Violent waves from the Atlantic crash into the steep cliffs of the mainland, creating clouds of mist which sweep over lush green hillsides. The sound of their ferocity is overlaid with a slow, moody violin score. These are the first shots of Between Land and Sea which introduce us to the small coastal town of Lahinch.
In his latest work, acclaimed documentarian Ross Whitaker captures a year in the life of a small Irish surf town. But don’t be fooled by the dull pallet of greys and browns which dominate this film; nor the recurring shots of empty streets and old, weathered buildings; nor even the blanket of cloud which eternally hangs above the town; because this documentary has a lot of colour and exudes life and warmth.
Whitaker’s observational style offers a raw insight to the various lives of the people who live in Lahinch, specifically those who have built careers around the world-class surf that seems to endlessly churn along their formidable coastline; from pro surfers, to surf school business owners, to the people who build the boards. With such a large part of the towns economy relying on the unpredictability of mother nature, it is no surprise that everyone’s story shares one commonality: the precariousness of chasing one’s passion while balancing the material realities of life.
One man we are introduced to is Fergal Smith, a former pro Irish surfer, who once built a career on the sea and is now trying to forge one from the land. While living off the money he made from his former sponsorships, Fergal decides to try his hand as a farmer, to support his young family into the future. But, like the water, the land can also be unpredictable, and his new lifestyle is seemingly an endless rollercoaster of highs and lows.
One observation I took from the film, and that I am sad to note, was the very noticeable lack of female voices in this documentary. It left me with the feeling that my understandings of this town’s reality were incomplete. The women in this documentary sometimes seemed like props to support the leading men’s stories, and I wished that I had been given more of an insight into their lives. Unfortunately, I was left feeling a little disappointed in that respect.
Whitaker does however capture all the quaintness and charm you’ve come to expect from a documentary set in a small Irish town. We are offered shots of a local repainting his pink and white ice-cream store, of surfers warming their boots with boiling water, and of a shirtless (and particularly hairy) grandfather sipping on brandy after a charity swim.
Between Land and Sea is simple filmmaking done well; allowing the ruggedly beautiful landscape and the stories of the ruggedly beautiful people who live there, to speak for themselves.
Between Land and Sea is screening at Luna Outdoor Leederville on the 13th of March.
Image sourced from cercamon.jimdo.com.