The Islands and the Whales

Documentary time! And off we go to the Faroe isles to watch them hunt and eat. This is not one for the squeamish. Birds and whales are stabbed, sliced and torn apart left right and centre by the islanders as they hunt. It’s pretty gruesome in places but it’s not out of cruelty – this is how they get their food. They’re pretty frank about how little grows on the island.

Unfortunately, it’s not just accusations of animal cruelty they have to fend off. It turns out that their choice meat, Pilot Whale, is so high up the food chain that the pollutants of the sea are concentrated in them, leading to dangerously high levels of mercury. It’s a threat that’s causing them to ask serious questions over their identity and traditions. The film sensibly doesn’t really take sides but just listens to the opinions of the islanders. So we hear from the Doctor who’s pushing hardest against whale meat consumption – he makes it clear that he realises how at odds with their tradition it is, but that his conscience won’t let him stay silent – and from the fisherman, with high levels of mercury in his blood, who happily munches whale meat and eats it with his children. Whilst it’s hard not to side with the scientist, both sides are portrayed sensitively and fairly – you really can understand why they’re so resistant to being told that a central part of their food culture should be abandoned.

The only people who really come off poorly in this are the Sea Shepherd crew who arrive to protest the Whale hunt. Having arrived to tell the islanders not to hunt whales they’re well prepared for whizzing about in their snazzy boat but woefully underprepared for the important part of actually convincing people: at a painful press conference they buckle under the islanders questions (“What should we eat instead” “Ideally vegetables” “…Er… Not much grows here. What should we eat?” “…”)

It’s a fascinating view into the islands. An absolute treat of a documentary.

Drinks
Pressure Drop Syd Strong, this is quite a find! One of the best of the festival so far – a rye IPA with a massive punch. Highly recommended.

Arctic Superstar

Music documentaries have always been one of LIFF’s strong points, so I was looking forward to Arctic Superstar a lot. The story of Sly Craze, Norway’s first (and only?) professional Sami rapper, is told over 90 minutes or so and is never less than enthralling. And so, so cute. Although I don’t imagine he’d thank me for saying that.

Sly lives at home in Masi with his mother. His hometown is only 250 people. His band mates work at the local convenience store (“I can’t go on tour. I have a job. Here in Masi”). And this is only the beginning: signed to Oslo based Pug Life records, Sly is off on tour. It’s heart-wrenchingly sad to see him playing a school hall to a crowd of about 5 people (“It was a good gig, but a shame that only a few people came… And they were all on the guestlist”). But Arctic Superstar isn’t taking the piss. If it was, it’d be a nasty, exploitative little piece but it’s far from it. Instead, this is a sensitive telling of their stories. Sly is frank about the difficulties of rapping in a language that basically no-one else understands. It’s laudable that its a goal he clings to and there’s no doubt at all that his heart is in it. He might talk about chasing the money of fame and success but this is far from the easiest route to it. He raps because he loves it, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Drink
Er… I think it was the Northern Monk Strannik Export Stout. Too much, really. At 10% this is one that tasted more of alcohol than of beer…

A Divorce Before Marriage

One of my favourite strands of the Leeds International Film Festival is its focus on music documentaries. For the most part over the years they’ve given me the chance to get to know bands or movements I really didn’t know very well before – A Tribe Called Quest, Morphine and Stone’s Throw Records are all memorable discoveries. This year I was excited to see that one of the biggest music features is about a band I already know and love.

I’ve been listening to I LIKE TRAINS, (or iLiKETRAiNS as they were then) since the NME, reeling in the wake of Forward, Russia and the er.. Kaiser Chiefs, declared that everything Yorkshire was cool. At that point (2006ish?) I hadn’t decided to go to Leeds for uni, much less make the city my home. I don’t think it’d be untrue to admit that the Dance to the Radio compilation of new Yorkshire bands had a hand in choosing my university. A decade later, it’s not a choice I regret at all.

The chance to see a film about them was obviously pretty exciting. A Divorce Before Marriage focuses on the band in 2012, on the brink of releasing their third (and still most recent) album The Shallows. It homes in on the dirty secret of many a rock and roll band: making enough money off your music to live off is really, really hard. It’s terribly sad to puncture the sexy rock ‘n’ roll dream and admit that… these people have real jobs too. They work in offices. In Leeds. You’ve probably queued next to them on your lunch break. They’re… normal people. Just like you and me.

The film is fascinating and candid. We see good gigs. And we see some bad ones. Again, this is terribly humanizing. It’s so rare to see behind the music industry veneer into the eyes of the people playing the gig. And to see them be disappointed.

Similarly, we delve into their daily lives and see how the attractions of a steady salary and the duties of paternity all conflict with the recording process, the touring process and just generally being in the band. If anything, the obvious criticism is that the directors are perhaps a little too heavy handed. They had a narrative to weave (“being in a band doesn’t necessarily pay the bills”) and years of footage to use and have worked hard to get their message across. But perhaps it’s just a little too crushing. By the end, I was a it tired of being reminded of the hardships – yeah, I get it, it’s tough – and hadn’t seen enough of the fun. In the Q&A after the screening, singer David Martin did add that “being in a band wasn’t quite as bad as the film made out.”

The directing duo are young – I think this is their fist feature length documentary – and maybe didn’t get the balance or tone absolutely spot on with this one but it was a fascinating and enjoyable watch, and told a story too often ignored. I’m definitely interested to see what they do next.

I LIKE TRAINS are on at the Brudenell Social Club in a week. Tickets available from Jumbo and others.

Drinks
Working my way through the Five Points range, this time I went for their IPA. Very nice.