Interview: Daniel Cook, director of The Bayview

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GSFF speaks to artist and filmmaker Daniel Cook about his creative exploration work about the diaspora community in Scotland. Focusing on a Bayview hotel on the north coast of Scotland, Daniel tells the story of the extraordinary family providing an unofficial respite for international fishermen. For a diaspora community who face life-threatening every day, this makeshift family is the only thing they have to fall back on, and the transient identity they have while living here is as shaky as a sail on the sea. As an intimate glimpse about their life, the absence of keeping a watchful eye on the marginalised community is presented.

*SPOILER ALERT for The Bayview*

The main characters of The Bayview are migrant fishermen, many of who are parts of marginalised communities in this society. When did you find this community and place, and why did you choose to focus on them?

I was previously filming another documentary along the coast in Aberdeenshire, so originally, I had no intention of seeking them out. I was told by a friend that in Macduff there was a lady putting up foreign fishermen in her house, which she referred to as a ‘respite’. This story sounded really interesting but I was too preoccupied to pay it any attention at the time.

Coincidentally, several weeks later, I was walking past Susie’s house. I knew there was something going on as she had a very bizarre collection of displays in her front windows of the building. I caught her attention and she invited me in to show me around her home. This is when I met Susie for the first time.

She was pleased that other people were showing an interest in her work and had many stories to tell of their life helping migrant fishermen. Susie was a big fan of documentaries and encouraged me to visit again offering me a room. Next time I was up I took her up on this offer and stayed at The Bayview. I was keen to know more about the place. In the morning I walked through the hallway and I could hear all different languages spoken in: Twi, Polish, Filipino, Doric among others. I guess that was when I thought The Bayview would make a great subject.

People always think the documentary needs to tell the truth. What do you want to show the audiences through The Bayview? 

I was keen to film it in a way that doesn’t follow the traditional documentary style, that supposedly has to expose some sort of information. I wanted to film observationally and see what people had to give to me at the Bayview. I wanted to show people living up there, being themselves and the little personal quirks and interactions that happen in the building. But more importantly the kindness and solidarity felt between all the characters that stay in this building.

When you began shooting with the fisherman and Susie, did you think they were the same as you imagined they would be? If not, how do you think this affected the process of shooting?

It was a difficult start filming. You don’t know how people are going to be on camera and if they are going to spark the interest you need to carry out a short film. 

Susie is great and has endless stories but she was not keen on the camera and I don’t blame her! It took a while for her to feel a bit more natural around the camera, the same with the fishermen as well. But I felt there was some synergy when they were all in the room at the same time, they forgot I was there. I think having people around each other helped them relax and informed the shoot and of course show the work Matthew and Susie do.

The Bayview is shot from the point of view of an observer. Why do you choose this perspective for storytelling?

I chose this format for this particular film for a number of reasons. I wanted to give myself the challenge of not doing direct one to one interviews. I didn’t want to influence the narrative. There is also a whole lot of nothing up there too. There’s a great deal of quietness, then suddenly, in contrast Susie has guests and there are rooms full of people talking and relating to each other, so it worked out to shoot observationally in this manner; to show time passing as though it were a glimpse into a working day.

At the end of this film, Susie was talking with Matthew about the future of the hotel. Why did you choose this scene to end the film?  

Jim, Susie’s husband, was suffering from a terminal illness and this was a subject that was talked about quite often. It was quite a personal journey for Susie who wanted to ensure Matthew was set up for the future and to continue the good work. 

So I think it made for a good discussion about the existence of The Bayview and of course reinforces what they are doing is so important. A lot of these fishermen and skippers would have a real hard time without Susie and Matthew. Also I think it’s a bit of an allegory for the fishermen who have precarious futures working in these uncertain times.

You have previously worked mainly in photography. Why did you make this transition to documentary film? What is the interaction do you think between those art forms?

I think it can be natural to jump between those two mediums. Both can do similar and very different things at the same time. It’s a case of choosing what medium works best and is most appropriate for your subject matter. Often when I would do a stills shoot I would become much more interested in the moments that were happening between the photographic sessions; particularly stories and random interactions happening between myself and the subject that I had no record of. I started to feel this way when I was studying at art school. I was encouraged to take video in addition to stills and often the results I got from that were far more engaging.

Conversely with documentary film you can also give away too much information all at once and then the viewer becomes bored. That’s when I think still photography is great at conserving some of the mystery around a subject.

Interview by Jingyi Liu

The Bayview screens in Scottish Competition 2: Branches.