was expecting a few stanzas in a well-crafted poem. What I received was much, much more. Six Thousand Years Of Sunlight is epochal in vision and read like a film script."

Filming took place at the end of 2021 under challenging circumstances, said producer/director Robert. “After a difficult birth including; a pandemic, a lockdown, two storms and multiple cancellations due to Covid and illness, it’s just incredible The Dreaming Bog got made at all.

"Much of the planned live content ended adapted as recorded video chats over the internet. Given events elsewhere in the world, however, I give gratitude that I, and many others involved, could openly express views and create this film. In a strange way the challenges in production echo the wider situation and how we can overcome adversity.”

Still image taken from The Dreaming Bog. The filmmaker says the peatland appears to look like a 'gigantic brain' from the air.
Still image taken from The Dreaming Bog. The filmmaker says the peatland appears to look like a 'gigantic brain' from the air.

Robert says that the global bogs, mires and peatlands are an "incredible gift of life", but are in danger of degradation through human-related activities. "They are often seen as unexciting landscapes, not fit for much use, but this couldn’t be further from their past story and inherent nature. These places are home to an immense variety of plants and wildlife, and historically, humankind has lived and worked in the bogs of northern Scotland since the arrival of the hunter-gatherer."

Still image taken from The Dreaming Bog. Filmmaker Robert Aitken says the bogs hold a geological record of earth from millennia ago and 'act as a depository of our activities'.
Still image taken from The Dreaming Bog. Filmmaker Robert Aitken says the bogs hold a geological record of earth from millennia ago and 'act as a depository of our activities'.

As carbon keepers, the bogs are four times more efficient at storing gases, poisonous to human life, than the rainforests, he adds. "The last 200 years has seen more change and damage to the bogs than the previous 6000 years of civilisation."

The Dreaming Bog also contains heartfelt comment from those who actually live and work in the bogs of Caithness and Sutherland as well as Finland. Other footage and comment was supplied by film partners from the University of Eastern Finland’s Mire Trend Project (MTP). With Finland’s landmass being one-third swamps, MTP looks at various influences of swamps and bogs on Finnish society.

The Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland features within The Dreaming Bog. Picture: Robert Aitken
The Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland features within The Dreaming Bog. Picture: Robert Aitken
Robert at Timespan in Helmsdale. His sister Jacqueline Aitken works there as a curator and contributed information on the heritage of the Caithness and Sutherland bogs.
Robert at Timespan in Helmsdale. His sister Jacqueline Aitken works there as a curator and contributed information on the heritage of the Caithness and Sutherland bogs.

In summing up the project, Robert said: “The idea that the bogs are like a mighty subconscious entity greatly appealed to me, repositories of human history and memory; ecosystems and evolution – it even looks like a gigantic brain from the air. I then wondered what it be like to digitally enter this huge living organism, to witness the synapses of visions flashing all around, seeing and feeling its dreams.”

The full length film runs at 40mins and is designed to open up discussions with live audiences in Scotland and Finland after funding is in place for a screening tour.

For news and dates of live screenings of The Dreaming Bog please visit: www.aitken.online

Further info is at: www.facebook.com/thedreamingbog and www.instagram.com/aitkenonline


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