Friday night Vi-EWE-ing
Few wool lovers can have missed the online buzz surrounding the release of the recently completed film, Addicted to Sheep. We wrote about the film last WOVEMBER when Magali was still crowd-funding for its production and this evening we are thrilled to share a special review now that the film is out. Our review comes from Lydia Hill of Shearer Girl Yarns whom you may remember from her fantastic posts in earlier years about shearing sheep and presenting fleeces to hand spinners.
Addicted to Sheep
Addicted to Sheep is an independent documentary made by Magali Pettier Director/Producer, Jan Cawood, Co-producer and Matt Dennis, Editor. The film follows the Hutchinson family through a year on their hill farm in the North Pennines. Filmed over eighteen months, the documentary gives insight into the day to day life of tenant farmers on the Raby Estate, Tom and Kay Hutchinson. The film was partly self-funded by Pettier. A crowd-funding campaign, which involved donations from over 180 people around the world, assisted with the post-production costs.
The main strength of Addicted to Sheep is the family, and to some extent the wider community, are left to tell their own story in their own words. There is no narrator. Of course this is an edited version of life but it feels real. Even the title of the film comes from Tom’s words. He describes his pursuit of the perfect Swaledale as ‘a nasty addiction’ and ‘the worst affliction known to man’.
Beautifully shot scenes capture moments in the farm day: steaming cattle breath, dust motes floating at bedding up, sunlight on a cow’s long lashes. Mundane details slow the pace, giving the film a reflective feel: the children carefully tie up gates with bailer twine, struggle with heavy barn doors and find a way to operate an out of reach light switch. In this film there is ‘time to stand and stare’*.
There is little background music to manipulate the viewer’s emotions. The music there is unobtrusively reflects the environment, carrying the sounds of the wind and rain. The viewer hears what the family hear: the rustle of waterproof trousers, the music of the dog whistle, the rattle of the spray can at scanning time. This is the soundtrack of a farmer’s life.
Farm life is interspersed with scenes from the village school reminiscent of Gervase Phinn’s memoirs. There is a powerful mixture of humour and pathos. A child complains about the price of diesel. A little boy describes going out in the morning to find his pet calf ‘laid down dead’. No dramatic music or emotive voice-over is required, the children’s eloquence needs no supplementation.
Farming life is not romanticised or sanitised, there is a gruesome lambing and the animals are handled without sentiment. Some viewers may struggle with the unflinching portrayal. The film makes no judgements, these scenes are neither edited out nor dramatised. Pettier simply shares what she witnesses.
The film touches on current issues such as rewilding. Tom jokes about taking his sheep to be eaten by wolves as he returns them to the hill. Tom and Kay describe the dilemma of the tenant farmer, free to farm as they see fit for the most part, yet not owning the land they live on and facing an uncertain future. The issues are not fully explored, however the film does contribute to these wider debates.
Viewers who don’t know their yows from their tups may find some parts confusing, a narrator could translate and explain, expand the issues touched on, but then we would be receiving the message secondhand. The power of this film is the lack of an intermediary; we hear direct from the people themselves; no one tells us how to interpret what we witness. By remaining independent Magali Pettier has preserved the integrity of her film,’ Addicted to Sheep’.
Davies, W.H. – Collected Poems of W.H. Davies, London: Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1940.
Phinn, Gervase – Over Hill and Dale, London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2001.
*W.H. Davies, ‘Leisure’ in Collected Poems of W.H. Davies, London: Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1940, p.140
Many thanks to Lydia for reviewing this film for WOVEMBER!