Iorram (Boat Song) review – swims with the ghosts of Scottish fishermen past | Film

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Here is a gentle and ruminative, if slightly placid, documentary from director Alastair Cole, about the fishermen of the Western Isles and their way of life catching herring, eels and lobsters. Despite technological advances (and presumably Brexit – though it isn’t mentioned) this world has remained essentially unchanged for a century or more. One shot shows a man unselfconsciously smoking a cigarette as the catch is sifted through, quite as he might have done in 1921.

What is notable about this film is that the only spoken language we hear is Scottish Gaelic. What this means, in practice, is that the scenes of the modern fishing industry and the fishing way of life are shown with a soundtrack of audio interviews (in Scottish Gaelic) with fishermen talking about their working lives, dating evidently from the 1940s or 1950s, though the film does not make the provenance of these tapes clear. The effect is to show a particular sort of modernity with the ghosts and the echoes of the past not so very far from the surface.

Watching the film, I did wonder if the people we were seeing on screen were actually English speakers – but no, Scottish Gaelic is what they speak as well. That being the case, I would have very much liked to hear from them, speaking directly, about their world. It might have brought this film to life a bit more. And as for the archive audio material, I would have preferred to see historical footage and photography to go with that, although some relevant still images were produced for the closing credits. It’s a sensitive and respectful portrait.

Iorram (Boat Song) is released on 5 March on digital platforms.

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Source: The Guardian
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