Self-taught, Sheffield-based photographer and filmmaker, Rosie Reed Hillman, has been captivating audiences across the country this year with her debut film release, Cailleach. The short documentary, filmed on a Northern Scottish island, is an intimate and endearing reflection of the isolated life of a humble 85-year-old woman, Morag. Reed Hillman’s natural eye for photography in […]

Self-taught, Sheffield-based photographer and filmmaker, Rosie Reed Hillman, has been captivating audiences across the country this year with her debut film release, Cailleach. The short documentary, filmed on a Northern Scottish island, is an intimate and endearing reflection of the isolated life of a humble 85-year-old woman, Morag. Reed Hillman’s natural eye for photography in such a beautiful setting makes for a stunning piece of cinema, and the film has already gained four awards on the festival scene and is now running for an Oscar nomination.

How did you first come into contact with Morag and her story? Was she the inspiration for your move into film?

I went to the Outer Hebrides as part of my Visual Anthropology MA fieldwork. I wanted to go somewhere completely remote and far away from Sheffield, but to still be able to speak the language. And I wanted to make a film about women there. Those were my two aims. When I arrived I met Morag in the first couple of days. We hit it off straight away, but it took a while to build up trust and start doing the longer interviews.

She wasn’t the reason, but she was the subject of my first ‘proper’ film. I have been making the move into film very slowly since 2009. After working for six years in social care, I thought carefully about how to bring out the stories of people similar to those I had worked with at Women’s Aid, Roundabout and Shelter. I wanted to give the people in my images a voice.

How long was the process of filming? Did you get a lot of footage before cutting down to 14 minutes?

I’ve actually made two films about Morag. The first was my grad film made in the summer, where I lived in a tent for a month on Harris and visited Morag regularly. The second was commissioned by Scottish Documentary Institute and Creative Scotland and filmed over two weeks in January. I had about 18 hours from the summer and 13 from the winter filming. There was hours of absolutely wonderful stuff from Morag – amazing stories and insights – but only a tiny bit of it could make it into the final cut, so these moments had to be the golden essence of everything else we left out. I worked with a great editor, Scott Dulson.

Have you stayed in touch with Morag?

I have. We speak on the phone every other month or so, and write to each other. Morag’s letters are a real tonic. I named my baby after her (her middle name), so I feel very connected to Morag still, and meeting her has had a huge impact on my life. I have told her about the awards the film has won, but she brushes it off and says, “As long as it’s helped you,” and that’s all she is concerned with. She doesn’t have a TV and there is no cinema up there, so films are not really on her radar.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon, and where will we be able to see your work?

I have been on maternity leave for the past year since the film was finished, but I have now got a few projects in the pipeline. I just heard I’ve been successful in securing PhD by Practice funding for my next project, which is an interactive documentary exploring motherhood. I’m also making a film for the Wildlife Trusts’ Older Adults project which will be finished this summer. And we are in the process of organising another Sheffield screening of Cailleach, so keep an eye out for that too.

rosiereedhillman.co.uk

Tasha Franek