“Drifters is about the sea and about fishermen, and there is not a Piccadilly actor in the piece. The men do their own acting, and the sea does its – and if the result does not bear out the 107th psalm, it is my fault. Men at their labour are the salt of the earth; the sea is a bigger actor than Jannings of Nitikin or any of them; and if you can tell me a story more plainly dramatic than the gathering of the ships for the herring season, the going out, the shooting at evening, the long drift in the night, the hauling of nets by infinite agony of shoulder muscle in the teeth of a storm, the drive home against a head sea, and (for finale) the frenzy of a market in which said agonies are sold at ten shillings a thousand, and iced, salted and barrelled for an unwitting world – if you can tell me a story with a better crescendo in energies, images, atmospherics and all that make up the sum and substance of cinema, I promise you I shall make my next film of it forthwith. [...]

The life of Natural cinema is in this massing of detail, in this massing of all the rhythmic energies that contribute to the blazing fact of the matter. Men and the energies of men, things and the functions of things, horizons and the poetics of horizons: these are the essential materials. And one must never grow so drunk with the energies and the functions as to forget the poetics.”

John Grierson1


“Dear John Grierson,
Thanks for the word ‘documentary’, which you came up with in 1926. Thanks too for saying that we see more in a real person on the screen than in an actor. Thanks for believing in raw cinema.”

Mark Cousins2


« Le documentaire était depuis le début – quand nous avons séparé nos théories sur la cause publique de celles de Flaherty – un mouvement anti-esthétique. Nous avons tous, je suppose, sacrifié des aptitudes personnelles en « art » et l’agréable vanité qui va avec. Ce qui complique l’histoire c’est que nous avions toujours le bon sens d’employer des esthètes. Nous le faisions parce que nous les aimions bien et nous avions besoin d’eux. C’était paradoxalement avec l’excellente contribution esthétique de gens comme Flaherty ou Cavalcanti que nous maîtrisions les techniques nécessaires à notre cause inesthétique. »

John Grierson3

UPDATED ON 23.05.2019