At first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking Bait is a newly discovered lost film, the print having languished for decades in the recesses of an abandoned cinema. The black-and-white footage is scratchy and prone to flaring, and the sound has obviously been post-dubbed, but Mark Jenkin has deliberately used archaic filmmaking techniques to explore very modern concerns. Set in his native Cornwall, Bait centres on the tension between the struggling fishing community and the influx of holidaymakers who have changed the face of the area, and while Jenkin’s images may evoke names like Robert Bresson or Roberto Rossellini, his debut feature is a true British original.
What have the reactions been like as you’ve travelled with this film? Stylistically and culturally it seems like a niche object on the surface, but there’s a fundamentally classical narrative underneath it.
When I started writing the film 20 years ago, I thought it was very local, very specific to Cornwall, and in the 20 years since I’ve put it down and picked it up again, it now seems that everybody can pick their own relevance out of it, and their own significance to their lives. It’s not even their own lives, necessarily, and from the Q&As and stuff people seem to recognise the state of the world in microcosm. It’s that old cliché about something very specific being very universal. Somebody came up to me in the Walter Reade at Lincoln Centre after the American premiere, it was this woman who was American but whose dad had been a fisherman in Barbados, and she said, “This is the story of my dad.”
Read the rest of my interview at the BFI website