Cat no. 178

Drifters

Running time1:00:40 Silent 1929 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Loading the player ...

The North Sea herring fisheries, filmed at Lerwick, in the Shetlands, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth and in the North Sea.

Genre:

DocumentaryIndustrial / Sponsored Film

The exodus of the fishermen from Hamna Voe, Lerwick. Shots of the low white-washed cottages and of the men marching across the grass, through a few black sheep, carrying brown paper parcels. There are shots of the sea and of the gulls feeding on the water, a recurring theme.

The East Anglian coast. Shots of Yarmouth and Lowestoft are combined to give an impression of a fishing port. Drifters moor alongside the quay at Yarmouth, several deep. One drifter, `The Maid of Thule', is preparing to leave. Shots on board of the men preparing the nets. The captain, an elderly men with grey hair and whiskers, smoking a pipe, gazes out of the wheelhouse. Coal is loaded aboard the drifter and the engine crew prepare the engine ready to depart. Mixes are used in the sequence to superimpose shots of the engine room with shots of the sea. As the boat leaves Lowestoft harbour, there are shots of the quay and of other drifters. The harbour entrance is filmed and then the drifter is out to sea. There are shots back to shore and shots showing the sea breaking on rocks, the engine room and of other drifters. The log line shows the miles passing as the drifter goes further out to sea.

Shots of herring swimming in water as the nets are cast when the drifter is forty miles out. This is a lengthy sequence as there are two miles of nets. These shots are intercut with domestic scenes from the living quarters of men preparing food. One of them is smoking a pipe. Two lengthy sequences feature a young boy working aboard the drifter. The mizzen sail is adjusted before the men eat. There are green-tinted night shots of the nets out at sea. These are mixed with scenes of dogfish, conger and herring swimming in the nets, and of the men asleep in their bunks. There are blue-tinted shots across the sea at dawn and of other drifters. The men wake and dress, pulling on water proofs, prepared for another day's work.

A montage of shots of the men on deck, interior cabin views, the engines at work and the winch pulling in the nets. The men pull the nets over the side of the ship, shaking out the fish. The weather is bad and deteriorates whilst they work. In all, it takes eight hours to pull in the two miles of nets. Shots taken during the storm show water coming up onto the deck and convey the power of the sea through their shaky nature. A porpoise is filmed coming up close to the boat. There are shots from the engine room as the men continue to pull the nets aboard. The catch nets one hundred and fifty crans of herring - a thousand herring to the cran. The fish are stored in the hold. The drifter builds up full steam to head for the harbour to catch the earliest possible market. The engineer prepares the engines. The sequence that follows intercuts shots of the engines at work, with shots of the men on deck and the sea pounding. Shots across the sea show a line of drifters steaming in the same direction. There are shots of the men below. In the engine room the fireman opens the boiler and takes out a shovel of burning coal which he uses to light his cigarette before returning it and closing the boiler.

The quayside at Yarmouth, a hive of activity and anticipation as the port waits for the drifters to return. There are carts loaded with swills, ready for the incoming catch. Lorries are full of coal, ready to load onto the drifters for the next sailing. Fisher girls wander across the quay. The auctioneer wanders along the quayside ringing his bell, calling the buyers to the sail. The drifters at sea enter Lowestoft harbour mouth and steam up the river. There is a coal tug amongst the drifters. Their registration numbers reveal that some are Lowestoft boats, but most come from Scottish ports, Fraserburgh, Banff, Peterhead and Inverness, as well as Lerwick. The men leave the hold and raise the mast. The approach to the quay is filmed from the drifter. At the quayside where the drifter moors, boats are moored several deep. Shots of the boat at sea are superimposed over shots of the buyers meandering to the auction, which is filmed at Yarmouth. The catch is unloaded by a rope and pulley system that moves the crans to the quay. There are shots of the auction. Some of the herring are boxed whole, packed in salt. Others are gutted by the fisher girls. As the barrels roll away to be loaded onto cargo ships, the scenes are mixed with further shots of the sea. The catch is loaded onto the ships and also onto trains. Concludes with the ironical shots of the herring being taken by steam train over the Forth Bridge and back to Scotland - where the trawlers and their men originated.

Notes:

Not merely the drifters but the whole industry came down from Scotland during the herring fishing season - between October and December. The fisher girls came down by train. In this film there is a cart featured on the quay, on the side it reads James Sutherland, Carter, Peterhead. Grierson had early aspirations as a journalist. He joined the staff of the Empire Marketing Board in 1927. The Empire Marketing Board worked to promote the marketing and products of the British Empire and encouraged research and development. The decision to make the herring drifters the subject of a film was that of the Secretary of the Empire Marketing Board, Stephen Tallents. The film was formally commissioned in 1928. The village used in the production was Hamna Voe in Shetland. The bird scenes were shot at Noss Head, Lerwick. The ship's interiors were re-created in the fishing market at Lerwick. The crew of the Maid of Thule, the first drifter commissioned by Grierson, re-enacted their lives below deck, even swearing at the cook. Grierson found that he couldn't get film of a decent catch off Shetland. He initially decided to try to stage a catch, buying up herring and placing them in the nets. These scenes had to be discarded. He moved to Lowestoft and commissioned the Renovelle. They went to sea in a gale to achieve the dramatic shots that Grierson wanted. Most of the trawlers had taken to harbour. Grierson wrote of this episode; `By a crazy piece of luck, a whale .. came alongside ... and took its share of the catch'. The underwater scenes were shot in tanks (scratches on the glass are visible in some shots) at the Plymouth Marine Biological Research Centre. The 'herring' were roach; herring do not survive out of the sea. The dogfish and conger eels filmed with them were young, to retain the perspective. Shooting was over by the end of November, 1928. New Era Productions developed the negatives and printed the 'rushes.' In the summer of 1929 the film was shown to the Empire Marketing Board's film committee. They didn't like the film montage effect; they had been expecting a straight documentary and were not prepared to settle for anything else. Grierson re-cut the film for the Empire Marketing Board and then sent his own cut to Olympic Kine Laboratories independently. This film was show to the London Film Society on November 10th, 1929 alongside the film which had inspired its montage effect, `Battleship Potemkin'. The film that Grierson re-cut for the Empire Marketing Board was called `Our Herring Industry'. The Archive has a copy of this film.The film was greeted by the `Spectator' as the best British film which has ever been made. (See John Grierson,` A Documentary Biography' by Forsyth Hardy. Faber and Faber, 1979). `Drifters' marked the beginning of the documentary movement in this country. The film was made for the Empire Marketing Board, and the success of the film led to Grierson setting up the Empire Marketing Film Unit. (See Ernest Lindgren, `The Cinema'. Vista Books, 1960). Grierson described `Drifters' as more a myth than a film. (See J. Grierson `On documentary'. Collins, 1946.)

