Drifters (1929)

This story of a commercial trawler off the west coast of Scotland is a crucial film in the development of the British documentary.

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Film details

  • Director

    John Grierson

  • Country

    United Kingdom

  • Year


  • Genre


  • Type


  • Category

    Non Fiction


For centuries, the deep sea fishermen were a mainstay of our island nation, and this is reflected in British filmmakers' fascination with the trade since the medium’s earliest days. Probably the best known trawling film, Drifters was made at the very end of the silent era. John Grierson took the already noble trawling film tradition and combined it with the latest techniques of filmmaking to make this remarkable, lyrical film, which heralded in a new era for the actuality film.

Made at the pivotal point at which John Grierson, Stephen Tallents and the Empire Marketing Board came together; it propelled a filmmaking culture with such momentum that it gave rise to a unique and much envied aspect of Britain’s contribution to film history: what we now call the ‘Documentary’.

Drifters itself is in the long tradition of the trawler film, celebrating the struggle of man and machine against the elements, but also expresses the aesthetic beauty of the seas, the ship’s machinery, the glinting silver of the fish in the nets and the shine of rain on oilcloth. The film was delicately tinted and toned to emphasise lighting effects.

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