What's Your Story?

Glen Rosa: the life and art of Keith Salmon

Here is the extended treatment, pitch and project scope for Glen Rosa, the life and art of Keith Salmon

Glen Rosa, the life and art of keith salmon is a broadcast-length documentary about the life of noted Scottish Landscape painter Keith Salmon. It is based on a short film Walking with Keith (2013) that was shown at the 2013 Fragile Festival in Tallinn Estonia. The film is being produced, directed and edited in Scotland.

Keith Salmon walking the Highlands

Keith Salmon walking the Highlands


The film follows the arc of Keith Salmon’s life as an artist after the onset of diabetic retinopathy began to affect Keith’s site nearly twenty years ago. Since that crisis, a combination of unfailing dedication and a capacity for innovative practice has allowed Keith to continue to imaginatively render the Scottish landscape in painting and other mediums at a prolific rate and to wide critical acclaim. A 2009 winner of the prestigious Jolomo Award, Keith is best known for his paintings, which are evocative, abstract and highly original.

In response to his continued deteriorating eyesight, in 2014 Keith began to explore audio recording and manipulation as an avenue for creative expression. This culminated in Keith partnering with researchers at Microsoft in creating a large-scale interactive audiovisual piece called the Oregon Project in 2016.

The film narrative begins two years before the Oregon Project with Keith taking on the challenge of conceiving of, planning and publicly drawing a large landscape mural at the Irvine Harbour Arts Center over eight weeks in the winter of 2014/15. This initial chapter in the film interweaves the creation of what becomes “January Afternoon Glen Rosa, Isle of Arran” (2014) with Keith’s life as a visually impaired hill walker and artist. It documents both the inspirational nature of the Scottish landscape that Keith passionately loves and his own unique approach in walking it and painting it. The film is visually rich in both painted textures and the corresponding vistas and vignettes of Scotland’s wild and expansive landscape.

Keith Salmon working on the Glen Rosa drawing

Keith Salmon working on the Glen Rosa drawing

After the successful conclusion of the Glen Rosa installation, the narrative moves onto Keith’s early forays into audio field recording. These initial experiments are featured alongside Keith’s compelling commentary about his own struggles with sight, identity and how to be a successful working artist. Not content as being simply categorized as “the Blind Artist” Keith talks candidly in this chapter about those key issues of creative and commercial viability that all artists must face.

As a result of Keith’s work with documentary filmmaker Daniel Thornton and sound engineer Graham Byron, Keith’s audio explorations begin to take shape and a chance encounter with a researcher at the Microsoft corporation in Seattle between Thornton and computer engineering researcher Neel Joshi leads Keith onto his next creative challenge and the film narrative into its’ next chapter.

Through chance, resourcefulness and hard work, Keith’s creative talents are put to the test with a high-profile commission to produce another large-scale art installation incorporating sound and interactivity with drawing and painting. Alongside a team of co-artists, engineers and researchers, Keith is thrust into the spotlight with a very ambitious work of creative technology called the “Oregon Project” (2016). The aim of the project is to incorporate sound and vision into a work that pushes the boundaries of conventional gallery-based art into truly accessible experiences for fully sighted and visually impaired patrons alike.

The film now takes the viewer on a whirlwind journey through the magnificent Oregon backcountry watching Keith and his team collect sounds and images for this groundbreaking work. While Keith, Thornton and Groves explore the prairies, mountains and canyons of the wild Oregon backcountry, the engineering team is hard at work back at Microsoft Research laboratories in Redmond Washington piecing together the technology driving this ambitious work. Through, trial, error, tenacity and transatlantic collaboration, the team debuts The Oregon Project at the 9e2 Art and Technology Exhibition in Seattle in October 2016.

Keith and Anita in Oregon

Keith and Anita in Oregon

After the Oregon Project’s debut in Seattle, the Edinburgh College of Art invites the team to install the piece as an anchor for a retrospective of Keith’s work in Edinburgh in April of 2017. The film now focus’s on the challenges the team faces in moving and resetting the intricate piece in time for the show’s opening. Under time and technical pressures, the team has to figure out how this will work in a new and different place with new and untested supporting technology.

