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It seemed like a good idea at the time. A web trawl showed that there would be a re-enactment of the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) on a site near to the original battlefield. I was looking for an event that might make a good 'club' project for Edinburgh Cine & Video Society and this seemed to fit the bill. Plenty of colour, action, and interesting history. I contacted the organisers who were positive about the idea of a video and very helpful in giving access. It was a weekend event (18th & 19th Sept 2004) with the battle re-enacted on both the Saturday and the Sunday - so a double opportunity to film the main action. On the Saturday, seven of us from the club turned up; cameras at the ready. Advance planning had given us a map of the site and the various tented areas where re-enacters would be available to talk about their part in the battle and display their various wares. So we set off in ones and twos to our allocated locations.
There was only one problem - the weather. The rain set in early, backed by a strong south westerly gale. So the rain was blown almost horizontally into our cameras. Only by sheltering under trees or turning your back to the wind was it possible to do any filming. Our crew did what they could in brief lulls between gusts but it wasn't long before they were heading for the shelter of the Visitor Centre and a warm cup of coffee. I stuck it out as long as I could but soon had to join them. From the warmth of the Centre's café we sallied out in quieter intervals and filmed what we could before the weather closed in on us again. We did this for the two days of the event, grabbing film clips, interviews, and demonstrations whenever we could. Late on the Saturday afternoon the sun came out and the battle was hastily reprogrammed to catch the break in the weather - and we all filmed what we could of the action.
We felt very sorry for the re-enacters. I filmed some 'infantry men' who had driven up from Basingstoke, and archers all the way from Belfast. Many of the re-enacters 'lived' the event. Wearing the period dress throughout, they lived in tents - in as close to the life style of the original combatants as they could, feeding themselves on the same very basic foods. That kind of camping is uncomfortable at the best of times but under the atrocious weather conditions of that weekend we felt they deserved a few medals. We also felt sorry for the organisers who had invested so much in the event only to have it literally washed out by heartless elemental forces. We had hoped to present them with a video - or a set of videos - recording highlights of the event but that clearly was not going to be. I collected our joint footage and edited some of the better bits into a 9 minute 'collage' which was shown to our club a few weeks after the event. A copy was also sent to the organisers. By the end of October 2004 the project was 'laid to rest'.
And there it might have stayed had I not found myself diagnosed with a cancer in March 2007, with six months of chemotherapy to follow. The main problem with chemotherapy is that it wipes out your immune system at regular intervals so although I felt reasonably fit and active most of the time, I could not go out and mix with other people. Simple infections can quickly become life threatening when your defences are down. I wasn't able to tackle any new filming projects but I could edit existing material and my mind went back to Bannockburn. I knew there was footage in there that would interest an audience but it seemed like a set of disjointed clips with no interconnecting thread. The original intention had been to tell the story of the actual battle but the weather put paid to that. The challenge was to find an alternative structure and write a commentary that would link the disparate video clips into what an audience might recognise as a 'story'.
After much thought I concluded that the film should not be about the battle between the Bruce and King Edward but about the poor rain-sodden re-enacters and the enthusiastic audience that turned up to watch them. And that is the story it tells. There are swordsmen, axemen, horsemen, archers, kings, knights, musicians, and camp followers - all heroes and heroines of the day. Those who know about this battle will be aware that the spear was the weapon that decided the outcome, through the hedgehog-like formation of spearsmen, called the Schiltrom, on which the English cavalry foundered. So I managed to add a couple of images from the internet to cover that. And the Bruce and King Edward do actually appear fighting on the battlefield!
So that was how this film came to be made. I sometimes have to smile wryly at judges comments on a film - why didn't you do this or that? - as if circumstances and resources for amateurs always permitted a range of options. 'Bannockburn 2004' was essentially a salvage job, rescuing footage from the scrap heap and turning it into a watchable film. The audiences that I have shown it to have been very positive in their comments and the IAC judges kindly gave it a four star award. I just wish I could get copies to the poor re-enacters whose patience and persistence made it possible.
Jim Closs, April 2008