Bridging the Gap – in progress: Polaris

Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 4

For a long time, skippers in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire could not find locals to work on their fishing vessels. That was the reality until Filipino fishermen started coming to town. Now they crew most of the boats, but they have to deal with the vast sea and the enormous distance that separate them from their families. 

First entry: 26th of March

It's a bit hard to write here, with all this movement and my life jacket on (I do actually have it on) but I'll try...

First thing: we're alive, and still on board the Polaris… We left the North Sea, and we're spending most of the time in the Atlantic, some 100 miles west of Shetland... The weather was amazing the first day and we managed to film alright... But unfortunately, seasickness has started to hit the film crew...
[rise of tension; music] It's been a bit tough, not knowing whether we would manage to shoot this film or not, feeling every wave in your stomach; but the ocean brought us good news today...

[music ends; sound of rice boiling in a pot] When I woke up in what was seemingly morning, Julian was having rice in the galley... He smiled and I noticed straight away that he had a much better face… The sea and the weather have been very nice today and we have been able to film for the whole day... It's been fantastic to be working together aboard the Polaris... We laughed, teased each other and enjoyed the scenery… It was like a director/DoP honeymoon... Really unusual… The swell seems like it may be gentle tomorrow, too, so hopefully we'll manage to film some more stuff...

polaris_film_crew.jpg

Julian and Chico keeping safe at the galley

Second entry: 28th of March

The Filipinos don't say a bloody word... They just sit down and eat... The same silence applies when they're working, smoking, or doing anything else... Everyone seems absorbed by the hypnotic movement of the ocean... I've tried to suggest some conversations, even though I don’t want to direct the subjects too much this time... But nothing happened… We leave the camera running and get out of the way… They just eat in silence… Sometimes for twenty minutes or even for a whole hour... I find this pretty amazing... I'm quite tempted to make a twenty-minute single shot film of three Filipinos eating in silence and send it to Cannes... It’s my long-awaited opportunity for festival success...

I am not too worried about this silence, rather amazed, but this is a "found" direction rather than something that I had planned to go for, so I feel a bit disorientated... Maybe that feeling is the essence of documentaries; or maybe my disorientation comes from the boat’s constant rocking movement... How to make the characters knowable for the audience, and how to show their humanness under this spell of silence, that is what I'm trying to think about... Rather than films about fishing I should have watched films about monks and nuns living in silence... Damn!

polaris_silence.jpg

The spell of silence

Third entry: 29th of March

I have to say that the Polaris is such a character... I remember writing about her brain (the wheelhouse), her heart (the engine), and so on; but she also has eyes, mouth, stomach, arms, and even a breathing noise... Rather than Noah's Arch, Polaris is more like the whale that swallowed Jonah (or a bunch of Filipinos) and kept them silent for ten days... It's difficult for me to know what day or time it is, since sleeping here is something that you do for three hours here and there... there's no stop, unless seasickness hits you... But the most difficult thing to foresee is how this film is going to come across... But let's say that we're moving more and more towards the creative documentary: waves, waves, waves…

Fourth entry: 31st of March

We've been able to film quite a lot for the last three days... Julian got up, faced the ocean (and the fridge) and even got a bit too adventurous.... What a great man he is! Today the weather is not good and we're jumping up and down on the ocean... I couldn't sleep at all, since my bed is only the sofa in the galley, which is just as wide as my body... I fell to the floor three times last night...

The Filipinos also seem to have opened up a bit up and sometimes they even take directions... We've managed to prompt some situations where the Scottish skipper and the Filiipinos share a table or speak a bit, but it's nothing we're going to get an Oscar for...

Fifth entry: 1st of April

Today I’ve been fooled! The captain told me that Rosie, our producer, had phoned… Channel 5 has somehow found out that we’re on the boat and they want to talk to us… They might be interested in buying our footage… Channel 5? I tried to contact Rosie a couple of times before Julian told me that it was April Fool’s Day… The captain had a nice laugh on me…

Sixth entry: 2nd of April

Life on the boat repeats itself endlessly in five-hour cycles... This is such a Bressoninan world that I got caught up in filming the same actions over and over again... We prepare the camera, knowing already what will happen and it does happen, almost identically every time... We're concentrating on filming the moments before and after the fishing (which I believe are the most human/personal ones…)

Before pulling the net, they get up and walk up an down the corridor like zombies... Then they change clothes and each have their own ritual afterwards... Jeff has a cigarette facing the wall, Jerry covers himself up like an astronaut and leans his head against the white wall... Then Jeff goes up to the deck and has a two-minute nap using the spare net as a mattress... Jerry the astronaut goes up second and looks at the ocean... It's the same thing again and again, and every time we film it, it gets deeper and deeper for me... But I am not Bresson, and I'm not sure how to put this together to convey the expressive potential of these moments...

I look up once more and I love this mixture of water and sky where I am....

polaris_jeff.jpg

Jeff between sea and sky

Seventh entry: 3rd of April

We've been steaming east for eight hours now, leaving the Atlantic and coming back to the North Sea in search of cod... (I speak like an expert now...) George the skipper whose birthday is tomorrow hasn't confirmed where or when we'll be landing, but the general opinion and desire of the Filipinos, Poles, and filmmakers is that we'll be landing on Thursday morning in Peterhead... There's a real risk of mutiny if George wants to take us to Scrabster…

Eighth entry: 4rd of April

We'll stay on the boat when filming at the harbour! B&B's are for pansies...

Ninth entry: 5th of April

We've entered Peterhead harbour like a victorious army... I haven’t had a shower in 10 days, and I’m not an exception... I'm smelling of a mixture of fish and petrol… But somehow I feel cleansed…

The Filipinos stood proudly at the bow of the Polaris as we entered the harbour... We have 45,000 kilos of fish in the belly of the boat, and that’s the measure of their hard work... They can be proud of it, and I’m definitely impressed with them…

Showing 4 reactions

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  • commented 2012-05-18 20:09:19 +0100
    I await the final result with great interest, as a native of Fraserburgh, daughter of a retired fisherman and as an ex-assistant fisheries inspector (for one summer during college anyway)!
  • commented 2012-05-05 13:38:49 +0100
    Great Blog Chico. It was like a report from a Murakami novel…(!) Can’t wait to see the film… You guys going out again if you missed anything (ha ha!!)
  • commented 2012-05-05 00:20:37 +0100
    Love the picture of the filmmakers!
  • published this page in Latest Posts 2012-05-04 20:52:00 +0100

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