Of Fish and Foe

 

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Andy Heathcote's native Scotland features in his second full-length documentary.

 
Of Fish and Foe
 

Back in 2013 Andy Heathcote, working in conjunction with Heike Bachelier, gave us one of the best documentaries of that year, The Moo Man. That first feature, a study of a dairy farm in Sussex, gained from a very special rapport between the farm family and the filmmakers and it also revealed a poetic aspect rare in documentaries (Heathcote himself was the photographer). Despite the exceptional qualities to be found in The Moo Man, Heathcote and Bachelier can still be thought of as a team waiting to be discovered, and it is only now that we have their second feature, Of Fish and Foe. Filmed in Scotland in 2015, it features the Pullar family, long established salmon netters whose traditional work attracted the attention of activists angered by the fact that the Pullars would on occasion shoot seals preying on the salmon (they had a licence to do just that). That situation had already arisen when filming started but nevertheless it could not be foreseen that a crisis point would be reached before the end of the year.

 

Of Fish and Foe was made as an objective investigation of a situation that saw the two sides increasingly hostile and with neither emerging as beyond criticism (at one point the Pullars in seeking to put down the activists fall into homophobic banter while the protestors readily believe the worst of the Pullars and show their lack of understanding when failing to realise that actions that they demanded of them could not be carried out due to the sea being too rough). The film allows everyone to have their say as the issue escalates and leads to court proceedings. As Heathcote and Bachelier doubtless realise, their refusal to come down firmly in favour of the activists will anger some (there were those who disliked Mike Day's somewhat comparable 2016 film about the Faroe Islands The Islands and the Whales which adopted a similarly open stance). I have to say that I myself have no objection whatever to an approach that puts the facts before the audience and invites the viewers to draw their own conclusions.

 

What is surely entirely uncontroversial is the quality to be found here both in Heathcote's photography and in Bachelier's editing, although the subject matter is such that there is no opportunity to match the warmth or indeed the poetry of the visuals which made The Moo Man so special. Similarly, the music by Stephen Guy Daltry is less memorable than his contribution to the earlier film, but it is no less apt being suitably discreet and never overused yet adding valuably to the atmosphere. There may be a point about two thirds of the way through when one wonders if Of Fish and Foe is going to become unnecessarily repetitive, but at that very moment it transforms into something different. The last quarter may follow on naturally from what has preceded it, but a fresh issue becomes central. What we now see carries disconcerting indications that the Pullars are being victimised by people in authority who have their own agenda and their own reasons for doing all they can to prevent the family business from continuing. Thus we have life unexpectedly bringing a new element into play and adding to the impact of this very well made film. Congratulations too for the realisation on the part of the filmmakers that subtitles would be useful since Scottish accents can be difficult for some to comprehend (I gather that the film can be seen with or without subtitles according to the choice of individual cinema owners).

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Kevin Pullar, John Pullar, Jessie Treverton, Robert Harris, Gisela Grothkast, Eddie McCarthy, Martin Stansfeld, Sean 'Beaver' Massie, Geordie Pullar, David Pullar, David Pullar Snr, Matthew Pullar.

 

Dir Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier, Pro Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier, Ph Andy Heathcote, Ed Heike Bachelier, Music Stephen Guy Daltry.

 

Trufflepig Films/Creative Scotland/BBC Scotland/The Salmon Film Limited-Off The Hook.
92 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 26 July 2019. Cert. 12A.