Episode of the Sea
The result of a two-year collaboration with the fishing community of Urk, a former island in the Netherlands. In the previous century, the Dutch closed off and drained their inland sea to reclaim new farmland. The island of Urk, situated in the middle of the sea, suddenly found itself embraced by land. Its inhabitants were expected to switch from fishing to farming, but the fishermen managed to continue their trade. They found new fishing grounds, far out in the North Sea.
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★★★½ review by Reuben on Letterboxd
enjoyed significantly more than i thought i'd have enjoyed a fishing documentary... this mubi thing really isn't half bad
★★★½ review by Felix Hubble on Letterboxd
About a million times better than I thought it would be. Rumination on the death of old practice and the loss of history. Solid.
★★★½ review by Miguel De Moya on Letterboxd
This was interesting...
★★★★ review by Michael Hewis on Letterboxd
Around the World in Cinema 2018 - Netherlands
It immediately sets up the documentary, whilst part of the exposition text later in the film, that the documentarians and the the fishing community of Urk, a former island in the Netherlands, eventually bonded when they both saw parallels of being pariahs, the documentarians finding themselves on a commission no longer existing mid-way through, the community of Urk, a deeply Christian and independent island who managed over generations to still survive and fish, having had to claim their individuality through history constantly. More so, as the film tells in just over an hour, because the citizens of Urk into the modern day also have to deal with EU fishing regulations and the increasingly globalizing world.
They used, as the film tells us, to buy fishing ships from other countries and posed as them to get past restrictive quotas, but in the current day a lot has changed. We the viewer see them bring in new technology for their ships alongside their welcoming arms embracing migrant workers who work side-by-side with them. They've also had to ask individually, per each fisherman, whether they should continue with their families' traditions or not, as Urk's heritage in fishing contrasts a world where even, years later, French and British fishing trawlers infamously got into an actual fight in 2018 which ships actually barging into each other over a "scallop war", details which colour an outside world barely talked of here in Episode of the Sea but haunt Urk from beyond the screen as a tiny island in the midst of a larger fishing environment.
For the structure of this film, inter cutting chapters with tableaus of exposition text, like the narration of a novel, is a really effective method which also gives the film a greater sense of pride in its presentation as a documentary, each text against a beautiful back ground image having a sense of weight as well as elaborating more of the story, one which was as much the film makers meeting the population of Urk as was the subject of the material itself. They deliberately, as explained, dragged an obsolete camera from the eighties to shot the film in celluloid, all in spite of knowing the struggle of using it when a documentary like Leviathan had incredible freedom in digital cameras, probably realizing as even the creators of Leviathan would learn how hellish the experience of being in the middle of the ocean on a fishing boat would be as the water below and weather above battered them mid-shooting. But it was worth the effort for the incredible monochrome and textured cinematography, a godsend to the film to match the thoughtful content like moving photographs.
The other influence on the film, said to be much due to the islanders' religious beliefs, is that certain people weren't comfortable being on screen so stand-ins were used. This isn't an issue for myself as, not only the film have the decency to explain why this has happened, the carefully put together scenes of actors standing in spot are an example where an artificial construction still contains truths in the dialogue - the stand-ins still lament the real concerns of the real figures, of their livelihoods being constantly under threat or even little sarcastic remarks like that, despite being a pricier luxury item, prawns are a dime-a-dozen in their work to fish. These scenes make a good argument of when artificiality can be ethical for an ethnographic work when its a clear compromise between the documenter and the documented that still allows the source voices to speak in some way.
★★★½ review by Kevin Matthews on Letterboxd
A fascinating look at a fishing community, how much has stayed the same and how much has changed over the years, this is a stark, but somehow also visually gorgeous, and absorbing, elegiac tribute to the hard-working people of Urk.
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