A scene from Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's "In The Basement".
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2014 London Film Festival preview: French house music, Austrian basements and the British Harmony Korine

Our film critic Ryan Gilbey previews the 58th London Film Festival, which opens next month.

Next month brings the 58thLondon Film Festival, and the press launch this week threw up more than a handful of interesting propositions. You know the drill so I won’t detain you here much longer: I recommend a lucky dip of highlights, avoiding where possible those which already have distributors, and especially those which are being released imminently. Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, for instance, is a wonderful film, but there’s not much point shelling out for a gala festival ticket when it will be in a cinema near you three weeks after its LFF unveiling. On the other hand, you might just want to brag on social media about having seen it first, in which case—be my guest.

Booking opens to BFI members next Thursday 11 September and to the public a week after that. Here is my selection of sixteen titles that I’m particularly looking forward to:

Altman

Did you really think I could resist recommending a documentary about the director of my favourite film (McCabe and Mrs Miller), not to mention one of the most innovative of all US filmmakers?

August Winds

This fiction debut from the Brazilian documentary maker Gabriel Mascaro charts the romance between a young couple in a village threatened by global warming.

Bypass

As an admirer of Duane Hopkins’s gruelling but visually arresting Better Things, I’m excited to see this belated follow-up, especially as it stars the excellent George Mackay (Pride) as an ailing young man living in straitened circumstances on a council estate.

Eden

After Father of My Children and Goodbye First Love, the writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve is the closest thing you can get to a sure thing. Her latest is a fictionalised portrait of the rise of the French house music scene that spawned Daft Punk.

The Falling

Anyone who saw Carol Morley’s semi-documentary Dreams of a Life, about a woman whose body lay undiscovered in her north London flat for three years after she died, is likely still thinking about it to this day. This fiction follow-up about hormonal hysteria at a 1960s girls’ school suggests shades of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The Goob

Approving reviews have trickled through from the Venice film festival for this debut drama from the British director Guy Myhill, set in the Norfolk countryside but infused with a renegade spirit that has been likened to Harmony Korine.

Guidelines

I saw this excellent documentary about a provincial Canadian school when it screened at the Berlin film festival earlier this year. Think of it as Être et avoir: the High School Years.

In the Basement

A creepy documentary from the fearless Ulrich Seidl, director of the Paradise trilogy, about Austrians and their beloved basements and cellars? Count me in.

It Follows

David Robert Mitchell’s The Myth of the American Sleepover, a gentle but insightful coming-of-age movie, was one of the great US debuts of recent years. His next film, which earned rave reviews from Cannes, sees him moving into horror.

Leviathan

The new film from Andrey Zvyagintsev, director of the unforgettable Elena and The Return, about a man resisting the purchase of his property.

L’il Quinquin

The most unlikely words heard at the LFF launch announced this, “a knockabout comedy from Bruno Dumont.” As anyone who has seen the taxing L’Humanité or La Vie de Jesus will know, that’s like a fey period romance from Quentin Tarantino or a monster movie by Woody Allen. Still, I have it on good authority that is properly funny and entertaining. Colour me intrigued.

Pasolini

Abel Ferrara’s film has Willem Dafoe as the legendary Italian poet, director and firebrand Pier Paolo Pasolini in the hours immediately prior to his murder in 1975.

Phoenix

The always fascinating German director Christian Petzold (Yella, Barbara) is reunited with his regular collaborator, the hypnotic Nina Hoss. She plays a concentration camp survivor who undergoes cosmetic surgery and searches for the husband who betrayed her.

The President

The great Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar, A Moment of Innocence) relocates to Georgia about a president who sparks revolution in an unnamed country.

The Tribe

I’ve heard terrific things about this entirely dialogue-free drama set among the criminal fraternity at a Ukranian boarding school for young deaf people.

White God

A girl and her dog: that’s the misleadingly innocuous-sounding starting point for a shocking, visceral film that won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes this year.

The 58th London Film Festival runs 8—19 October.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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The marine, and human costs, of illegal fishing

Two new books take us inside the least regulated industry on the planet.

How big the sea is, how big. How poor a description that is, too, but the ocean usually resists description and words, no matter how many of its plains are named after Herodotus or how many fracture zones are called Charlie-Gibbs. It is rare to find good writing about the sea: that’s why everyone who tries quotes Conrad and Melville. It is rarer still to find good writing about the people of the sea, those strange creatures – strange to us, on our supposed maritime island, from where the ocean as a place of industry has long retreated – who set out to sea in boats and ships to make a living from it. These two, very different books try to bring them alive, although both really are about death.

Fishers and Plunderers is dense and dry, but within it are riches and horror. Seafaring is the second most dangerous job in the world, but deep-sea fishing is worse. In the UK, between 1996 and 2005, the rate of fatal accidents in the fishing industry was 115 times higher than that for the overall workforce.

The dizzying facts and stats come, and come again, like tides. We start with the ocean, and the fish in it – or the fish that used to be in it, before human beings learned to build vessels that could scrape the seabed, that could entangle dolphins, sharks and other unlucky passers-by. How wrong indeed was T H Huxley, the eminent biologist and chairman of a royal commission on sea fisheries, giving the inaugural address at the Fisheries Exhibition in London in 1883, when he said: “I believe . . . that the cod fishery, the herring fishery, the pilchard fishery, the mackerel fishery, and probably all the great fisheries, are inexhaustible; that is to say, that nothing we do seriously affects the number of the fish.”

