Many people don’t really know what fishermen’s work entails; if they live in a coastal community, they may see the boats leaving or returning to port or maybe even get to watch a vessel’s catch being offloaded. Yet they don’t know how fishermen go about their jobs once the boats steam out of sight.
But a new documentary on fishing that made the rounds last fall at prestigious film festivals in New York, Toronto and Chicago among others was released on March 1. The film, “Leviathan,” may offer viewers a unique way to experience life aboard a New Bedford fishing boat.
According to the synopsis of the film offered on its website, “the film captures the harsh, unforgiving world of the fishermen in starkly haunting, yet beautiful detail.” Lucien Castaing-Taylor, who along with fellow anthropologist and filmmaker Verena Paravel directed the film, has called “Leviathan” an “immersive” documentary, and that seems an apt description.
The filmmakers used a variety of small, digital cameras to immerse viewers in the around-the-clock world of fishing. For example, some of the cameras were stuck atop fishermen’s helmets or strapped to their chests to provide a unique viewpoint of work on deck. Small waterproof cameras were affixed to 12-foot-long poles that could be dipped into the water or raised skyward, providing unique perspectives on the fishing life.
“The experience of being on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic or in the middle of any huge ocean is one of confusion and ambiguity and disorientation, so we wanted the film experience to reflect the experience of being on the boat,” Castaing-Taylor told the BBC.
But the film not only looks different, it sounds different. The audio the cameras capture adds an unsettling quality to the environment in which fishermen work. It serves as a reminder to the ever-present danger lurking at sea. The film’s trailer shows how “Leviathan” looks, sounds and feels.
What’s most intriguing and refreshing about the film is its lack of dialogue — or an agenda. Paravel told the New York Times in a fascinating article about the film back in September, “We still don’t know exactly what the film is about.”
Hence, “Leviathan” appears to be neither pro-fishing or anti-fishing; it’s just capturing life at sea, and it’s up to the viewer to decide how they feel about it. I’d like to think viewers will be unable to walk away from “Leviathan” without a better appreciation of the punishing physical and mental demands of the fishing life and a greater respect for the people who live it.