Lou McLoughlan’s BAFTA-nominated and Grierson Prize-shortlisted feature documentary Sixteen Years Till Summer hits the cinemas this month with its compelling story of redemption and magical realism set in the Scottish Highlands. Shot over four years, the film follows Uisdean Mackay, a man released after serving sixteen years in prison, to juggle crofting ambitions with caring for his father.
A documented tragedy, with Mackay seeking forgiveness yet trying to rebuild a somewhat normal life in Lochcarron, the cathartic nature of his work provides a sense of healing. However, the relationships that he attempts to build with his father and Audrey, both inspired by these promises of redemption, provide a platform for accusations against this romantic setting.
Cinematographer and director, Lou McLoughlan has directed her debut documentary feature, with her short, Caring for Calum, winning two BAFTAs in the Scottish New Talent awards. With support from the Scottish Documentary Institute, Creative Scotland and the Icelandic Film Centre, she’s a talent to look out for, which is obvious with this level of storytelling.
Slow-paced, incorporating stunning shots of the highlands with Uisdean narrating, there is a romantic realism to this documentary. With reflectively compelling piano underscoring the documentary, there is a clear evocation of pathos. As a viewer you also get a sense of apology throughout this story, even just for his smoking habits, as he explains that he sneaks off to smoke away from his father’s house. But smoking is not his only addiction, as he also delves into the destruction heroin can cause, “sick and vomiting from it, but it gets the grip of you.”
“You wake up in the morning, its beauty again, it’s no pain,” is a stunning piece of dialogue that highlights the emotion that hits this man, reinforcing the healing tendencies within the Highland landscape. This is something which was explored by Amy Liptrot’s book, The Outrun, the remedial functions of the Scottish rural landscape, the way in which it can positively remove or break down addictions, and allow for rebuilding. Depicting the highlands as a forgiving place with enough laborious tasks to make it a life where you feel you earned your worth, this is another memoir that depends on the unrefined landscape of Scotland.
The conversation between Uisdean and his father suggests a relationship rebuilding, as they discuss diets and caffeine dependency, but the film also highlights the sense of normality he gains by trying to organise and help with his dad’s life; distraction from his addictions and traumatic past. The moments of chatter between Uisdean and his dad show a humour and camaraderie and strong ties that suggest that they can forgive each other and try to put the past behind them, after Uisdean’s years in prison.
A “heavy label to carry,” Uisdean describes his prison sentence, but is never able to rid himself of it, and moving in with new relationship prospect Audrey sparks all sorts of accusations. The story uses flashbacks and reflection and hope, which comes in the form of letters from this woman that begins writing to him in prison, “a real god send,” which give him a second chance at life and relationships, but can it last? A man struggling to detach himself from his prison sentence and start life afresh, this documentary is 82 minutes which considers issues that linger, redemption and rebuilding a life in a way that compels you to find out the outcome.
Get yourself to The Filmhouse to watch this stunning memoir, as McLoughlan is clearly a filmmaker on the rise.