Design Exchange featured this incredible Independent Film in our CHANGE edition, which printed just a few months prior to Bait film’s first UK screening. We were lucky enough to attend to BFI film premiere. We are so pleased for Mark Jenkin and our friends Linn Waite and Kate Byers from Early Day film (who we met during Design Exchange’s short stay in Bristol a few years back) and the rest of the hugely talented team.
Mark Jenkin’s latest film presents economic conflict in one of Britain’s most remote corners through narrative, aesthetics and the production process itself.
Cornwall seems trapped at a kind of perpetual crossroads. Much of its identity is understood through industrial history, with mining existing in the county for almost as long as memory itself. The same goes for fishing, but for some time now both have been competing with another business; namely tourism.
Mark Jenkin is a Cornish filmmaker, based just outside Penzance, who is eager to show this economic conflict’s muddy complexity. Through the microcosm of a coastal village and two brothers’ fishing business, Jenkin’s new feature, ‘Bait’, considers how these sectors struggle to coexist.
Jenkin is keen not to favour one side of the debate, and stresses that although the characters in the film “argue until they’re blue in the face with one another… …nobody’s got a bad intention”.
Comparing ‘Bait’ to a Western, that position becomes clearer:
“It is a frontier story, it’s about the settlers arriving, and imposing order and civilisation on a bunch of natives who are living off the resources that are there.”
This mistrust of new, invasive culture is reiterated through Jenkin’s cinematography. Like his previous film, Bronco’s House – which similarly looked at the gritty life of a Cornish coastal village – Bait is shot in black and white on an old Bolex16mm film camera that Jenkin tells me is older than he is.
Although he takes a strong stance against modern filmmaking, it would be wrong to call Jenkin nostalgic. He is not sentimental about the past, rather he is aware of the weight the past pushes on the present. Cinema, for him, is really a young art, and film has not been outmoded by digital. Instead, it has just suffered from a certain form of neophilia.
Jenkin hand processed the film shot for ‘Bait’, methodically treating it with a variety of chemical solutions. The result can forever tie practitioner to medium.
“[I]f you put your finger on the actual frame of the image, your fingerprint will be there forever,” he explains, calling to mind the joy a craftsperson takes from their work, rather than a slick director. The imperfections created in this developing stage are very much part of the final piece.
He offers two more frames which contain another blemish. Taken from a scene in which a woman is shown walking in the rain, lit by a single lamp, one of the frames is solarised, a direct effect of Jenkin exposing it to light to check if the roll of film was developed correctly. The section was permanently altered.
Due to how little film Jenkin usually shoots for each title (‘Bait’ is made from just five hours of footage, give or take), and the fact each roll of film in the Bolex camera runs to a mere two-and-a-half minutes, solarised sections of film may be the only images he has for a certain line of dialogue, and therefore could make the final cut. But this doesn’t concern him.
“I love that,” he says. “They’re the mistakes that create amazing randomisation and individualism in the image.”
As much as there is a fight to get the material to do what he wants, there is an acceptance of what the material determines too. This imbues Jenkin’s films with a magical, raw life of their own. Fitting, for the subject at hand
Words: Stan Portus
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