WHEN filmmaker Lou McLoughlan was asked film a prisoner visiting his dying father in the west Highlands, she could hardly refuse.
"It was something you couldn’t say no too. You couldn’t help but feel sympathy and it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time," McLoughlan said.
However, following the story of convicted murderer Uisdean Mackay and his father Calum was to take up the next five years of McLoughlan’s life and lead to two films – award-winning short Caring For Calum and feature length documentary 16 Years Till Summer, which receives its first screening in Inverness next Friday as part of the 14th Inverness Film Festival.
For Edinburgh-raised McLoughlan, who met Mackay as a student filmmaker working on a project at Castle Huntly Prison near Dundee, what began with a personal request provided her with an important showcase for her career, winning her the Grierson Best Student Documentary Award and two BAFTA Scotland Awards, the New Talent Award for Best Director and Best Short Film Award.
"I didn’t know the film was going to have the success it’s had" McLoughlan said.
"I was filming people I liked. I like Uisdean and I really, really liked Calum. I wasn’t thinking of the film as a product. I just thought of it as a really interesting subject for a bit for a bit of course work and I was doing somebody a favour at the same time."
Caring For Calum ended just as Mackay was about to be released on licence after serving 16 years for the murder of psychiatric nurse Cathy McQueen in Inverness.
It was his return to Lochcarron, the Highland village that had been his family’s home for 200 years, that McLoughlan saw as the bigger story as Mackay attempted to reintegrate into a community where his crime was well known.
"At the time, I had no doubt there was going to be a happy ending because there was such brilliant chemistry between him and his dad," McLoughlan said.
"I really wanted things to work out for Calum because he was 92 and needed someone to look after him."
However, that expected happy ending failed to materialise as Uisdean’s life took a series of twists, beginning with his return to prison after he was accused of a new crime, but there was also hope for a fresh start when he began a relationship with new love Audrey.
Despite Mackay’s claims that the shooting of Cathy McQueen was unintentional, McLoughlan stressed that it was not her intention to re-exam the crime.
"I think the film’s an interesting start for a conversation about what long term prisoners go through when they are released," McLoughlan suggested.
"Prisons are actually very sociable places. You’ve got neighbours right next to you and you have the sort of gossip you get in a small village. You are not going to be stuck for company. So it’s a big culture shock coming out."
16 Years Till Summer touches on a number of themes, from the rehabilitation of long-term prisoners and the possibility of forgiveness and new starts to family relations, but for McLoughlan, at its core the film is about trust
"When anybody comes out of prison, there’s a tremendous amount of hope that they generate around them and in the people who have been waiting for them and love them. It was heartbreaking, but also interesting, to see at what point those people paused to question whether they were putting too much blind faith into things," she said.
"I was editing at the time of the Jimmy Savile scandal and examining trust was a really big part of that.
"When I started my short film, I was very clear in my head that it was about the unconditional love a father has. The feature film is a much richer story and I think it shows how complex people are."
With 16 Years Till Summer now complete, McLaughlan revealed she now hopes to take a break from real life and concentrate on less fact based filmmaking.
"I would like to make a fiction film now. this one took five years to film it because there clearly wasn’t any closure up to that point. I think I would be tempted to take a slightly easier path and use a script!" she laughed.
• Director Lou McLoughlan will attend the Inverness Film Festival screening of 16 Years Till Summer at Eden Court at 6.30pm on Friday November 11.
The 14th Inverness Film Festival runs at Eden Court from Wednesday November 9 to Sunday 13.