SFF24 - HippFest at Home | Jenny Gilbertson: "A Real Illuminator"

HippFest at Home | Jenny Gilbertson: "A Real Illuminator"

HippFest begins at home! This online event is open to all and will premiere on YouTube at the advertised start time. You have the option to book a ticket in advance, to have the relevant viewing link sent to you directly via email on the day of the premiere. Viewers of the premiere will be able to pose questions via the chat box if they wish, to which Shona and Sarah will respond live.


Self-trained documentary filmmaker, intrepid explorer, and arguably the first female to direct a feature film in Scotland - join Shona Main and Sarah Neely in conversation on the extraordinary life and work of Jenny Gilbertson.

Gilbertson, born in Glasgow in 1902, first trained as a teacher, and then journalist, before acquiring a 16mm Cine-Kodak camera which she would use to make her first film in 1931, A Crofter’s Life in Shetland.  Gilbertson’s family had travelled to Shetland on summer holidays, so it was a familiar subject for her, and the Shetlanders featuring in the film were friends of hers. An intimate portrait of island life, like much of Gilbertson’s work to come, it defied existing documentary convention.  

When the influential director and producer, John Grierson (sometimes referred to as ‘the father of documentary’), first saw Gilbertson’s film, he declared it to be: "... an extraordinary job of work. It not only gives you very beautiful pictures of the Shetlands but it gets down to the life of the crofters and the fishermen and brings the naturalness of it […] Miss Brown has already broken through the curse of artificiality and is on the way to becoming a real filmmaker, a real illuminator of life and movement." (1931) 

Images courtesy of: National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive, Shetland Archive, the Gilbertson family collection, and Shona Main.

Jenny Gilbertson: ‘A Real Illuminator’ is available to online audiences free of charge, and will remain available as part of our library of online content. However, please consider choosing to purchase a ticket for £3 (+ booking fee) if you are able to do so. 

We rely on our box office income, grants and sponsorship for more than 80% of HippFest costs and invest all of the income generated by ticket sales back into the Festival. Those who can pay more help us to do this, whilst keeping the lowest priced tickets really affordable or free.


Sarah Neely is a writer, producer and researcher, working primarily in the areas of artists' moving image and film archives. She is a Professor in Film and Visual Culture at the University of Glasgow.  She has written widely on the work of women filmmakers in Scotland in the 20th century. Her research has primarily focused on the Orcadian filmmaker and poet, Margaret Tait. She has also written on Gilbertson’s filmmaking, including an article on Gilbertson’s  The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric (1933).

Shona Main is a writer, filmmaker and kinmaker. With past lives in journalism, law and politics, she started filming her community in 2012 and made her first film Clavel (2014) about the crofter James Robert Sinclair. This stirred an interest in the work of Jenny Gilbertson that resulted in her doctoral research into Gilbertson's filmmaking approach which took her to Grise Fiord and Coral Harbour in Arctic Canada where Gilbertson lived and filmed in 1970s. Shona lives in Shetland and is chair of the Bigton Collective that runs Hymhus, an arts and wellbeing hub in the former kirk.


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