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A Crofter's Life in Shetland (clip 1)

Fishing Season at Lerwick Harbour

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An early documentary by filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson, one of Scotland's film pioneers. It records a traditional way of life which was about to disappear for ever and captures the annual farming year of the crofting communities of the Shetland Isles. The film features the islanders at work on their crofts, gathering peat, fishing and the celebrations during the "Up Helly Aa" festival.
This particular clip shows women at work gutting the herring catch and packing the fish tightly into barrels. A good catch would mean money for the Island, a bad catch - poverty.

Questions & Activities


  • What task do you see the women doing? Compare this to the work the men do.
  • How many fish could you gut in a minute?
  • What kinds of sounds and smells do you think would fit the images?
  • What clues does the film present to suggest what the work was like for the women?
  • Discuss the variety of textures and patterns that can be seen in this clip.
  • This film was made by a woman filmmaker. How do you think this might influence what is shown in the film?


Make a list of the pros and cons of doing this job.

Create a short drama based on the clip or record a voice-over, sound effects or music to accompany the clip.

Research the history of the herring industry. Find out what songs arose out of the fishing traditions and either present as a live performance or record as a soundtrack to the clip.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-000-167-C
Resource Rights Holder Courtesy of The Gilbertson Family
Project Ref 0981
Date 1931
Genre Documentary, Amateur, Women Filmmakers
School Subject Social History, Modern Studies, Music, Drama
Who Jenny Gilbertson (director)
Where Lerwick, Shetland
Clip Length 2:03
Film Length 46:00