Addicted to Sheep

A year in the life of a British farming family as they try to breed the perfect sheep

Addicted to Sheep In the uplands of North East England, Tom and Kay Hutchinson set out on a near impossible task: to breed the perfect Swaledale Sheep. They toil through sun, hail, sleet and snow to rear their flock. Life on the fells is by turns idyllic and tough. Surrounded by an ever-changing and stunning landscape, the family battle against the weather, financial challenges and the bizarre propensity of sheep to suddenly drop dead.

As Tom Hutchinson combs and clips one of his prize tups he points out its flaws. His head is too wide, his wool too thin, his colouring just off the ideal. Tom is disappointed, but he can’t kick the habit. “We were just saying in the pub how Swaledale Sheep are one of the worst addictions known to man. You just keep coming back, you keep having a go, and you keep getting a right kick in the nuts”, he laughs.

Up in the North Pennines, the Hutchinson family are carving out their own slice of rural heaven. Unable to compete with the big farms they devote their efforts to breeding the perfect sheep, quality over quantity. It is far from easy. Tom and Kay are happy though. “It was always an ambition to get a gnarly old farmer’s wife", he jokes. “You’ve got that!”, Kay replies. Their young children, Jack, Esme and Hetty love life on the farm. Although Hetty doesn’t like the mess the cows leave behind. “I think they should pick it up themselves, not us”, she says, disgruntled.

But whilst the family are largely comfortable and content, their life is not without its trials and tribulations. Tom was being forced to take a third of his flock off the fell, to prevent over-grazing. “They came with very little proof, and we just had to take their word for it”, he explains. To make ends meet Tom also has to clip sheep; backbreaking work he promised never to do. But the hardest challenge is the sheep themselves. “Most sheep farmers will tell you that the main ambition of a sheep, virtually from day one, is to die as soon as possible. The quicker it does it, the happier it seems to be.”

Beautifully observed, this heartwarming and funny doc provides an intimate insight into the past, present, and future of a way of life far removed from the high-tech hustle and bustle of modern society.
FULL SYNOPSIS

The Producers


Magali Pettier, Director / Producer. Magali Pettier is the founder and Director of Provenance Films. She has over 10 years experience as a photographer, camera operator and self-shooting Director/Producer working on authentic, observational, emotional and narrative-led films about people, where they come from and what they value. Having also worked on many social issue-based projects abroad, Magali wanted to focus on issues that are close to us and affect us here in the UK. As a farmers’ daughter, she wanted more respect for farmers and their way of life. She has recently completed Addicted to Sheep, her debut indie feature length documentary about a tenant hill farming family who live 1300 feet above sea level in the North Pennines. Described by Top Film Critic Mark Kermode as 'a rare treat' the film won the Non Broadcast Documentary Award at the Royal Television Society North East & The Border awards in February 2016.


Jan Cawood, Producer. Jan Cawood is a creative producer and director of quality shorts for TV, heritage brands, festivals and documentary features. Her love of cinematic aesthetics and visual storytelling stem from a BA (Hons) degree in the History of Art, Design & Film. Beautifully shot films, authentic stories and rich natural soundscapes are what she strives for every time. Her beautiful short film ‘55 Seconds’ about a Victorian seaside lift was a prize winner at Open City Docs. With over 10 years industry experience in corporate PR and marketing, Jan also has a strong track record in storytelling across a range of media which engages an audience. As the founder of Tin Man Films she combines her twin passions of creating content with audience development and distribution to make sure great work is seen.


Matt Dennis, Editor. After completing a degree in Fine Art, Matt Dennis began splicing film at the BBC. He worked on many documentary feature programmes such as Horizon, QED and Arena. Also working on dramas, he was part of the BAFTA nominated sound team for the 6-part adaptation of George Elliott's Middlemarch. Matt later had the opportunity to edit the multi-award winning animated documentary ‘A Is For Autism’ for Channel 4. He has extensive experience of making promotions and film trailers for channels such as Nickelodeon, Discovery and National Geographic. Previously a Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art, he now works part time at Teesside University with undergraduate Film and Television students while continuing to work as a Freelance Editor editing documentaries and documentary feature specials for BBC Scotland amongst others.

Making The Film


I am from a farming family in France and I know life can be tough for small farmers. As a filmmaker, now based in North-East England, I was drawn to the world of tenant hill farmers, and decided to look into their little-known way of life. Apart from the obvious problem of the weather my aim was to show the other many vicissitudes that farmers have to deal with. Being a universal issue, I wanted to challenge clichés that farmers are wealthy and grumpy! I was particularly interested in seeing this world through the eyes of The Hutchinsons’ 3 young children. Filmed over 18 months in the North Pennines of England, my intention was to make the viewer believe they are experiencing it at first hand.

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