Alistair MacLeod short story to be filmed in Scotland

Two filmmakers in Orkney, Scotland, are set to begin filming one of the celebrated Canadian writer's early stories, set in Cape Breton.

Shooting for In the Fall will begin in February in Orkney

The film will be shot on location on the Orkney island of Hoy. (hoyorkney.com)

Two filmmakers in Scotland are set to turn one of celebrated Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod's short stories into a short film. 

Nearly all of MacLeod's stories and his only novel, No Great Mischief, are about Cape Breton and its people.

In the Fall was first published in 1976 as the first of seven stories in the collection The Lost Salt Gift of Blood

It's about a family's intense struggle with a decision to keep or give up their old Clydesdale horse, which they can no longer afford to feed.

"It's one of loss," said Tom Gentle, the film's director, "and approaching weakness, and the idea that it does all have to end at some point."

'Cinematic'

Longtime friends Gentle and producer Rupert Clague say the idea of a film had floated between them for a few years, although they came to know MacLeod's work separately. 

"I judged a book by its cover," said Gentle, remembering the discovery. 

He had an unexpected day off while working on a film project in Iona, Scotland, several years ago.

"I pulled a book off the shelf and I really liked the cover and it was Island:The Collected Stories and I sat down and read the whole thing in one sitting," he said. "It was just amazing."
Alistair MacLeod's In the Fall was published in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood in 1976. (CBC)

He said In the Fall grabbed him immediately as something he wanted to transform for the screen. 

"All the stories are so cinematic and so visceral," said Gentle. "In the Fall has the perfect three-act structure that a film tends to have, and also the drama plays out in front on you, overtly, as opposed to internal thought-processed drama."

Shared dream

Clague grew up in Thunder Bay, Ont., and now lives in Great Britain. 

He's known of MacLeod's work his whole life, and is excited to bring a segment of it to life. 

Tom Gentle, left, and Rupert Clague will begin filming in February. (Submitted by Tom Gentle and Rupert Clague)

"When Tom told me about his dream to turn In the Fall into a film I was already, you know, signed up," Clague remembered, "having been a big fan of [MacLeod's] for many years."

Over the years, the men have worked separately on a variety of projects with the BBC, Netflix and others. This will be the first time they've collaborated.

Successful fundraiser

They started an Indigogo campaign months ago and exceeded their goal of 15,000 pounds ($26,000).

Clague says the financial help is wonderful — and necessary — but the outpouring of support has been about more than just money, including a public endorsement from literary giant Margaret Atwood. That support acts as a rudder to keep them focused, he said.

"It just underscores how important we feel it is to make this film, and indeed how important it is that we do it justice." 

Filming will begin in and around Orkney's sheer cliffs and windswept landscapes at the end of February.

The pair said they would ideally have shot the film in Canada, but since they live in Scotland, it made more financial sense to stay put. 

The finished film will run about 20 minutes.