Directed by Charlo Johnson
Starring Paul Hughes
Documentary Film Review by Chris Olson
A fascinatingly personal documentary of wildlife photographer Paul Hughes that explores not only the dramatic images he has captured over the years, but also his shifting attitudes towards life and society. Over the course of a quarter of an hour, we hear him wax lyrical on a range of topics, from fox hunting and being published in the Irish newspapers, to his former life of drink, drugs and women.
Told with a beautiful balance between dramatic imagery and sobering personal reflection, director Charlo Johnson weaves a mesmerising journey for the audience. As Hughes reveals more and more about his personal take on his craft, a deeper sense of understanding becomes clear about the fascination he has with nature. At times the commentary from Hughes can seem rambling, jumping quickly from one theme to another, there is also a degree of repetition to his anecdotes, but this is all cemented by his immense passion for his photography, a passion which the viewer will inevitably fall victim to.
With the huge popularity of Blue Planet II currently sweeping the nation, a documentary like Sober Minds is a wonderfully relevant piece of cinema in particular to a British audience. The social commentary which emerges is meaty and expertly explored. Hughes talks about the effect of man-made problems for our wildlife, and his attitudes towards foxes and how that has changed. This is done without damning sermons or explicit rhetoric, instead a calm and personal rumination that is more like the confession of someone who has undergone a transformation.
There are a few moments of archive footage used to punctuate the narrative. One involving a music video felt jarring and unnecessary, whilst the use of a video clip showing a woman protecting a fox from a group of hounds was intelligently spliced in. It's the striking footage of Hughes in his riverside habitat, though, that provide the most enjoyable aspects of the visual filmmaking. The autobiographical tone of Sober Minds benefits hugely from getting very up close and personal with its subject. On top of this, a wonderful original score from Rob Smith and The Swedish Railway Orchestra completes a massively enjoyable documentary viewing experience.
Profoundly human and crafted with the perfect balance of delicate introspection alongside thoughtful insight, Johnson's depiction of the world of Paul Hughes is immersive cinema. Behold the clash of the urban and the natural, or embrace the inseparable complexion of both, either way Sober Minds will have you contemplating.