We conclude the film with a walk back into Glen Rosa where the story began. Here its revealed that Keith’s sight has so deteriorated that he can’t complete the journey and the group has to turn back before reaching the head of the glen. It’s a stark reminder of the fragility of sight and the passage of time.

The film ends on a hopeful note with a postscript of  Keith determined to continue on as a working artist. He will continue to open his studio to the public, paint what he can, record sound and look to the future.

The Oregon Project team

The Oregon Project team

Film creative scope and commercial potential

The creative potential of the documentary’s theme is borne out in a proliferation of celebrated cinematic accounts of blind or visually impaired artists — R.J. Parish’s The Blind Artist (2013), Ray Hu’s Blind Painter (2012); and Raúl Ruiz’s A Closed Book (2012) – and a rich history of critically acclaimed literary accounts of artists who have lost their sight – James Thurber’s My Life and Hard Times (1933); Andrew Potok’s Ordinary Daylight: Portrait of an Artist Going Blind (1980, 2003); Lisa Fittipaldi’s A Brush with Darkness (2010). Although Keith’s story shares elements in common with these existing accounts, our treatment of his creative output, the landscapes which inspire him, and his reflection on his evolving practices, combine to yield a stylistically unprecedented film that is aesthetically akin to a “living painting”.

Along with extensive interviews with Keith Salmon the film also features interviews with noted Scottish painter John Lowrie Morrison, Gallery on the Corner (Edinburgh) curators Suzie Anderson and Paul Penrice, Sculptor Anita Groves, noted visually impaired Scottish outdoor adventurer Norma Davidson and Dr. Andrew Blaikie lead for Children’s eye services in NHS Fife and co-lead of the National Managed Clinical Network for children with visual impairment.

Viability in the current market for film and television

We believe that Glen Rosa has a strong affinity with arts-based broadcast initiatives on platforms such as BBC Scotland, BBC National, Channel Four and on PBS in the United States. We have a letter of interest for broadcast from the PBS ReelNW film series and are actively looking for broadcast partners in the UK and Europe. As a first–hand account of the daily life of a contemporary artist, the theme of our film is not dissimilar to that of BBC Four’s series “What Do Artists Do All Day”. However, we believe that by capturing the intense personal drama of a visual artist who is visually impaired accepting the challenge of publically completing an ambitious mural and groundbreaking interactive audiovisual installation we can also place this narrative within a wider celebration of the Scottish landscape from Keith’s distinctive perspective. This ensures that we have several compelling story angles for several overlapping audiences:

  • Art lovers and patrons,
  • People who are attracted to artistic depictions of wild landscapes,
  • Hill–walkers and naturalists,
  • Reality television audiences,
  • People with an affinity for Scotland, The American West and their corresponding landscapes.

Anticipated benefits and outcomes for Scottish based talent

While the film concentrates on the talents of one of Scotland’s premiere landscape painters, it is being co-written written by Scotland-based producer David Feeney (Edinburgh) and edited by Scottish-based editor Anthea Harvey. The music will be written by long-time Ayrshire musician and Trashcan Sinatras co-founder Paul Livingstone with additional music by the Trashcan Sinatras. The production shooting and sound are contracted out to Scottish talent in camera, sound and production assisting.

In his work with Visual Impairment Scotland, the film’s Co–producer, David Feeney, has worked with 46 artists with visual impairments across Scotland. It is anticipated that a celebratory documentation of Keith’s achievements as an artist will prove inspirational for these artists, and artists with sensory impairments and other disabilities in Scotland and beyond.

Project ambitions

Our aim is to have the film nationally broadcast in both the UK and the United States. We will also pursue world-wide broadcast distribution.

Development and funding

We will secure funding through a coalition of resources including: private investment, public financing schemes (like Creative Scotland), broadcast commissioning and crowd-funding (if necessary).

Project team bios

Daniel Thornton (Producer/Director) is an Emmy nominated Producer/Director with over twenty years experience producing content for theatrical, online and broadcast markets. For many years he worked on specialty cable (United States) productions for Discovery Communications (Animal Planet, The Learning Channel), MTV and Network Sports coverage. Since the early 2000s he has also been an educator in college-level communications studies. As such he has experience producing and studying shifts in media distribution trends during the internet revolution. He holds a Masters degree from the University of Washington in Digital Media studies and a Masters degree from the University of Edinburgh in Film Exhibition and Curation.

