Film documents year in the life of tenant hill-farming family

New documentary focuses on the Hutchinsons, of Forest-in-Teesdale, as they attempt to breed the perfect flock of Swaledale sheep

Film-maker Magali Pettier
Film-maker Magali Pettier

Members of a North East rural community have had a sneak preview of a unique documentary that charts the life of a tenant hill-farming family as they try to breed the perfect sheep.

Two previews of the independent film, Addicted to Sheep, have been held for stakeholders and residents in Upper Teesdale.

The film documents a year in the life of Tom and Kay Hutchinson and their three school-age children as they farm a flock of pedigree Swaledale sheep in picturesque but remote Forest-in-Teesdale.

It was produced by Magali Pettier of Provenance Films and Jan Cawood of Tin Man Films, both of whom are former fellows of DigitalCity, based at Teesside University, which supported them throughout the post-production phase of the project.

With the help of a successful crowd-funding campaign that raised more than £8,000 – including £3,500 from Heart of Teesdale and the Heritage Lottery Fund – Magali and Jan were able to work with Matt Dennis, an experienced editor, to transform 62 hours of raw footage into a polished 85-minute documentary.

The finished product was shown to invited guests over two nights at Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services in Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham.

A scene from Magali's film Addicted to Sheep
A scene from Magali's film Addicted to Sheep

Magali said: “The film is a product of more than 18 months of filming and several months in the editing studio. It has been incredibly hard work, but extremely rewarding to be able to finally show it in its completed form.

“We were delighted with the audience’s reactions – the comments were overwhelmingly positive – and I am glad that I have been able to do justice to the challenging work undertaken by the Hutchinson family and other tenant farmers.”

Magali was given unrestricted access to the Hutchinson family and the film provides a unique portrait of family life, even down to the children unwrapping their presents on Christmas Day.

Tom Hutchinson, who attended the sneak preview with his family, said: “Allowing a film crew to share your family’s intimate moments can be quite daunting.

“However, we felt we could trust Magali to capture the essence of what drives farming families like ours to do what we do, particularly with her own experience of growing up on a small family farm in France.

The Hutchinson family, who took part in the documentary film, Addicted to Sheep
The Hutchinson family, who took part in the documentary film, Addicted to Sheep
 

“Seeing yourself projected on to a movie screen was quite a revelation, but we are all delighted with the finished product and feel it portrays our life and work in Upper Teesdale in a positive light, showing both the highs and lows of farming in the North Pennines.

“We were very nervous prior to the preview but we are very pleased with the feedback that has been received for the film, from not only those involved but also our friends and neighbours in the Upper Dale.”

Heart of Teesdale project manager, Alex Kaars Sijpesteijn, who also attended the preview screening, said: “The film is wonderful.

“It is powerful yet subtle and a joy to watch.”

Magali and Jan are now in the process of entering the film into several international film festivals, as well as other distribution channels.

The first preview to take place in a cinema is being planned for February to coincide with the Lunar Year of the Sheep.

A scene from Addicted to Sheep
A scene from Addicted to Sheep
 

DigitalCity Fellowships, which are funded by the European Regional Development Fund, offer entrepreneurs funding of up to £4,000 while they develop their ideas or businesses.

DigitalCity Fellows can also access industry-specific expert mentoring and support, as well as access to facilities and equipment at Teesside University.

Michael Ryding, director of DigitalCity, said: “Producing a film with such artistic sensitivity and technical delivery is a tremendous achievement and we are so pleased to have been able to provide support and encouragement, as well as funding through the Fellowship programme, to both Magali and Jan.

“The documentary will give an extremely valuable insight into a relatively unexplored aspect of rural life.”

For more information and updates on Addicted to Sheep’s progress, sign up to the newsletter at www.addictedtosheep.com

For more information on DigitalCity Fellowships, visit www.digitalcityinnovation.com/fellowships

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