In 1841 there were 761 people living in Feltar. By 2008 that number had fallen to just 48. Only Papa Stour has experienced a more precipitous decline in population among Shetland’s most remote islands. It has now reached the stage where development is desperately needed to prevent Fetlar, which is greater in size than Whalsay, becoming another name on the list of abandoned islands.
Against this background it is perhaps no surprise the news that writer Ron McMillan and film maker Jim Brown intend, funding being forthcoming, to shoot a movie in the island next year met with unanimous approval in the island this week. According to Mr Brown, the idea is to “show the world and say you should see this place”. The last film to be shot entirely in Shetland was Michael Powell’s Edge of the World in which Foula was St Kilda’s doppleganger. But this proposal has the virtue of being about the place itself, even if the Donald Trump storyline is glaringly derivative. Alone, it is unlikely to lift Fetlar out of the danger zone, but if it achieves widespread circulation it may excite enough people to visit, some of whom may stay, some of whom may develop the small businesses that are surely the only way forward.
The rest of Shetland will, of course, be entitled to bask in the reflected glory. It may even live on in the collective memory as the filming of the classic Whisky Galore in 1948 does in Barra.
Doubtless developments will be watched carefully by the newly-established marketing body Promote Shetland which started operations this week after the council removed funding from VisitScotland. We look forward to hearing its plans in more detail.