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DUTCH HARBOUR: WHERE THE SEA BREAKS ITS BACK

USA, 1998 (MIFF 1999, Documentaries)

Director: Braden King, Laura Moya

An impossibly poetic, moving and memorable film capturing the story of an isolated Aleutian Island port in deeply grained black and white. Simple in structure yet wonderfully evocative, warm in spite of the snowbound isolation it depicts, Dutch Harbour is certain to be one of MIFF 1999's quiet achievers. Directors Braden King and Laura Moya both have a background in photography and their gifts are on display in this singular documentary.

Dutch Harbour is a small but exceptionally busy industrial fishing town that lies to the west of Alaska. It has a colourful history peppered with eccentric characters, hardship and, literally, backbreaking toil. King and Moya interview residents of long standing together with transient workers and new arrivals, all of whom have formed an almost mystical attachment to this far flung but magnetic burg.

Indigenous and immigrant cultures have mingled in the course of Dutch Harbour's history, leaving their traces in faces, architecture and attitudes. Fishing, the life-blood of the town, is spoken of both in reverential tones and in bitterness, recalling the people and vessels that the heaving ocean has claimed. Splendid cinematography constantly returns to the men and machinery that battle enormous waves and treacherous weather to harvest the Bering Sea.

As integral to the film as the images is the score performed by The Boxhead Ensemble, an alternative music supergroup of sorts featuring Will Oldham (Palace), Douglas McCombs (Tortoise) and the ubiquitous Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs amongst the players. Haunting, melancholic ambience that will ring in your mind long after the film is over.

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