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Cornwall During Clusterfuck: Interview with 'Bait' director Mark Jenkin

by Georgina Allan

The more you shout, rant and rage, the more you expose the contradictions of your existence.”
A photograph of 'Bait' director Mark Jenkin. He is sat on a clifftop holding an old analogue film camera. (Photo: Callum Mitchell)
'Bait' director Mark Jenkin. (Photo: Callum Mitchell)

It’s been a wild couple of years for Mark Jenkin. His BAFTA award-winning film Bait premiered in Berlin in February 2019. At the time, nobody could have predicted the film would go on to achieve such universal acclaim and box office success.

On the surface, Bait is a film about two Cornish fishermen who are trying to keep their traditional way of life alive in a place that's being rebranded as a tourist destination. But as Mark himself says: “really, it's not about that.” Bait has sparked conversations about tourism, Brexit, and gentrification.

Mark says he’s realised through audiences what the film represents; “it’s a story about entitlement and the tension that rises when people feel they're entitled to something that conflicts with people who think they're entitled to something different, specially within a very small community”.

Now with a global pandemic looming overhead, discussions over the film industry, tourism and inequality has led many back to Mark and his film. He is very modest about his work, noting the current topicality of Bait down to luck rather than its universal themes and effective storytelling, and his self-sufficiency has made him able to keep shooting on film for music videos.

During lockdown last year for ISSUE #7: SOLITUDE, we caught up with Mark to discuss his limitations, the failure of the government, and the power of local communities.

The way you developed the film was in a self-imposed solitude. Do you enjoy working in isolation?

Bait was the longest shoot I've ever done. It was really intense, with a hardworking crew who were very tired by the end and for half the shoot we were all living away together. By the end, I was ready for it to stop and get on with the post-production but what I didn't realise is that I really went off a cliff. I went from people around me all the time to then being in this studio with 130 rolls of film.

The reality was I was making a film that I didn't know how it was going to turn out. I think most people who do anything creative fluctuate between thinking ‘this is the best thing a human has ever created’ and two seconds later, ‘this is worthless shit nobody is ever going to watch’. The thing is to try and mentally sit in the middle of both because the highs and lows are both as damaging.

I think solitude is something I'm very attracted to but it was also something I probably went to my limits of. People talk as if I made the film on my own, which I didn't, but the processing was something nobody could help with. When the 130th roll came out and every roll seemed to have decent pictures on it, I probably shed a tear of relief that period was over.

Still: Bait (2019) (Courtesy: BFI)

Do you enjoy the limitations and the experimentation shooting on film gives?

The limitations are everything for me. It's why I don't really engage with the digital side of shooting. Even though I shoot on film, it ends up being digital but I'm not interested in shooting digitally. It’s not because I'm a film snob or I'm necessarily against the digital aesthetic, it's just I find it too overwhelming. The technical possibilities are endless and means I'm never thinking particularly creatively. Knowing there's only certain things I can do technically, means I then have to make my creative decisions limitless.

I'm never happier than having one roll of Super 8 and a Super 8 camera. The cost of Super 8 now is crazy and it's a two and half minutes roll of film, straight away I'm not going to waste a single frame of it. They're huge limitations, but they're huge practical limitations, they're not creative limitations so that's the purest form of filmmaking for me.

Still: Bait (2019) (Courtesy: