Short film review: Fish Story
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James R | On 02, Jul 2017
Director: Charlie Shackleton
Cast: Charlie Shackleton, Caspar Salmon
Watch Fish Story online: Vimeo
Every Sunday, we review a short film available on VOD. We call it Short Film Sunday.
Fact-checking. In an age of fake news, sensationalist news, social media pranks and lying politicians, it’s never been more important – or, in the case of Fish Story, so trivial. The latest short film from Charlie Shackleton (Fear Itself, Beyond Clueless) sees the young director delve into the tall tale related to him by friend, and fellow film journalist, Caspar Salmon.
Caspar explains about how his grandma was invited to attend the opening of a some kind of marina in Anglesea in the 1980s – because her surname was fish-related. As a thank you, she claims to have been given a fresh salmon by none other than Michael Fish. The same piscine presents were bestowed upon other families in the local area who also had aquatic-themed monikers. Mr. Cod? Ms. Herring? Madame Haddock? There can’t be that many people with fishy family names, can there? And such a weird story can’t possibly be true… can it?
Lyne has made a trademark of his knack for reeling together clips from existing films, assembling and discovering new films in others – from the BBC iPlayer original Fear Itself, which explored the nature of being afraid, to Beyond Clueless, which meditated upon the teen high school experience. The same was also true of short film Copycat. Fish Story, then, might seem like something of a departure, composed entirely of new footage (and old photographs) and fuelled by a far more personal mission.
But Shackleton’s same witty presentation is recognisably present. Rather than opt for conventional vox pops and talking heads, his documentary is made up of tiny vignettes that literally illustrate the voiceover on-screen, from the different types of fish being mentioned to the date on the calendar. It sounds like a dull experience, but there’s fun in seeing what will next be used to continue his subversive brand of visual storytelling, an endearing charm to the low-key inventiveness on display. The detached, almost arbitrary nature of the footage, meanwhile, places more weight on the affectionate narration, which pings back and forth between the two friends, as they chuckle about the absurdity of even considering this folk tale to be fact.
The result has more in common with Shackleton’s other work than you might expect, as he removes any clunky cliches from the tried-and-tested documentary format that features a director as protagonist. Lyne holds back any on-screen interviews until the very end, as we arrive in North Wales and get our answer to the fishy mystery, which helps to build ten(ch)sion in a way that playfully recalls the kind of true-story investigations that have turned podcasts into sensations and Netflix series into smash hits.
Selected at Sundance in Utah, showcased at Sundance London, and also screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival this month, the result is a low-scale delight that’s worth carping on about – an enjoyably unimportant anecdote that, regardless of the facts, will have your sole attention, hook line and sinker.
You can read our interview with Charlie Shackleton about Fear Itself here.