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Otter Study, An (1912)


Main image of Otter Study, An (1912)
35mm, 510 feet, black & white, silent
Production CompanyKineto

The secret haunts of the otter, including underwater scenes filmed in a tank concealed in a stream.

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A film in the Secrets of Life (1930-50) series from 1939 claims to be the first time an otter had been filmed underwater. In fact that honour goes to the Kineto film of 1912, An Otter Study. In this instance, a tank was concealed on the bed of the river and the cameraman was able to film from behind the glass. The reviewer from The Bioscope was lavish in his praise and was moved to cite this film as an example of the revolutionary achievements of the cinematograph and as a 'record-breaker' in which we are able "to view life from an absolutely novel point of view".

Otter films had, before this, been filmed during the course of an otter hunt, as this was the kind of event favoured by 1900s filmmakers to take advantage of a natural spectacle. The resulting films were gruesome, often ending with hounds tearing up the corpse. So, in a way, our Bioscope reviewer is right to see this is a novel treatment of the subject, in which we delight at the elegance of the creature and begin to feel empathy for it. At the end of the film, we see men and dogs, and are relieved when the otter eludes them. In this way, the viewer builds a different relationship with the natural world; one which would be developed by a long and noble line of British wildlife filmmakers.

In this 1920s re-release of the film by Visual Education, the final hunting scene has been excised. Celebrated Professor of Natural History of Aberdeen University J Arthur Thomson supervised the re-editing of the film which otherwise does not credit the original photographer.

Bryony Dixon

*This film can also be viewed via the BFI's YouTube channel.

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Video Clips
Complete film (8:00)
Topical Budget 102-1: Otter Hunting (1913)
Early Natural History Filmmaking