Eye For Film >> Movies >> Flow Country (2017) Film Review
Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson
The Flow Country is, according to the RSPB, the "common name for the vast peatland blankets of Caithness and Sutherland". It's a landscape alien to most, a rolling ancient chaos, thick bog, wind and water shaping a place in the far, far north of Scotland.
Shot on monochrome 16mm, the land itself is evoked by compelling sound work, by artifacts of processing and the shooting itself. The busy electric tic of a greenhouse gas flux tower, rolling movements of air punctuated with bird calls. The rich, dark, textures of peat-workings, the sky exposed to the point of infinite whiteness. Between them the clouds, whipping grasses, visual connection to auditory inputs.
At 2017's Glasgow Short Film Festival, Jasper Coppes' work earned a jury prize for its "unique mix of otherworldly sounds and stark imagery", a "fresh look at the landscape". He was glad to have won, paying credit to his fellow competitors. In Q&A he discussed working with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds who manage many of the sites within the region, and an associated archeologist.
The intent of the society's project is to return the area to an earlier version of itself, to a time before it was drained in service of a variety of industries - this is a landscape sufficiently different that forestation is a problem rather than the reverse. He talked about how his presence as film-maker, the project's presence, attempting to revert changes, themselves formed an archeological layer - from somewhere so defined by process and time and layer, the use of film is so perfectly apt that its materiality becomes a further mechanism of translation of place. This is an empty landscape without people whose current state and whose future is bound up in anthropogenic change, a place defined both by human activity and the absence of active humans.
There are things that might be aircraft parts lying in shallow pools. There is a sky that invites and oppresses. There are birds, somewhere. This is a place defined and intermittently containing human endeavour, but it is a set of actions that bring it to audiences. There are key contributions from Casper Brink and Malu Peeters on cinematography and sound, but again and again it is the landscape itself that is given space. Hills and streams, features that on ordnance survey maps will be marked 'drain' and 'sink' and Ramsar Wetland are here black and white, sensation - a deserving prize-winner. In Coppes' film, even with, indeed, because of, the remove created by lack of colour, it transports - Flow Country carries audiences with it to create a sense of a location almost too remote and vast to comprehend.Reviewed on: 20 Mar 2017