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Gallivant (1996)


Main image of Gallivant (1996)
Various formats including Super 8 and video, colour, 103 mins
DirectorAndrew Kötting
Production CompaniesTall Stories, British Film Institute, Channel Four, Arts Council of England
ProducerBen Woolford
ScreenplayAndrew Kötting
CinematographyN.G. Smith

Cast: Gladys Morris, Eden Kötting, Andrew Kötting

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The director, his grandmother and daughter (who has learning difficulties) set out to travel all the way around the coastline of mainland Britain. They have adventures, meet strange characters and explore fishing villages on their journey.

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A 6,000-mile journey zig-zagging around the coast of Britain, Gallivant (1996) is both an experimental travelogue and an intensely personal story. Filmmaker Andrew Kötting begins the journey to bring Gladys, his 85-year old grandmother, and Eden, his 7-year old daughter, together. Gladys's stamina is limited, and Eden has Joubert's syndrome: she's not expected to live to adulthood. Both are fragile, and the journey is an opportunity which may not be repeated.

The film follows their journey chronologically, but the film is far from naturalistic. Kötting uses different film and video stocks, timelapse photography, and macro shots. He also inserts found footage and non-synchronous sound. Sometimes this is ironic: tourists looking through pay-per-view telescopes at a cliff's edge 'see' what-the-butler-saw footage. Sometimes it's dramatically beautiful: the tide rapidly sweeping out towards Lindisfarne. Unable to see through Gladys' or Eden's eyes, we see that the journey itself has many viewers, each with their own eyes. Eden can't speak, but uses a limited-vocabulary sign language, and the film subtitles her commentary on the journey.

Kötting looks not for an essential quality of British life, but for its symptoms: folk culture and songs. He cajoles two old men at Port Carlisle into singing 'Do ye ken John Peel?', one accompanying the other on his mouth organ. At Robin Hood's Bay, folk musician Martin Carthy gives a more professional rendering of 'Sailing over the Dogger Bank'. In Goathland, a sword dancer explains the dance's pagan Viking roots, and in Hastings a man tells how the Jack-in-the-Green festival has exploded in popularity.

Some traditions are as bizarre as others are archaic: in Clootywell, old women hang pieces of their clothing from trees in a ritual to combat ailments. But as a man at Whitehaven says, people who live on the coast and people who live inland are different: we might be only seeing the very edges of Britain's folk traditions. The film relies largely on happy accident for its encounters: when Kötting falls off the side of his van, shattering his ankle, the camera follows him even to hospital, where he strikes up a conversation with fellow patients.

The journey ends where it began, in Bexhill-on-Sea, with evidence that Kötting has succeeded in bringing Gladys and Eden closer: the film closes on the two exchanging a hug. The shared experience of discovering Britain's fringes closes a gap of four generations.

Danny Birchall

*This film is available on BFI DVD.

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Video Clips
1. The journey begins (2:27)
2. Giant bolster (1:28)
3. Port Carlisle (3:03)
4. Kyle of Lochalsh (2:49)
5. Back to Bexhill (1:09)
Production stills
Robinson in Space (1997)
Kötting, Andrew (1958-)
Channel 4 and Film
The BFI Production Board: The Features
They Started Here