The first feature documentary entirely in Gaelic, Iorram (Boat Song) is a visually poetic documentation of Outer Hebridean fishing community culture. Rediscovered and restored audio recordings dating back to the 1940s are played on top of modern footage, complementing odes to boats, folklore, and where to find the best herring.

It’s an effective piece of folk cinema, relying on oral storytelling to construct the traditions and history of this corner of Scotland. When talk turns to tragedies at sea, particularly that of five men from the same family lost to a capsized boat, the hurt stretches beyond the immediate family and becomes part of the community’s fabric. More jovially, stories of mermaids and fairies blur fact and fiction, said to have foretold of omens and visited lonely islanders. It’s impossible to overstate the value of Iorram (Boat Song) as a document, putting to record much of this remote way of life, distant not only in geography but in language too.

With no real narrative direction or structural development, the film teeters on monotony. Repetitive shots of fishermen and misty isles, while gorgeous and filmed in unobtrusive ways, struggle to hold the attention for the full feature. No individual self-contained recording is boring, far from it, but their unaltering delivery accompanied by often impressionistic visuals is less than gripping.

It’s success then is in the preservation of identity. Aidan O’Rourke’s score, dominated by fiddle, is as much a storyteller as each recording, bringing legends to life. Contemporary footage shows evolution and adaptation, these tales still being written. Talk of Highland Clearances sits uncomfortably alongside the fact this is the first Gaelic feature documentary. What has already been lost?

More heartfelt document of oral artefacts than engaging cinema, Iorram (Boat Song) is valuable in the way it upholds tradition while keeping it safe for years to come.



DIRECTOR: Alastair Cole

SYNOPSIS: A visually poetic feature documentary – the first ever in Gaelic – about a remote Scottish fishing community, its traditions, and its history.