ELVER is a three-and-a-half minute short film that explores the “interwoven fates” of creature and captor – fisherman and elver – through the “language of body and sound.” It’s an incredibly abstract film, consisting of black and white shots of a fisherman walking by the River Severn double exposed with shots of a mostly nude male dancer performing in a black room.
The background story and idea behind this film is explained in the description on the New Creatives website. In rural Gloucestershire, there is a tradition in which local fisherman capture elvers (or baby eels). They’re extremely rare, and can only be caught if the climate and tide allow specific circumstances in which the elvers are washed downstream. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for hundreds of years in the area, but these eels are now critically endangered.
The film opens with shots of some eels swimming in a dark space. It then introduces the fisherman as he’s walking by the river, and before long, images of a mostly-nude man performing interpretive dance are overlaid with the fisherman. The dancer presumably represents the elver, moving strangely in a black space similar to that of the opening shot where the eels were swimming. He’s also got particularly slick and wet hair, which, combined with the lack of clothing and odd movement, somehow seems to suggest baby eel. There’s also the fact that the film’s description claims the fishermen and elvers have “interwoven fates,” and what better way to suggest interwoven fates than a few double exposure shots?
The fisherman eventually comes face to face with the dancer, on the river bank, and the electronic music that was playing in the buildup to this meeting comes to a halt. The dancer still lacks clothing, which reinforces the idea that he is some abstract representation of nature. The two standing face-to-face sort of invokes the idea that these fishermen are now coming face-to-face with the reality of their profession and the fact that these baby eels are dying out, and they are facing the consequences of their actions.
With ELVER being such an abstract piece open to interpretation, any take on it is equally valid. Since the elvers are critically endangered, perhaps the scene in which the dancer and fisherman come face-to-face actually signifies the slippery fellow challenging the fisher to a dance-off, and if the elver-man wins then the fishermen will have to stop capturing them. Unlikely, sure, but that’s also the wonderful thing about abstract art.
That being said, it can also be a criticism: the line between “open to interpretation” and something that is simply lacking in depth is very fine indeed. With ELVER, there are certainly hidden meanings and subtext to read into, but they don’t seem to go all that deep. It also might not be for the best that viewers will have to know a very niche backstory about Gloucestershire fishermen and their traditions in order to understand what the film is about.
ELVER is an interesting short film, if nothing else. It’s certainly well-made, and the interpretive dance is performed well. The black and white cinematography looks great, especially the shots of the fisherman by the river. The lighting is also excellent and works in the dancer’s favour. On a technical level, ELVER is fantastic – it’s the content that lets it down. It is a little too abstract, and feels a little like they don’t really have that much to say about the elver-fishing tradition, or, well... anything.
New Creatives is a talent development scheme supported by Arts Council England and BBC Arts. Check out our New Creatives coverage in the New Creatives Voicebox.