Director / Producer / Cinematography / Editor: Amber Production Team
Production Co: Amber Films
Screenplay: Tom Hadaway
Sound: Dave Eadington
Music: Alasdair Robertson & Ray Stubbs
Songs: ‘Strange Boat’ & ‘Fisherman's Blues’, performed by The Waterboys
Karen Olsen: Joanna Ripley
Alfie Olsen: Dave Hill
Dandy Mac: Sammy Johnson
Micky Molloy: Brian Hogg
Betty: Amber Styles
Irene: Mo Harold
Yopper: Joe Caffrey
‘Sally’ Crew: Davy Butterfield,Tony Chester, Terry, Jimmy Cullen Sr & Jimmy Cullen Jr
Peter Parkin: Art Davies
105 minutes
16 mm
English (North Shields dialect, may be difficult to understand)
GA Certificate (Language may disturb)
The admirable Amber Films Collective comes up trumps again, after Seacoal (q.v.), with another Loachian account of the disillusioned and dispossessed up North. A teenage girl visits her estranged father in North Shields and, in joining him aboard his fishing boat, comes up against male chauvinism, female jealousy, and the despair of running a traditional, small business in the face of Thatcherite corporate investment. If it’s sometimes hard to follow the authentic dialect, there is no denying the conviction of the naturalistic performances or the intelligence of the script, while a suspenseful gale-sequence effortlessly belies the lowly budget.
- Geoff Andrew, Time Out, 7/2/90
Skilfully blending fiction and documentary, In Fading Light is the story of a young woman’s return to her home town to visit her estranged father. Karen (Joanna Ripley) left the North Shields fishing village with her mother while still a child. Her city education has fostered expectations never dreamt of by the children who stayed behind, but she is determined to forge a close relationship with her father Alfie (Dave Hill) before deciding her direction in life.
Beautifully shot, and with an authenticity rarely seen in mainstream cinema, the film details the daily workings of the small fishing community. The village is rigid in its traditional attitudes. Custom has it that, while the women have an ostensibly ‘easier’ time of it on shore, it is the men who enjoy the positions of power in their relationships. When Karen unwittingly challenges these ideas by going to sea with Alfie, her defiance of custom causes resentment and anger. In tandem with this contrast of traditional and modern attitudes, the unfolding events on shore and at sea also reflect wider issues that concern the community as a whole. The harshness of this way of life, reflected in whipping storms and raging seas ("One fisherman dies every 8 days" reads a wall poster), is exacerbated by the growing problem of environmental damage caused by the dumping of nuclear waste, and by the Thatcher government’s policies, which are bringing about the degeneration of the fishing industry.
The future of the village way of life looks very bleak indeed, but one of the functions of In Fading Light is to affirm the resilience of the human spirit. These people, without being sentimentalised or falling victim to do-gooder nostalgia, are stoic, gutsy and full of warmth and good humour.
- Helen Martin, The Listener, 23/7/90
In Fading Light is set in the Tyneside fishing community of North Shields and some of the characters’ accents are as thick as mushy peas or Newcastle Brown Ale. And the authenticity of the speech is something that "we won’t apologise for," says Pat McCarthy. "We work with people’s reality," she says, "and an accent is the reality. Part of what television and the cinema have done for us is sterilise the diversity of accents."
McCarthy’s "we" is the 20-year-old Amber Films Collective, one of the more spectacularly successful offshoots of initiatives born as far back as the 60s to create a non-mainstream film and video industry in Britain which would aim at innovation and experiment. And In Fading Light is an astonishingly assured work which lends new edge to the cliché about gritty realism. The smell of the icy salt spray bursting over the rails of its fishing boat practically explodes off the screen as the 105-minute film leads us gently into the most intimate corners of its characters’ lives. More surprisingly, perhaps, it avoids the pompous worthiness normally found in films whose makers start from a political perspective and pin their consciences ostentatiously to their sleeves.
Amber, a winner of the British Film Institute Award for Independent Initiative, regards its filmmaking as a "social practice," says McCarthy. But there is none of the patronising paternalism of a group exploiting an underclass to advance its own political agenda. Amber’s investment is long-term, requiring its members to be absorbed into a community and to yield to the people whose lives it documents a good measure of editorial control over the result. So the filmmakers live and work in the community and are accepted as part of it in the same way as its doctor, plumber or mechanic would be.
Amber’s home for two decades has been England’s north-east and for five years it has concentrated its activities in North Shields, buying a pub, the New Clarendon, which is variously its base, a film set, its screening room and... well, a pub. "Our test," says McCarthy "is that we live and stay in the community we make films about. We have to face what they are going to think of what we have made." Amber’s subjects are also its production consultants, she explains, actively contributing to post-production decisions. And the process can give rise to furious arguments. In one scene of In Fading Light, a weary fisherman, lying next to his wife in bed, curses his misfortune. "The fishermen [watching the rough cut] desperately wanted us to take that out," says McCarthy. "They said a fisherman never swears in front of his wife. We asked the wives and they said: ‘They bloody do’, and so it stayed because it was real. But the important thing is that they had the opportunity to look and say what they thought about it..."
Amber’s work is also about empowering the people in the community it works in. The Tynesiders it has introduced to acting now have their own live theatre, and three graduates of In Fading Light armed with the ability they gained during filmmaking to articulate their concerns about the ailing fishing industry are now spokespeople for the Rainbow Warrior’s North Sea campaign. McCarthy is hard pressed to detail the group’s methods because each project is approached differently. But In Fading Light’s script is the work of a writer knowledgeable about the fishing industry who started with real raw material - anecdotes and incidents from real lives. She finds it unremarkable that this cobbling together should create a story that rings so true. When all the ingredients are pure, she reasons the result must be too. Each Amber project comes to the public in three formats: film, book and travelling photo display which includes resources kits for associated teaching in schools: in the case of In Fading Light, those kits concerned themselves with subjects like marine ecology and the state of the fishing industry...
McCarthy’s conclusion about the state’s responsibility to stand against the tide is a cri de coeur for quality independent filmmaking which should be engraved in the desk of every politician and television executive. "Governments support industry in all sorts of ways and every government should support an industry that is looking at what is intrinsic to what the community is." Even if the work that results is of minority interest only? "In Fading Light had an audience of four million when it screened on Channel Four. That’s not a small audience." At our peril, says McCarthy, do we underestimate our audience and assume that what the film and television industry serves them and what they watch is what they want.
- Peter Calder, interviewing Pat McCarthy, NZ Herald, 12/7/90