“Raw Herring” a documentary from 2013 Tribeca Film Festival

I watched “Raw Herring” yesterday during one of its screenings at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.  It’s a slow moving documentary that felt like a reality show about the (annual?) ritual of fishing for the Dutch New Herring and I can’t say that I got much out of it and that may be because of my expectations.   The film is as much about fishing for herring as it is about the daily routine and camaraderie among the fisherman and to some extent about their loved ones back on shore in Scheveningen.  More about the film here on the Tribeca Film Festival site.  Through this post, I have included some other detail / commentary that would have made the film a better and informative experience for me (but may that’s not the point of the film maker?)

Having seen a few National Geographic / Discovery Channel documentaries, I thought “Raw Herring” might be similar in educating the audience about the herring – where (depth) and when (time of the year or season) it is typically found, seasonal changes that impact its availability etc.  All you get to know is that they have to go slightly further North to find the herring than they went in the past year.  This film is made from the very simple perspective of the  fisherman’s daily routine on board their ships and the search for the herring.  About 50% of the film’s 90 minutes are dedicated to the search for herring.

I came across this blog post from Stuff Dutch People Like that gives more detail on the fish, how the snack of raw herring with onions is consumed, how much herring the Dutch consume every year etc.  Read the comments below the post for detail on where you can find raw herring in NYC.   This page gives some detail on the Dutch snack of raw herring.

Back to the movie.  Once the herring is found, there is hectic activity aboard the ship and for the lay person not familiar with fishing (i.e., me), there is not much by way of commentary on what is going on.  It is only when the nets are hauled back on board that you feel the crew’s excitement and relief.   Some commentary on the typical steps right after hauling in the catch – i.e., gutting, cleaning, salt -processing etc., would have made the film a better experience for me (and some others, I assume).

After a few minutes of the film showing frantic activities, the herring is packed into buckets that are labeled “Dutch Processed Herring”.  On watching the packaging you realize that its important for the (Dutch?) buyer to know that its Dutch processed, but what is unique about Dutch processing?  Towards the end of the film, you also see frozen slabs of herring.  How much of the catch did they freeze and why (more stability or did they run out of buckets? )

Why are some herring for the Dutch market (as discussed in an Auction hall early in the film) as opposed to the Norwegian or Swedish markets? – i.e., is there a cultural preference for more fatty / less fatty fish?  What kind of herring attracts a higher price at the auction?

“Raw Herring” is being screened again on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 6 PM.  If you watch the film, please tell me what you think about it…..

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