Featured Buildings:

The Forth Bridge

John Grierson

Basil Emmott

John Grierson

Terms and conditions

The Terms and Conditions apply to the website www.eafa.org.uk (the Website) and by accessing the website you are agreeing to abide by them.

 We may modify the terms and conditions or withdraw or deny access to the Website at any time at our sole discretion.

In your use of the Website you agree not to, at any time:

  1. Conduct or promote any illegal activities
  2. Attempt to reverse engineer or jeopardize in any way the correct functioning of the Website and its services or otherwise attempt to derive the source code or other code or software that enables the operation of this website.
  3. Use any automatic, electronic or manual process not provided by this website to access search or harvest any information from the website or to interfere in any way with its proper functioning.
  4. Mirror or frame the website or any portion thereof, place pop-up windows over its pages or otherwise affect the display of its pages.

Every effort has been made to exclude or flag content that may be upsetting or cause offence and not to include films that are unsuitable, however the East Anglian Film Archive bears no responsibility for people under the age of 18 viewing the Website or for any offence that may be caused by people viewing the Website. If you feel that some items could cause offence please contact us in the first instance. If you would like to have access to any of the films available for purposes not permitted by these Terms and Conditions, including any commercial venture, then please contact us.

Copyright

The content of the Website including but not limited to the text are Copyright © 2011 The East Anglian Film Archive of the University of East Anglia.

The copyright in the original film materials and the digital reproductions of all still and moving images herein and their arrangements in many cases may be owned by a number of parties. Any requests for copyright clearance for use of the material should be directed to the East Anglian Film Archive in the first instance. It is the requester’s responsibility to obtain such necessary clearance and the East Anglian Film Archive will not be held responsible for any failure on the requester’s part to do so.

The contents on the Website may be accessed as view only and purely for non commercial personal, educational and cultural interest. Under no circumstances shall any content be downloaded, transferred, copied or re-produced in whole or in part in any manner or in or on any media without the prior written consent of The East Anglian Film Archive.

The East Anglian Film Archive would like to thank those who allowed copyright permission for the use and display of works that appear on this site.

Disclaimer

The East Anglian Film Archive has made every reasonable effort to locate, contact and acknowledge copyright owners. There are a small number of cases where, despite our efforts, the copyright owner has not been identified. In these cases, we welcome contact from copyright owners and will take immediate action to gain any appropriate clearances or remove the items if requested.

We do not guarantee that the Website will be compatible with any and all hardware or software which you may use nor that the Website will be available all of the time or at any specific times.

The East Anglian Film Archive makes no warranty that the Website is free from computer viruses or any other malicious or impairing computer program.

The Website contains links to other websites with their own terms and conditions. The East Anglian Film Archive is not responsible for the terms and conditions of these websites.

Accuracy

The East Anglian Film Archive is committed to a high standard of quality in all its work and with this in mind every attempt has been made to present up to date and accurate information on this website. However, visitors need to bear in mind that it is possible that information contained on this website may be out of date, incomplete, the opinion of the author or the opinion  “of the time” and may contain technical inaccuracies and typographical errors. We accept no responsibility for keeping the information in these pages up to date or liability for not doing so. If you notice information that needs to be updated or corrected, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Personal data

The Website may contain some personal data such as names of film-makers, some film participants etc. We have taken all reasonable care to ensure that we operate within the provisions of data protection legislation. If you believe that any of the data on the Website causes or is likely to cause damage or distress to you or any other living person, please contact us with details.

Liability and indemnification

Any unauthorised use you make of the University of East Anglia or East Anglian Film Archive copyright and/or trademarks will constitute an infringement of the University of East Anglia’s Intellectual Property and may lead to legal action and other such remedies in accordance with the governing law.

You agree to indemnify and hold harmless the University of East Anglia and its employees, affiliates and students

Except to the extent prohibited by the governing law the University of East Anglia accepts no responsibility for any use you may make of the Website.

The University of East Anglia is only liable to you for direct losses which you may reasonably be expected to suffer where you can show that such losses were as a result of our breach of these terms and conditions. Any implied warranties and conditions are fully excluded.

Our Liability to you shall in no circumstances include any loss of profit or revenue or any other indirect losses you may incur whether foreseen or not.

Governing Law

The Laws of England and Wales shall govern and the Courts of England and Wales shall have exclusive jurisdiction over

  1. The formation, existence, construction, performance, validity and all other aspects of these terms and conditions whatsoever
  2. Any and all claims made by you or us for any and all breaches acts omissions, misuses, liability and copyright claims as set out in these terms and conditions.

The East Anglian Film Archive is owned and operated by the University of East Anglia

© 2011 The East Anglian Film Archive of the University of East Anglia.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED