Atlantic review: epic in scope, damning in its conclusions

Risteard O’Domhnaill follows up The Pipe with a beautifully shot, warmly narrated (take a bow Brendan Gleeson) and concisely delivered film

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Director: Risteard O'Domhnaill
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Brendan Gleeson
Running Time: 1 hr 22 mins

It is six years since Risteard O'Domhnaill's The Pipe poked into the controversy surrounding Shell's efforts to pass a pipeline through the impressively stubborn town of Rossport. The film-makers new film is more epic in scope (even if, in this version at least, it is relatively brief).

We begin with gorgeous shots of surf above and surges below the ocean that gives the film its name. O’Domhnaill has set out to detail attacks on the Atlantic’s natural resources throughout its northern stretches. Liberals habitually inclined to support the EU will quiver as the film talk us through the bureaucrats’ casual erosion of Irish fishermen’s livelihoods over the past 40 years.

Opening up of the territorial waters to foreign vessels has, in recent years, been followed by painful restrictions on drift netting for salmon (Loïc Jourdain's recent, excellent A Turning Tide in the Life of Man examines this last story in exhaustive detail.)

Across the Atlantic, Newfoundlanders – most with those fascinating accents whose vowels kept claws in Ireland – talk us through similar outrages dating back to the early 1990s. Both communities have seen fishing villages decay into ghost towns.


The film moves on Norway where brother fisherman campaign against disruptive seismic testing by oil explorers. All have similar stories to tell. Faces rich with character people each yarn: the articulate (if slightly sweary) Jerry Early in Ireland; the regretful Charlie Kane in Canada. Brendan Gleeson narrates with the casual warmth we have come to expect. The gorgeous cinematography breaks up often-grim stories with moments of visual transcendence.

It's not too often that we wish a short film longer, but, if Atlantic has a flaw, it is that it attempts to pack too much into a small space. The fascinating subject of the super-trawlers – seafaring factories that hovering up unimaginable numbers of fish – flits by in what seems like a mere instant. The story of Danny Williams, a Newfoundland politician who brooked no obstruction in his defence of Canadian fishermen, could justify a film in itself.

Oh well. These are good problems to have.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist