Film, Island life

Rathlin Island swallows and #JimBaxter

The swallows are making ready to leave. Birds from all over the island are gathering in gulps (I’m on Rathlin), their polished backs glistening as they line up on telephone wires, preening and prancing as they wait for the word that will send them on down to South Africa for the winter. Occasionally they appear back up the hill to their summer home at Mullindress and under the glistening sun they feed, their flight of fancy intense and deliberate as they stock up for the journey ahead, and of course bid me farewell and promise to return with tales of another life lived in far and distant lands.

The seasons are changing; gently. The colours are deepening and rich silky greens are rusting, a subtle metallic sheen penetrating trees, its crisp colours entwined in twisting branches like silvering threads of greying hair. The sun is meandering, staying closer to the water, the tide only pushing it as far as its knees, the pull to stretch them full and stand as tall as the moon reserved for warmer climes. It isn’t tiring, just embracing the confidence that allows it to soar at a different height and entertain us with its new found awareness.

Whilst nature is teasing us with the first tumbles of autumn in other ways it has exploded on to the scene. It arrived, officially, on the 9th of September along with BBC ALBA’s autumn schedule launch. At this event I, alongside Jim Baxter’s partner Norma Morton, spoke about the upcoming film I had made about his life, due for broadcast on the channel as part of its new autumn season. Jim Baxter, if you don’t already know, was an extremely talented Scottish footballer who, from very humble working class beginnings, would be celebrated throughout the world. Full of high jinx and confidence he was actually incredibly complex and the film is about him as a person and how that person sat alongside himself as a famous footballer. Not so comfortably it would seem. Sadly, following something of a rollercoaster life, he died of cancer at just 61 years of age.

BBC ALBA autumn schedule launch, Jim Baxter
BBC ALBA autumn launch
Following the channel programme launch my company, purpleTV, held a private preview screening of ‘Jim Baxter‘ at the beautiful Glasgow Film Theatre, attended by VIPs, Jim’s family and friends, and representatives from the media. We always hold a cinema launch ahead of our television transmission and on a personal level it never gets any easier. Watching alongside your audience is pretty scary stuff but, thankfully, it went really well and from the very beginning of the film the cinema moulded into Jim’s story, bending into laughter, falling sharply into tears, rolling with the punches that came again and again and again; swallows darting on the slipstream, devouring the sweet and savoury bites of a life lived.

Remarkably, despite it being 50 years or so since Jim was at the top of his game, his story is still an enduring one that resonates incredibly strongly with audiences. As the writer Val McDermid (who features in the documentary) tells us, “Jim Baxter was a beacon for the working classes”.

GLASGOW FILM THEATRE. Premiere of Jim Baxter documentary
Jo Sharp and Val McDermid at the premiere of Jim Baxter.
His story is part of Scottish history, integral to our cultural consciousness, and that’s why it sits so well with us. Jim Baxter reminds us who we are and where we’ve come from, and why we need heroes to inspire lives that aren’t always easy to live. Thanks to the terrific team at purpleTV for working with me to tell his story in a way that captures this.

GLASGOW FILM THEATRE. Premiere of Jim Baxter documentary Stephen and alan baxter
Jim Baxter’s sons, Steven and Alan.
The morning after the premiere there was a fantastic review in the Scotsman by Alan Pattullo. It was incredibly heartening to know that he gets it and understands the film’s soul. Graeme Macpherson wrote an equally favourable review in the Herald, as did Hugh MacDonald, using his Saturday column to bestow the virtues of the film and the legend that is Jim Baxter. Having never met Jim, but as someone who has spent a lot of time posthumously getting to know him, I very much hope he would feel satisfied that he is very much loved, by existing and new generations.

The documentary had its TV premiere on BBC ALBA on the 24th of September and the autumn is ablaze; an explosion of  love for Jim and his story is lighting up the sky, its Catherine Wheels and Rockets celebrating a narrative that is serenading the swallows beyond the horizon. You can watch in on the iPlayer here.

It has been a busy season, incredibly so, but a new one beckons and along with that it brings another, equally exciting, film project. As I write, the swallows have soared up the hill for another visit to the garden, their daring swoops brimming with promise  as they stretch their wings into the beginning of a new adventure. We are both at the very edge of an incredible, soul-searching journey.

Like the swallows, I’ll want to excitedly share my winter tales with you…but first let’s enjoy the beauty of this moment. Just for a little bit longer.

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