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Movie Review: Second Sight at the Glasgow Film Festival 2009

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Second Sight is the type of film that has no big budget, no big star, no extravagance. Instead it has a personal, intimate quality that makes it both charming and welcoming. It's also a surprisingly short film, coming in at just over 50 minutes, but this makes it a breeze to sit through. Couple those advantages with an endearing and interesting man at the centre of the story and you have a thoroughly gratifying little motion picture.

Second Sight is a non-fiction docu-drama that follows Donald Angus MacLean, one of the last of a generation raised in the Gaelic tradition (including speaking the language more than English) rather than a modern, technology-ridden one. Donald is a man of the church, an open-minded "old charmer" who has listened intently and curiously throughout his life to the local ghost stories told by friends and neighbours of the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

It's often difficult to figure out if Second Sight is a dramatized depiction of true events or purely a documentary. Although the only person who really acknowledges the camera is Donald himself (when he narrates to us amongst other things), because of how natural everyone else acts it really does feel like you're watching a slice of real life events as they are happening. In the end it can accurately be described as a documentary, if one much place it finitely into one or the other, but it is nonetheless dramatically compelling.

Although the film follows Donald (one of the most endearing cinematic characters – real or fictional – to grace the screen in ages) as he talks to various people about ghostly visions, that's not what's at the heart of the film. It's really about the nature of life and how the end of it is inevitable. Donald himself, who's almost 80 years old, even points that out himself and his coming to terms with this fact is admirable. He's certainly being realistic, more so than most of us are willing to be, and he lets it be known it's not dying that scares him but suffering right before it. Since it's such a realistic film this admission is all the more affecting.

Second Sight is also a exploration of the charming daily life of Donald and the people around him. The term "community" is, perhaps, no better suited than to the area where Donald lives. Everyone knows everybody, everyone interacts with everybody, and to see such things as the meticulous nature of how Donald likes his tea or him getting a haircut on a chair in front of a building instead of inside it is strangely captivating. And the film welcomes you with open arms into this close-knit world of community and tradition.

The backdrop to Donald's journey, which is sometimes given focus for lengths of time throughout, is the gorgeous Scottish landscape of lochs and the highlands. Director Alison McAlpine (making an impressive debut) clearly has a love for the country and the beauties it often has to offer and contrasting the wide open, stunning views with such an intimate story and charming leading man was a brilliant choice.

The aspect of the film which lays out conversations and claims of ghostly visions are concisely shown and put across with conviction by the various storytellers. Even if we can step back and shake our heads in disbelief at the idea of ghosts, it doesn't matter – it's not important that we believe it but that these people do. At least for its 50 minute runtime we can immerse ourselves in the tales we might not give the time of day normally.

Second Sight is beautifully told tale of many things, from the claims of ghostly visions down to the intimate daily routine of an old charmer who would make a routine trip to the shop a fascinating watch. Decorated with beautiful, elegant landscapes and peppered with the interesting characters that Donald comes across, this is a gloriously encapsulating motion picture told with admiration and love for the place in which it's set.

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About Ross Miller

  • Aaron

    I thoroughly enjoyed covering Sundance for this site. How long does the Glasgow Film Festival go? What’s the lineup of films?

  • http://www.screenrant.com Ross Miller

    Hey Aaron,

    It starts on the 12th of February and finishes on the 22nd. Here’s the official website where you can find all the info about all the films playing – http://www.glasgowfilmfestival.org.uk

    Are you from Scotland?

  • Aaron

    No I’m from Utah. I was just wondering if there’s any Sundance films that were going to there. Seems like there are:

    Bronson
    In The Loop
    Grace

    And a few others I don’t remember.

    I was wondering if they were getting Five Minutes of Heaven or An Education, and I was going to tell you those are must-sees, but they aren’t. That’s too bad, since they are 2 very well-done British films that were at Sundance.