Above: A selection of the stills from Atlantic. The doc is currently screening at selected locations in the South West,
Jamie Goldrick caught up with Risteard O Domhnaill to talk about his new film Atlantic He explains how the roots of this project started in Rossport while filming The Pipe, his experience with crowdfunding, and the struggles of finding broadcasters for politically sensitive issues.
To finance the film, you raised a substantial amount of cash through crowdfunding, would you be in a hurry to go this route again, do you see it as a sustainable way to make films?
It is very difficult, there is a lot of time involved, and we did very well. We put a good six weeks work into it, plus preparation. For the amount we wanted to raise, the best thing to do is to go get broadcast or film fund funding.
We raised €56,000 in total. I would go back to crowdfunding, but for smaller projects. For a lot of projects that have a political or investigative slant, the options are being squeezed more and more each year. There is less and less facilitation for telling contentious stories.
The film has three distinct stories in it, you tell an incredibly complex story from just three perspectives, was there pressure just to keep the total time at 75 minutes?
This started off the back of ‘The Pipe’, that was a local intimate story of the community at the centre of the Corrib Gas controversy. I wanted to tell the bigger political story about Ireland’s oil and gas, so I started looking offshore and going out with fisherman, this opened my eyes to the parallel giveaways that were happening in Irish fishing.
For some context, I looked to Norway and Newfoundland which have similar coastal communities and the story just got bigger and bigger. It’s such a dense, huge and information heavy documentary that you can’t stretch past 75 minutes as you may lose the audience. It’s a balancing act between keeping the audience entertained and telling the story. The documentary could of been 3 hours long.
The message that Oil as an industry is fickle and damaging, whilst marine life, if managed well can be sustainable and provide means for coastal communities to survive resonates throughout the film. How do the fishermen that you dealt with view coastal forms of energy such as wind-turbines and tidal power? Can coastal renewables and responsible fishing coexist?
We didn’t really get into that, offshore wind isn’t an issue, it’s not really there yet. Fisherman do recognise the need for fossil fuels, but right now, it is at their expense. You cannot depend on oil in terms of resource and an economic driver.
You cannot depend on oil, especially for long term communities, it also has a very dangerous impact on fishing. Your fishing industry that if managed well may last forever, could be permanently damaged by looking for short term gain from the oil industry.
What is happening in the Sea, seem to be a reflection of what is happening globally today. For example, current species collapse is currently more rapid when the dinosaurs became extinct, rainforests are being felled at an extraordinary rate, the global target for reduced carbon in the atmosphere becomes less realistic everyday due to falling oil prices. Is it fair to say that capitalism is then the problem? Can a successful Green movement tackle these issues without tackling capitalism head on?
Human nature is the problem, capitalism is a manifestation of human nature, the greed of people created and facilitates, there has to be change. The problem is, and look at history, if we are waiting on people to become less corrupt, to make our lifestyles more sustainable before they have to, it just doesn’t happen, change has come about when we hit catastrophe point.
We are tweaking and rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic really, like just look at our own politicians, and their response or lack of response to climate change, it really says it all. We are a country that could benefit massively from technologies and responses to deal climate change, low population density, massive renewable resources etc. It all comes back to short term politics.
There is a non-economic value to fishing for the coastal Atlantic communities, values that are bound up in history, tradition and meaning. These values do not hold any currency for the super-trawlers and those invested in them. Can these two perspectives be reconciled?
They can be, it all goes back to having a transparent democracy, right oversight, and the right ownership. There is a justification for super-trawlers, for shoals of fish in the mid-Atlantic, or that are far offshore. If they can be fished at a sustainable rate, they should be managed.
Thousands and thousands of small boats can overfish the ocean too. Laws should benefit the people, the current laws are benefit to the very powerful and that is the problem. The share of fish that Irish fisherman can catch is scandalous, it’s somewhere around 12%.
Now remember when our economy collapsed and the rug was pulled out from under the banks, it was the Irish people who bailed them out. Laws were changed very quickly, laws were changed because it was necessary. People say that we can’t change the quota system? I don’t agree with that, I think it can be changed, as shown with the banks.
We need some type of respite on the current fishing arrangements, look at what Newfoundland did, they changed the laws. There is no agreement that can’t be renegotiated.
These companies are so powerful, it won’t be an easy struggle. The big fishing companies with their massive political clout would be at a disadvantage in a more sustainable system that benefits coastal communities. You will definitely have a winner and a loser in this, and the loser being the big companies, their lobbying power is massive, so, it’s hard to see a resolution for that reason. Rebalancing will benefit coastal communities but it will be hard, very hard to achieve.
In your opinion, what would be an ideal situation for the coastal communities of Europe? And what would be the best way to get there?
Fishing can act as a foundation of and sustain coastal communities. On the back of that you bring back families to these areas, we shouldn’t just think of it about fishing. Coastal communities don’t want a handout.
Look at Castletownbere in Co Cork, what an incredible place to live! Imagine not only fishing, but marine tech, marine biology, marine tourism operating there, these places should be booming, it’s happening in villages and towns in Norway.
In Norway, the towns are more vibrant, more small boats, it has better managed stock, it is policed better. If you are a foreign boat in Norway, you wouldn’t have one illegal fish on your boat. When you arrive in Norway, you got to report to Navy, and when you leave, your boat is checked again. Saying that they have their problems too, they are not a poster child.
Is it a struggle making films that highlight that examine ‘uncomfortable truths’ in society like ‘The Pipe’? You mentioned that you are having trouble finding a broadcaster for Atlantic. You appear to have taken on the label of ‘activist-filmmaker, do you find this term restrictive?
It is a struggle, I’m four years at this, doing something that should of taken about a year. There is a constant of trying to scrape money, going here and there basically cap in hand to different bodies looking for some kind of funding. I work separately as a cameraman, the documentaries don’t sustain me, I work and put that back into the film be it through time or money.
It’s unsustainable, I’ve got two kids and it takes over every element of your life. You try to be positive and not be whinging, I’m very privileged to be able to do this, to have people that will employ me as a cameraman, to be able to get by. There is definitely not enough support for these kinds of documentaries, the same way there is not enough support for investigative journalism.
There is simply not enough support for supporting stories that are uncomfortable to the mainstream or the establishment.
Uncomfortable stories, for government bodies or broadcasters can create a lot of hassle and work. I think in a time when territorial broadcasters are losing ground to digital and online, there is a need to take some risks, they can’t just fall back on the old dependables.
There are filmmakers all over the country looking to produce good content but are getting knocked down because the stories would not make the lives of the broadcasters any easier, yet at the same time these stories would make the broadcasters more relevant. I think this is a big problem.
I don’t know why there is no interest in Irish broadcasters to show this story, especially given the fact that we raised €56,000 in crowdfunding, it has been the most successful project on the Irish crowdfunding site fundit.ie to date.
There is massive support out there and a big demand to see this film and it will stimulate a much needed debate about part of our country that is about 10 times the size of our landmass, the massive loss of resources and the potential for Irish jobs is incredible, yet it hasn’t been covered properly by the media.
What’s next on the cards for yourself?
We are still looking for more places to screen this film, but after distributing it around the country I want to spend more time with the kids! To spend more time surfing and cycling, and actually to enjoy the places that I have been filming instead of rushing around, fundraising and juggling paid work.
Saying that, global overfishing is a big problem right now, and a report has just come out that recent estimates have been grossly underestimated, fish-stocks are in a far more perilous state than we have imagined….