French film maker explores North hill farming life with Addicted to Sheep film

A North East sheep farming family star in a new film by French director Magali Pettier, which is hoped will be shown at the Amsterdam Film Festival

Film-maker Magali Pettier
Film-maker Magali Pettier

For 18 months French farmer’s daughter Magali Pettier filmed the everyday life of a hill farming family in the Northern uplands.

Sunderland University graduate Magali, who grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Brittany, has amassed 62 hours of footage of Tom and Kay Hutchinson and their three school-age children on their hill farm on the Raby Estate in County Durham.

She had some funding and mentoring from Northern Film and Media but the project has been largely self-financed, with Magali staying at the farm on a number of occasions, including Christmas Day.

Now she has to edit the footage down to a one-hour feature film, called Addicted to Sheep. Magali hopes to show her portrayal of Northern hill farm life at the Amsterdam Film Festival, with an entry deadline of August.

She then wants to show the film at other international festivals.

But the post-production costs will be £7,000 and Magali is counting on help from donors to realise her dream and make sure the film is shown to audiences around the world.

 

Magali arrived at Sunderland University in 2002 to study photography, video and digital imaging and stayed on to take an MsC in IT.

She has lived in Sunderland, Bensham in Gateshead and Cleadon in South Tyneside, moving to Stockton on Teesside five months ago.

With her agricultural background, she decided she wanted to make a feature film about farming, and started work with two French and two English families.

But because she had to find the finance herself, the project proved too ambitious.

But Magali became interested in tenant farming in England, especially hill farms, and decided to focus on the Hutchinsons and their North Pennines flock.

She was put in touch with the family after contacting Upper Teasdale Agricultural Support Service.

Magali said: “I was brought up on a dairy farm in Brittany and always wanted to raise the profile of farmers. I wanted to help them gain the respect I felt they deserved.

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

“I always had a fascination with the sense that we walk in the footsteps of others who have lived these lives before.

“In France, tenant farmers are part of the past, and when I found out that they still existed here I was intrigued to know why anyone would opt for this lifestyle when their future may seem so uncertain.

“Although tenants do not own the farm, they still invest a lot of time, money and emotion in it.

“Growing up on a farm teaches you a lot about life, and I wanted to feature a family with children because they are so involved with farm life from an early age.”

Magali met the Hutchinsons and feels that they were reassured by her farming background.

“They knew I would not misrepresent them and we became friends.

“I did not want to film anything dramatic, but to show the realities of farming throughout a normal year.

“I wanted to show what life is like on a hill farm, day in and day out.

“It was important for me to portray hill farming in a realistic way.

“But there were some high moments. I found the lambing fascinating. It is a very important time for the farmers and when a lamb died I could see the affect it had on them and the children. I also filmed at the children’s remote school which had 15 pupils, all of whom were from farming families.”

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