My documentary could not have begun more bizarrely in a dream. Not that my mind wasn’t already half-hazed by my fresh return from Berlin and an epic Wimbledon final. The game was in fact a masterpiece of my imagination: a frantic collaboration between my visual neurons and the infrequent auditory inputs of the radio (we didn’t always have signal during our long drive to ‘The North’). Though not authentic, I like to think that I created an equally engaging match. Engrossed in the reading of the Three Musketeers, visions of a small, fluffy, yellow ball ping-ponging over a net and a lot of naps, I was happy to fulfill the male role in this girls-only road trip.
And yet I’m sure the apparition of a disheveled, topless dwarf was real. He surprised us as we were ushered into our less than reputable installations. Where we the film crew he was expecting? Flattered that we didn’t look the inexperienced amateurs we actually were, we engaged in a friendly chat. Anyhow, we belong to an industry that relies heavily on hypocritical friendliness with strangers (they’re all potentially useful in some way or other: one can nick their stories, sources, contacts, locations…the list goes on).
- ‘No, sorry. We’re making a documentary about squirrels’, my friend quickly replied.
- ‘Oh. And you haven’t seen other teams with equipment?’
-‘Nop. Sorry. What’s your film about?’
A dwarf and zombies. Needless to say we ended our little chat there and then and locked ourselves in our room.
This was near Newcastle, about a month ago, when we had just embarked on our final project; a documentary that is turning out less to be about the conservation of red/grey squirrels and more a reflection of British nationalism. We were there to follow Paul Parker, chief hunter of the RSPP (Red Squirrel Protection Partnership). Our ears took about half a day to adapt to his strong Geordie accent, but we did what any respectable girl does under these circumstances: smile sweetly, giggle a bit and with luck the conversation became more comprehensible.
Barely into our first five minutes of meeting Paul put us to the test: which one of us dolls would shoot the first squirrel? Now, we had come to shoot him shoot them, not do the dirty job ourselves. But with the possibility of us becoming what he liked to call “saboteurs”, either one of us manned-up or we would have to come up with a different project. In between two animal-loving ex-hippie Sussex girls, I found myself agreeing to the painful death of a helpless animal. Not great for my ethical documentary values. The kill or cull, whatever you like to call it, its still shooting squirrels, was not particularly traumatic- I didn’t dwell on the creatures death. No squirrel ghosts appeared in my dreams; it was my friend, not me, who had nightmares about it. And yet the footage captured all the tension- and as a consequence I find myself utterly unable to edit or even see this crucial moment.
For a week we woke at what seemed like dawn for the regular student (i.e 6am), scuttled off to Tesco’s for some tea (the coffee snob in me refused to even consider McDonalds’ brown liquid) before we met Paul for our daily rounds. During these we checked traps, learnt how to skin, talked to butchers and cooks about eating ‘the Greys’, met a red squirrel whisperer and hoped to meet one ourselves. We did, its an adorable little creature, even if I only just saw it for about 2 seconds.
In addition to our rodent education, Paul also wanted us to appreciate Newcastle’s nightlife. I’ve heard a lot about the nocturnal capital it has become; sadly however, the party scene I saw was that of a Wednesday 9pm at POP. We were easily half the age and size of the few that were hitting the dance floor, so with a weak excuse we bade our goodbyes. I shall never forget my last image of Paul: he was pole-dancing on top of a woman wearing a plastic nurse outfit. In the meantime, im still stuck staring at a screen choc-a-block with images of squirrels. Lets hope i finish before my mind becomes more screwed than it already is.
ps- if you want to kill time, youtube squirrels, the variety available is astounding: there is everything from political propaganda to songs and dances. My favorite is still the MJ tribute though.