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Fish Tail revisited


- At IndieLisboa, Joaquim Pinto and Nuno Leonel have presented their own version of a fishing documentary originally filmed for television

Fish Tail revisited

Portuguese duo Joaquim Pinto and Nuno Leonel are back with Fish Tail [+see also:
film profile
, a film about a fishing community in the Azores islands that can equally be seen as a biographic prequel to their previous award-winning documentary What Now? Remind Me [+see also:
film review
festival scope
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. First seen at the Berlinale earlier this year, the movie is now part of the Director’s Cut section of the 12th IndieLisboa.

The name of that section could not suit it better, as Fish Tail is, indeed, a directors’ cut version of a documentary originally filmed for TV, shot between 1999 and 2001. Over a decade later, Pinto and Leonel revisited the original material, re-edited it and transformed it into a documentary about a bygone era and about old-fashioned fishing techniques. Small-scale fishing is almost inexistent nowadays, at least in the region of Rabo de Peixe (which translates as Fish Tail).

“Friendship,” says Pinto in a voiceover, “is not something you wish for; it simply happens.” He and Leonel had privileged access to the local community, who embraced them and generously shared their lives and working habits. A local friend named Artur introduced them to the community. His daughter is married to Pedro, who is, like the apostle Peter, a fisherman. So are his twin brother, Manuel, and other younger members of the family – and most of the real-life male characters we get to meet in Fish Tail, for that matter. Despite the realism of these figures (and their hard lives), they seem to have a mythical presence in the eyes of the directors. Pinto’s narration sometimes links them to film heroes (such as Spencer Tracy), while Leonel refers to a particular fisherman as the offspring of Zeus and a dolphin…

The camerawork is shared between the two directors and the locals (both children and adults) in an example of mutual fascination and trust, which records, often in home-video style, their routines and minor dramas, ranging from the rumours that Pedro’s boat has sunk to the endless police monitoring of the fishing quotas, and other daily stories that constitute the narrative arc of the film.

But Fish Tail is an atypical ethnographic film, since it combines that traditional documentary look with several experiences and personal memories from Pinto and Leonel: the house they rented, the dog they adopted, the visits they received and, finally, their decision to remain in Rabo de Peixe: “We got hooked by this island, by its rhythm, by its people,” confesses Pinto in one of the many intimate moments of narration during the film. The tone is nostalgic but certainly less pessimistic than it was in What Now? Remind Me, documenting a state of enchantment which amazingly lasted longer than expected.

While it is not original material, Fish Tail is nevertheless a stimulating narrative and re-editing effort, which will certainly contribute to Pinto and Leonel’s rising reputation. The duo is currently working on a new project, Pathos, to be produced by Joana Ferreira for Lisbon-based C.R.I.M. Productions. Ferreira is the Portuguese participant in the 2015 Cannes networking event Producers on the Move.

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