GFF 2021: Iorram (Boat Song)

Blending audio from the past and images of the present, Iorram's mosaic of everyday life, myth and folk song paints a compelling portrait of the tight-knit fishing communities of the Outer Hebrides

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 01 Mar 2021
  • Iorram
Film title: Iorram
Director: Alastair Cole
Release date: 5 May

Forget TikTok sea shanties. A rather more thoughtful reflection on Scotland’s relationship with the sea is found in Iorram, an expressive doc blending oral history, folk song and seascape to celebrate the vibrant but endangered culture of the various communities scattered across the Outer Hebrides.

Director Alastair Cole's starting point was a rich cache of mid-20th century field recordings featuring ordinary Hebrideans telling stories (some prosaic, some heartbreaking, some pure hokum), which he’s paired with striking footage of these islands today. We see ruddy-faced fisherman and industrious fish-packers on the daily grind, roly-poly seals scrambling across golden sands, and gannets plunging haphazardly into the drink to feed, while voices from the past act as ghostly narrators.

There’s no onscreen text to help get your bearings; Cole trusts that we’ll attune to the wash of disconnected sound and vision. Sometimes audio and image will wryly align, though, like when the story of a blind fisherman with a knack for finding the most abundant fishing grounds is paired with a confused-looking seaman hunched over a blinking 21st century sonar map. But even when there’s no literal connection, a rhythm slowly emerges.

Music and song bind this community and it’s mortar for the film too. Aidan O’Rourke provides a protean score that’s expertly calibrated, knowing when to throw in some romantic folk strings or ramp up a story’s tension with atonal plucking. But he also knows when to rein it in too, and let the Gaelic language create its own melody.

Iorram has its world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival, screening 28 Feb to 3 Mar – tickets here
Released 5 Mar by Modern Films