Film-maker David Peat travelled to a fishing town in north-east Scotland and found a harsh environment, a misunderstood community and a way of life under threat.
Fishermen have long battled against the might of the sea. Now they have an even more unforgiving foe in the shape of the European Union, which is decimating their industry in an attempt to preserve fish stocks.For the past six months David Peat has been filming fishermen at work in the port of Fraserburgh on the north-east coast of Scotland. "We're trying to go beyond that common, rather facile perception that the fishing industry is made up of greedy men raping the sea and destroying fish stocks," he says. "They don't want to destroy stocks because it would finish their working lives and those of their sons and grandsons."Fraserburgh, a one-hour special from Scottish indie Tern Television, is a home-from-home project for Peat. "I've sailed most of my life and have a huge affection for the sea," he explains. The film-maker laughs ruefully as he explains how he's come to specialise in films about troubled industries. "I made one about a group of miners trying unsuccessfully to resurrect a pit; a film about shipbuilding on the Clyde, which has gone; and one about a lighthouse just before it closed." The latter for Grampian Television, Please Leave the Light On, won a Scottish Bafta for best documentary.Peat, who is due to deliver Fraserburgh to BBC Scotland in March next year, is enjoying the unusually relaxed shooting schedule. "For the last few years I've been series-producing six and eight-part series and to come off that grind into a single doc is a real pleasure," he says.Having the best part of a year in which to film has also helped Peat win the trust of locals. "They're quite a reserved community and were cautious about letting us in but it's been great to slowly build a relationship." he says. "Every time the media comes up here it's because of the drugs in the area and they're fed up with that." Panorama recently fetched up in Fraserburgh to report on the town's serious heroin and crack cocaine problem.Peat, who worked as a cameraman before he turned to directing, is shooting the film himself on DV-cam, using a Sony DSR 500. "I couldn't go to sea with a standard Digi-Beta because it would have been just too heavy to use on a boat that was being tossed around in a force eight gale," he explains. "I went for the lighter, smaller DV-cam system, which I've been very impressed with."Fraserburgh is built around three voyages. Peat has already sailed with a herring boat and to Denmark to scrap a boat; while his voyage on a white fish boat to fish for cod and haddock is pencilled in for this month."It's a chance to see fishermen at work. I want people to see their grotty working environment. Ships have got safer but the sea hasn't changed.It can be incredibly vicious," he says. "It's a hard life and still the most dangerous industry in Britain, but there are good rewards."Perhaps unsurprisingly, film crew members are not keen to work on the high seas. "Normally when you offer a sound recordist five days work they grab it," says Peat, but not when it involves working on a fishing boat.Peat's sound man of many years, Allan Young, is doing most of the recording, but is keeping his feet firmly on dry land. "We work very well together as a two-man team," says the film-maker, "but he wasn't that keen to go on the boats." Guy Satchwell was brought on board, literally, for the herring trip and was rewarded with sun and calm seas; Robert Anderson wasn't so fortunate. He was recruited to sail with a father and son as they took their boat to be scrapped in Denmark."Robert was great but I think he was terrified. We had big seas and for the first two nights we couldn't sleep because we were being rolled in our bunks," he recalls. Sped by a force eight wind, the trip was moving in a physical sense but also emotionally as the father and son witnessed their livelihood being taken away from them. "The boy, Alexander, has got a job in the North Sea oil industry, but that doesn't have the excitement of fishing. Fishermen are the last of the hunters."Although filming at sea for up to 10 days at a time is physically demanding work, it can be a boon for the observational film-maker looking to find unusual storylines and shots. "On the herring boat I started to follow the cook, who was a character I hadn't identified before. When the first catch came on board he rushed on deck, grabbed a herring, slit it open and popped the raw roe straight into his mouth," recalls Peat.Throughout the programme Peat intends to include "historical and political stings" to drum home the message that a way of life is under threat. "I wanted to make a film about the human tragedy if this industry is destroyed," he says. "We're wrapping political points with human stories about a community where families have fished for generations."If fishing quotas are cut further and more boats decommissioned, the outlook for the town is grim. "Fraserburgh is a fishing town so if fishing goes down it's in trouble," says Peat, who explains that support industries such as ice-making and ship-painting would also die. "There really isn't much else for people to do up here."Fraserburgh, a Tern Television production for BBC Scotland, will air next year.