The End of the Line

2010-10-22 12:17
The End of the Line
What it's about:

A documentary about the cataclysmic effects of uncontrolled fishing on the wildlife and ecosystems of our oceans.

What we thought:

Let's not kid, a documentary about over-fishing hardly sounds like the most exciting of prospects. As you're standing in line at your local cinema wondering just what on earth to spend your hard earned cash on, I somehow doubt that you'll be drawn to some fish-out-of-water documentary (I can't believe I just made that joke) over the latest high octane action movie, chilling thriller or weepy romantic drama. Hell, if seeing an advance screening of The End of the Line wasn't part of my job, I doubt I would have given it the time of day either. Here's the thing though: had I been left to my own volition and given it a miss, I would have lost out on one mightily impressive piece of documentary filmmaking.

Like everyone else, I had heard reports and rumours about the diminishing amount of edible fish in the oceans long before seeing The End of the Line. I would be lying, though, if I said I gave it much thought. Aside from the fact that it sounded pretty damn far fetched when you consider just how much ocean there is on this planet of ours, I've never really been much of a fish eater – beyond the occasional tuna-mayo sandwich, of course. And yet, The End of the Line had me well and truly glued to the screen almost immediately.

It didn't have any of the shock-tastic but entertaining sensationalism of Michael Moore's documentaries (Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine or Sicko), nor the inherently interesting-to-me subject matter of a good music documentary (No Direction Home, Oil City Confidential, Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who) and yet, bolstered by a brisk 80-minute running time, it was never less than totally engaging. It was so engaging that I almost didn't notice the abysmal musical backing that was as obnoxious, as manipulative, as far too on-the-nose as the kind of score you find on the most miserable of after school specials. Almost.    

On a purely informative level, The End of the Line was more than convincing. There was none of the sort of New-Agey, we're-clearly-just-pulling-this-out-of-our-bottoms nonsense that had me running for the hills within the first 15 minutes of What The Bleep Do We Know – the most aptly titled "documentary" film of all time. Interviews are drawn from people who actually know what they're on about. Academics in the field at prestigious universities, weathered fishermen, government officials, seafood restaurant owners and whistle-blowers from within the huge fisheries all have their say. And though some details may vary on the actual extent of the damage (extinction within 60 years, rather than 50, for example), there seems little doubt that this is a very real, very current problem. If the interviews weren't enough, there is also plenty in the way of damning visual evidence of the uncontrolled wastefulness and destruction that these huge fishing ships leave in their wake.

Accurate information isn't enough to make a documentary engaging, of course, but director Rupert Murray is clearly smart enough to understand the limited universal appeal of the subject matter so he does what any good filmmaker would do: he adds plenty of subtext. Despite all surface evidence to the contrary, this isn't a film about fish – it's a film about people.

The crisis at hand may be purely ecological but it is caused by humanity at its worst: destructive, wasteful and callously short-sighted. However, it is not a film defined by pessimism and nihilism but by hope and a certain amount of faith in humanity. It doesn't simply shock us with tales of doom and gloom but offers a constructive, viable and very practical solution that that lie entirely in our hands.

The film never tries to suggest that eating fish and, by extension, fishing for food  is in any way sinister or barbaric – quite the contrary – all it asks for is restraint. Restraint on the part of governments, consumers and the fisheries themselves and perhaps a little bit of thought about the long term consequences of our actions. For this idea alone, The End of the Line more than justifies its existence and its worth as a film well worth watching.

Imagine a world without fish.
Read more on:    ocean  |  documentary

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