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Powerful Short Film Explores Mental Health Of Fishermen In Declining Industry

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 16 Mar 2021 19:09
Filmmaker Details Mental Health Impacts Of Work In A Declining IndustrySupplied

Fishing has long been a declining industry in the UK, with the number of fishers dropping from 20,000 in the mid-1990s to a measly 12,000 by 2019. 

This has not only affected people’s jobs and incomes, but their mental health too.

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In light of the ongoing decline of fishing in Britain, Liam Thomas decided to make a film about it that focuses on a man named Skipper, played by Game of Thrones’ Francis Magee – a former fisherman himself.

Named The Tide, Liam described the film as being about ‘place, identity and mental health within a community fighting for its very existence, whose identity is unravelling’. It’s also based on a story his brother Neil told him shortly before his death in 2010. Sadly, Neil, who was in his 40s, took his own life as a result of poor mental health.

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Prior to his death, Neil was a fisherman himself, a career Liam said made him really happy. But as the industry began to decline, so did Neil’s mental health.

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Liam explained to UNILAD, ‘My brother left home as a teenager and worked as a fisherman in deep water and inshore boats. As the industry declined, he skirted in and around other jobs connected to the industry before finally moving on.’

‘Looking back, I realise how happy and free he was as a fisherman, and how his sense of worth was lost with the industry’s sharp decline. He loved the sea. It was a constant presence. Towards the end of his life he would walk and cycle the coastline near his home.’

Liam continued:

My brother struggled to find a new identity as the industry declined, a situation replicated across many coastal communities.

Something which isn’t uncommon in my experience is that he also felt that to declare openly struggles with his mental health would be seen as a sign of weakness. Pride forbid him seeking help until it was too late.

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Manchester Film Festival/YouTube

Liam also dubbed it a ‘national scandal’ that costal and working class fishing communities haven’t received support from the government in the wake of the industry’s decline.

Discussing The Tide, which debuted at the Manchester Film Festival on March 14, Liam reflected on the anecdote Neil told him before he died and what spurred him to make the movie.

‘Love,’ Liam said. ‘I still miss my brother, I still rerun old what ifs. An anecdote he told me shortly before his suicide stayed with me.’

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‘I was haunted by my last conversations with him but a story he told about about a piece of trawl gear working loose in a storm and disappearing into the sea in spectacular fashion resonated on a number of levels and became a way into the wider narrative.’

While The Tide is a short film, Liam explained that he’s currently working on ‘the bigger story’ named Wild Light.

Francis Magee, who has also starred in the likes of The Dig, Layer Cake and Netflix’s White Lines, explained that The Tide appealed to him straight away.

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He said of the film, ‘Having lived and worked in several similar communities, I found the narrative and voice of the piece to be very authentic. The issues raised in the film are so relevant, perhaps even more so now as the fishing industry adjusts to whatever changes Brexit may bring.’

Having experienced the devastating effects of losing someone to suicide, Liam encouraged those struggling with their mental health to talk to someone.

He said to UNILAD, ‘Talk. Please talk. Reach out, to family or a friend, speak to your doctor, they are there to help. Talking about the problem can really make a difference.’

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.

Also if you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Featured, Film and TV, fishing, Mental Health, Now, UK