Granton Trawler (1934)

A small dragnet fishing vessel on the Viking Bank in the North Sea is the subject of this demonstration of the craft of documentary.

Stills must not be reproduced, copied or downloaded in any way.

Film details

  • Director

    John Grierson

  • Country

    United Kingdom

  • Year


  • Genre


  • Type


  • Category

    Non Fiction


Granton Trawler is one of just two films (alongside 1929’s Drifters), in which the legendary father-figure of British documentary John Grierson took a hand in filming.

Later interviews cast some doubt on who actually photographed it, but it is a masterly piece of camerawork. Grierson learned from his hero Robert Flaherty (director of Nanook of the North, a cinematic milestone), who knew the benefits of shooting in snow or on water – the clear natural light lends itself to beautiful images.

Grierson knew trawling well, having been at sea on minesweepers during the First World War. So it seems natural that he chose this subject for a film which may have been intended to teach camera technique. The exquisite beauty of the images and clever editing (by Edgar Anstey) would seem to bear this out.

The film has no obvious ‘message’ and, unlike other trawling films, doesn’t conclude with the product arriving at market, or emphasise the heroics of North Sea fishing. Grierson wanted to encourage his cameramen to use the tripod to get the best possible images with super-sharp focus (not easy in a high swell). He also demonstrates the use of the big close-up to add texture, showing every wiry strand of the trawlermen’s nets, or isolating masts and funnels against the sky.

Cast & Credits

Latest from the BFI

  • Latest from the BFI

    Latest news, features and opinion.

More information

Films, TV and people

  • Films, TV and people

    Film lists and highlights from BFI Player.

More information

Sight & Sound magazine

  • Sight & Sound magazine

    Reviews, interviews and features from the international film magazine.

More information

Back to the top