He did not account for our greed. There are 16.5 million fishers catching 90 million tonnes of fish a year in four million fishing vessels. Pelagic long-lines, stretching dozens of kilometres, to hook tuna. Super-trawlers that can retrieve the equivalent weight of 20 busloads of fish a day, using nets 600 metres long. A biomass of predatory fish that has decreased by two-thirds in a hundred years. One-third of fish stocks fished unsustainably. Thousands of tonnes of “bycatch”, a benign word for a horrible thing: fish that are caught and discarded. An indictment of us.

But the sorry heart of this book lies with the fishers. There are the natural dangers that face them – ice, water and weather – such as the ones that overcame the crew of a British trawler near Iceland in the first half of the 20th century. They couldn’t beat the ice, so the skipper got everyone in the radio room, from where they phoned home. The crew “said goodbye, and eventually were just turned over and were lost”.

In every British fishing port, you will find a memorial to those lost at sea. There will not be a memorial to the fact that, in 2008, 75 per cent of those who died on UK boats were from eastern Europe or the Philippines. Fishing is the most unregulated industry on the planet, infected with abuse, slavery and worse. Some West African states lose 40 per cent of their catch to foreign vessels that come and steal from their waters, such as the bottom trawler Apsari-3, found fishing less than two nautical miles off the coast of Sierra Leone. The boat and officers were Korean, the crew from China, Indonesia and Vietnam. They had no contracts and no salaries, but were paid in packets of “trash fish” to sell ashore. They shared wooden and cardboard bunks in the hold. It was not an isolated case. Distant-water fishing nations operate vessels that abound with these ghosts: men trafficked or bonded into appalling conditions or contracts, stuck at sea for months at a time.

Modern shipping, with its “flag of convenience” system, makes slipperiness easy. Pay a fee, and you can fly the flag of any state and are then governed by its law at sea. Unscrupulous owners and operators can switch flag, name or identity almost instantly (hence “convenience”). Escape is easy for the criminals, and for the abused: often they go overboard. The illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing industry is worth up to $23.5bn each year, and it is extremely difficult to police. Much illegal fish from West Africa passes through Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, which has hardly any inspectors. It is repackaged, presented as legal catch and sold in western Europe. Some subheadings in the chapter on “Abuses and Slavery at Sea”: Abduction; Abuse; General; Beatings; Children; Death; Exploitation; Imprisonment; Murder.

Fishing has never been an easy life. It’s not that it was better then than it is now, but that now the abuse is industrialised, organised. The authors are a sober lot, and include Father Bruno Ciceri, who chairs the International Christian Maritime Association. The port priests are often the ones who save and soothe the fishers, though they can only do so much. I’m glad they do that. And I’m glad I don’t eat fish.

Julia Blackburn’s Threads is what you should read after finishing Fishers and Plunderers. Read it as an antidote to rigorous investigation, because this is a gorgeous, dreamy quest, for a man named John Craske, who was “a fisherman who became a fishmonger who became an invalid”. He also became an extraordinary artist, but one whose legacy is scattered and maligned.

Craske was born in Norfolk in 1881 and went to sea, like the rest of his family. At the age of 36 he fell ill with a mysterious illness, and never recovered. There were months of stupor and disability (Blackburn concludes that it was diabetes), of becoming, as his valiant wife, Laura, wrote, “very quiet. Sudden turns. Must get outside.” He did go back to sea, when his brothers took him on their fishing boat, lashing him to the mast in rough weather. He stayed for three months, rolling about in the hold or on deck until, somehow, he realised “it was not his home” and he came back to land.

Craske began to paint. They had no money, so he painted on what he had, which was the surfaces in his house. On the mantelpiece. On bits of cardboard. “On the seat of the chair he did a frigate in a storm.” His love of the sea and knowledge of it were clear, as a fisherman whom Blackburn interviews tells her. “You can’t put that energy out unless you’ve been there.”

This “quest” is meandering: don’t expect great events. The revelations are of emotion: sadness throughout for Craske’s life, though he may have been happy. Grief for Blackburn, who suffers a great loss while she is writing the book, so that from then on “grief is prowling close”. And joy, for being exposed to the embroidery of Craske, who took up the needle as he lay abed, finding a vocation. His little fishermen in their boats, sewn in careful stitches; his giant portrait of Dunkirk, with sweeping seas and tiny figures: they are amazing, yet were scorned by the museums and odd places where his work ended up, turned to the wall, ignored.

A doctor once told Craske’s wife that “he must go to sea. Only the sea will save him.” And it did, but not for long enough. We should thank Julia Blackburn for bringing back this quiet fisher and man of the sea; and Bruno Ciceri and his co-authors for exposing an unforgiving and cruel industry, where men die and the seas are depleted for the sake of our fish supper, out of sight beyond our horizon.

Rose George’s books include “Deep Sea and Foreign Going” (Portobello)

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle