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Reviews - Two Years at Sea

Two Years at Sea

Reviewed By John Stakes

Two Years at Sea
Two Years at Sea
There was a good deal of water but no seascapes in Ben Rivers’ documentary shown last Sunday. And filming a hermit seems a contradiction in terms. Why wish to be a recluse and agree to being filmed? So what was going on?

“Two Years at Sea” was the first of a double bill screened on Sunday and separated by a feast of a supper in the Masonic Hall. To understand the film’s title it was relevant first to know that Rivers had earlier met the reclusive Jake Williams in 2006 in making his fourteen minutes short “This is my Land” (not seen by this reviewer), and had decided to revisit and feature him in a full length documentary.

As a young man Jake had apparently spent two years at sea and from this experience yearned to live a life on land….on his own. None of this was revealed to us during a period of one year as Rivers’ camera caught Jake now living his dream but not ours. Many questions were raised but precious few were answered. Rivers teased us with photographs of Jake’s past as a family member (was he the dry stone-waller?), but as Jake preferred to whistle “over the rainbow” and never spoke, we were never made the wiser.

Jake did reveal just how much he was at home in his rain-soaked ram-shackled environment in the heart of some Scottish Forestry Commission property. His cons, whilst not so mod, were effective. His hot shower and four wheeler worked, and Jake seemed content to busy himself (accompanied by music ranging from meditative Indian to country blues) amongst some of the most depressing scenery it was possible to capture in grainy monochrome, though quite what he was doing for most of the time was never made clear. And quite how he managed to winch his caravan (and why?) to the top of a tree escaped this reviewer who, like Jake, must have nodded off at an odd moment.

How in financial terms Jake managed to survive also remained unexplained. He may have sold fish but over a long, very long take on a raft he’d built from plastic containers and wood cushioned with an inflatable mattress, he’d not landed any catch from his trailing line. Perhaps he was living off his share of a matrimonial pot or earlier savings?

So Jake remained an enigma throughout in a documentary process which was merely observational with no voice-over intonation, and silent apart from the rudimentary noises of domesticity which was probably the effect Rivers intended to achieve. And Jake proved to be curiously interesting somehow. Happy within himself, he probably also had the last laugh wondering how long it would take his audience to appreciate there was nothing more of his life to be revealed as he sat in the dwindling light from the dying embers of his fire as they faded to black.

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