Director Dan Thornton with Keith Salmon in Oregon

Director Dan Thornton with Keith Salmon in Oregon

Ally Kay McDonald (Producer) is a producer, director and editor with over 10 years’ experience in broadcast media and online content. She has worked in the role of producer on high rating programmes such as The Voice (Australia) and top property series such as, ‘Location, Location, Location’ and the new renovation series ‘Love It or List It’ for Channel 4. She also has a strong understanding of the post production process, having edit produced on many of the programmes she has worked on as a self shooting producer/director and she is a confident avid editor herself, being able to rough cut and provide paper edits for the edit. Ally Kay is currently producing feature content for the One Show (BBC 1).

David Feeney PhD (Writer/Producer) is a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Toward an Aesthetics of Blindness: An Interdisciplinary Response to Synge, Yeats and Friel and a noted researcher in the fields of Aesthetics, Cuture, Gallery Access and Visual Impairment. For many years he also worked as Manager and Senior Research Fellow with Visual Impairment Scotland (VIS), a national support organization for people with visual impairment, based within the Scottish Sensory Centre. In his work with VIS, Dr. Feeney worked closely with access teams in galleries across Scotland to improve the accessibility of their resources in order to enhance the engagement levels of visitors with visual impairment.

Anthea Harvey is a Freelance film editor and filmmaker specialising in documentary storytelling. With a Masters in Film & TV Production from Bristol University, she started her film career on independent feature and long-form docs, TV programmes including for BBC , NHU, ITV and Sky. Since returning to Scotland, Anthea has cut a range of independent documentary films and TV programmes for STV, BBC4, BBC Alba and international Directors, and worked on several projects with the Scottish Documentary Institute

Anthea’s career has taken her from Tokyo to Tunisia and her work has been seen at festivals from Palm Springs to IDFA, she is currently a visiting tutor on the ECA MA Film Directing course.

RTS Craft Award nominee for Berkeley, An English Country Estate; BAFTA Scotland nominee: My New Hair (Dir Ruth Carslaw) BAFTA Scotland nominee: Plastic Man (Dir Yulia Kovanova/ Prod Tracey Fearnehough.

Here is the basic project pitch and the story behind the collaborators

Keith Salmon is one of Scotland’s best–loved landscape painters. Known for his bold and abstract depictions of the munros, glens and corbetts that define rural Scotland, Keith’s work hangs in galleries all over the world.

Keith Salmon is also blind.

After building up a successful career as a sculptor, Keith was stricken with diabetic retinopathy. Able to save some blurred vision in one of his eyes, Keith endeavored to keep creating while he had any sight left. Believing that he might quickly loose what was left of his vision, Keith began earnestly walking the Scottish landscape with his partner ceramic artist Anita Groves. Keith also turned away from sculpture in order to create work faster. Quickly Keith took to the palette and the easel to capture the world he saw during these walks. Despite the emergence of cataracts, Keith is still painting today. Through the support of galleries all over Scotland and with a 2009 Jolomo award Keith has garnered both critical and popular acclaim.

While Keith’s visual impairment creates some challenges, he uses that impairment as a jumping off point for his work. According to Keith,

 “My paintings are more about the atmosphere, because I don’t really see much detail when I’m out. The work has developed out of necessity. I had to find ways to create pictures, to do the kind of things I want to do without having the sight to do it. I have developed ways of painting with big brushes and scribbling into the paint with pastels, building up layers and layers then using a blunt blade to scrape the surface back in places; ways to create fine marks without having the sight to do fine, accurate painting”.

 Alibi Pictures producer Dan Thornton met Keith through UK based co-producer David Feeney in 2013 at an opening of one of his shows at the Gallery on the Corner in Edinburgh. Feeney and Thornton subsequently worked with Keith and Anita Groves to produce a short film about Keith’s wandering and painting for the 2013 Fragile? Symposium in Talinn Estonia. With a very positive reception of the film, Feeney and Thornton approached Keith and Anita about making a broadcast length film about Keith and they agreed.