EARLY last week Muir of Ord film-maker Tristan Aitchison waited as a post production technical team did the last check on Sidney & Friends which premieres at XpoNorth on Thursday, June 8.
"Next I’m going up the A9 to take it to Eden Court," said Tristan.
"It was exactly four years ago in January 2013 that I went to Kenya, so it has been over four years in the making.
"It’s never been seen, so our cast and crew screening at XpoNorth will be the first time anyone has ever seen it in the world.
"That’s something I’m pleased and proud about, that we’ve made a film in Kenya that hopefully will have international importance – and that the film has been produced in the Highlands."
To be precise, it’s got an international pedigree.
Tristan said: "The soundtrack was written in Los Angeles and it was recorded and produced in Surrey, the titles were designed in London and we recorded the vocals for the soundtrack in Cape Town. It’s been translated in Tanzania and Kenya and transcribed in Namibia and produced in ... Muir of Ord."
Also the film may not have been finished without some support from ScreenHi, XpoNorth and event director Amanda Millen.
"For three years I tried to push Sidney & Friends forward to get it completed to the quality it deserves to be and I just kept hitting brick walls," Tristan revealed.
"But a year ago at XpoNorth Amanda said let’s just try and complete it ourselves – and that’s what we’ve done."
"ScreenHi and Amanda have backed me ever since I returned to Muir of Ord in 2010 and CARE – my earlier film – I made with equipment and back up from them.
"I showcased that at goNorth in 2014 and it was shot, produced and directed in the Highlands.
"I decided that had an international flavour, something that people will appreciate anywhere in the world and I learned a lot from that."
Tristan is originally from Cromarty, left as a child and now lives in Muir of Ord. having gained a social work degree from Bristol University, he spent four years teaching in South Korea before returning home and taking a screenwriting course at Screen Academy Scotland in Edinburgh, but distance learning.
"Three times a year having a long weekend with everyone else from the course, we’d share ideas and that is what I found the best thing. I made connections that have carried on.
"And that is where the BFI Film Academy came from. A university colleague who went into film education approached me to see if we could set up something in the Highlands and Islands.
"We’ve had four years – I think it started in 2014/15 and we have had four courses.
"We have run it as a residential course in the October holidays so that no matter where in the Highlands and Islands you come from, you can come and do the course.
Tristan now passes on his knowledge to young film-makers through the annual BFI Film Academy in the Highlands.
"So far we’ve had people from Orkney, Knoydart, Ardnamurchan, the far reaches of Moray, Mallaig, Gairloch and Ullapool.
"No matter where they are from they can spend nine or 10 days full-time living in a film environment with other young film-makers, going to masterclasses with some of Scotland’s top film professionals and making their own films."
Sidney & Friends – which follows the stories of six Kenyans who are transgender and intersex – began when during Tristan’s visit to his sister in Kenya he met a transgender activist, then met another, Guillit, who describes himself as a ‘transboi’ and features extensively in the film.
Tristan said: "I never set out to make a feature documentary, I just had this opportunity to film six people in an organisation Guillit ran.
"Transgender and intersex were such a taboo subject.
"I was filming guerrilla – the authorities didn’t know I was there or that I was filming, so I couldn’t film in public spaces. There was nowhere to film, so I had to take them into a forest to film them as a group.
"It might sound as if it’s quite harrowing, but I wanted to make a film about hope and feelings – and with humour as well."
Tristan’s favourite film-makers include Japanese director Ozu and Kurosawa and John Ford.
"They all come down to creating beautiful films, but also they are amazing storytellers from simple stories."
Tristan already has his next project in mind but prefers to keep the subject under wraps.
"Something’s in the back of my mind and it’s centred in the Highlands – but very international," he said.
Sidney & Friends has a debut screening at 3pm on Thursday, June 8 plus a director, crew and cast Q&A. Book your ticket in advance via Eventbrite. And on Wednesday, June 7 the BFI Academy Highlands and Islands Showcase will screen at 1pm at XpoNorth. Details: www.xponorth.co.uk