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A Crofter's Life in Shetland (clip 6)

Up Helly Aa Festival

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An early documentary by filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson, one of Scotland's film pioneers. It records a traditional way of life which was about to disappear for ever and captures the annual farming year of the crofting communities of the Shetland Isles. The film features the islanders at work on their crofts, gathering peat, fishing and the celebrations during the "Up Helly Aa" Viking festival. In this clip we see footage from the the "Up Helly Aa" festival showing Shetlanders dressed up as Vikings: fighting with swords; a torchlit procession; and the burning of a Viking ship.

Questions & Activities


  • What do you think this festival is about?
  • Why do they set fire to the ship? What is the symbolism of this?
  • Pause on the "Up Helly Aa" poster. What information is given on this poster? What do you think the men's headdresses are made from?
  • The Shetlanders identify with Norwegian culture more than the Scottish. Why is this? What does national identity mean to you?


Create your own Viking helmet.

Study the film in conjunction with Mollie Hunter's book "A Stranger Came Ashore".

Research the history of the "Up Helly Aa" Festival and how it is celebrated today.

Use the film as a visual stimulus for a project on the Vikings. See the cartoon "Hagar The horrible".

Research other festivals that are unique to Scotland.

Add a soundtrack narrating the drama and history of the event.

Using simple drawings or clay models make your own animation of the festival.

Research different ways of celebrating New Year around the world.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-000-177-C
Resource Rights Holder Courtesy of The Gilbertson Family
Project Ref 0981
Date 1931
Genre Documentary, Amateur, Women Filmmakers
School Subject History, Economic History, Social History, Geography, English, Expressive Arts
Subject Matter Rivers and Coasts
Who Jenny Gilbertson (director)
Where Shetland
Event Festival
Attributes Black and White, Silent
Clip Length 2:58
Film Length 46:00