Personal Take on 10 to Watch filmmaker Mike Day

Nathaniel Mann describes meeting his Intrepid Cinema colleague and the heights they'll climb to make films together.


This is what Intrepid Cinema's filmmaking looks like!
This is what Intrepid Cinema's filmmaking looks like!

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Director Mike Day, 10 to Watch in 2012, is the one-man turbine behind Intrepid Cinema's documentaries. Here, Intrepid's composer and on-location sound designer Nathaniel Mann tells The Independent about their friendship and working relationship:

"Mike and I first connected in 2008 at a performance by my avant-folk outfit Dead Rat Orchestra (DRO) at London's Cafe Oto. The last song of our set was a 10-minute epic, comprising of a gritty fiddle reeling to an undulating wash of harmonium drones and peeling bells, whilst I sung an intentionally indiscernible vocal line that navigated the depths of the music. After the performance an enthused Mike approached us, he introduced himself as a filmmaker and proclaimed that we had just composed the soundtrack to his next film! The piece was to be a short film about a ship lost at sea, curiously, and unbeknownst to Mike, the obscured melody I had been singing was a traditional sea-ballad called The Cruel Ship's Captain. We were both struck by the synergy of the moment; a collaboration was born.

I began writing compositions for Mike's short films, and throughout our dealings I heard snatches of his adventures—filming, sailing, his past-life as a lawyer, and a string of other brushes with death. Soon enough I began to hear accounts of the Outer Hebrides, of its crofting traditions and treacherous waters, of grinding down giant waves in a tiny boat and of daredevil climbs up cliff faces with a video camera. These were the tales of Sulas Sgier and his documentary film The Guga Hunters of Ness.

DRO was Mike's first port of call for the Guga Hunters soundtrack. We soon realised that within the film he had captured something truly special, and potentially fleeting, and as such we wanted to carefully craft the soundtrack in honour of the men who had allowed him to film their tradition. We hired a decommissioned lightship (TS Colne Light) and installed our own recording studio in the great red vessel. For a week we entrenched ourselves (with Mike) in its bowels to focus on the task, working closely to imbue the music with the qualities of his experiences of the island, the men and the tradition. We created something of which we are all very proud.

It was during the post-production of the Guga Hunters that Mike and I developed both a strong friendship and working relationship. So when the moment came for him to embark upon his next intrepid adventure, a daring documentary in the Faroe Islands, he invited me to form part of his tiny crew. Set for a year of filming in some of the most extreme and breath taking locations in the world we took the bold decision of using ambisonic technology to capture location audio as surround-sound direct-to-camera for the entire film! In doing so we are creating an audio-visual experience never before attempted in documentary film.

Mike gained privileged and intimate access to some of the Faroe's most colourful characters, and with them we documented the vestiges of Faroese traditional life; from scrabbling across gables to film the turfing of grass rooftops, leaping between boats with all our equipment to film sheep sheering on mountainous islands, to spending a nine-hour night down a 200-foot guano covered cliff ledge for the annual gannet harvest. Together we have risked life and limb for the film, pushing our own limits physically, technologically, gastronomically (the Faroese are the purveyors of some unique tasting fodder!) and as filmmakers. The greatest test was of course filming the whale hunt in which the community gathers to herd and dispatch an entire pod of long finned pilot whales, temporarily tinting the waters red before dividing the meat between themselves. A challenge to film on many levels, these were powerful and visceral experiences, which will be unforgettable both as images and memories.

Mike brings a unique vision and determination to his filming, as a director with a story to tell he offers a critical and analytical ear to the facts, and this is combined with an eye for the un-contrived beauty of the everyday which sets-apart his cinematography. For me, it is this combination of roles as both director/cinematographer that affords Mike the possibility of presenting incredibly complex and layered cultural and socio-political contexts without being overly didactic. By carefully authoring each scene and image, he charges his films with information and trusts in the ability of the viewer to make connections, this has allowed him to develop a style which is a once both restrained and poetic."

Here's Intrepid Cinema's website and here's its Facebook page.

Hear an exclusive MP3 from The Guga Hunters of Ness's soundtrack.

You can see tons of extras from the "making of" The Guga Hunters of Ness here.