On a surface level, the link between young kids buying Supreme and old guys racing Whippets is probably – at very, very best – a highly tenuous one. However, it’s a relationship that Dan Emmerson introduces nonetheless in Gannin Hyem, a short film about class and community in the North East of England.
Emmerson’s film, produced by TCO and Somesuch, and commissioned by Spaces In-Between – a new, quarterly print publication from size? – places the rise of hypebeast culture and the dissipation of Newcastle’s Whippet racing clubs alongside each other, in what is a mediation on the polarisation of Geordie identity. As Whippet racing dies out and the adolescents watch on, apathetic and disinterested, Gannin Hyem questions modern society’s growing inability for intergenerational empathy.
“I’ve got a Whippet myself, Jeff,” Emmerson laughs. “Had him about six years. But I didn’t really know anything about Whippet racing, or anything like that. I was actually born in Newcastle – my dad’s side of the family is from there, the North East. My dad would tell me that there was a big Whippet racing community, loads of individual communities around the North East.”
“At the time, if I’m honest, I didn’t know what the scene was. I was basing it on what I had heard and the hope that there’d be something up there. After going on Facebook groups and all of these really outdated blogs that hadn’t been updated in like, a year or whatever, I was like, ‘fuck, is there even anything going on?”
“The film, for me, isn’t about Whippet racing so much. It’s more about the North East, identity and what young are people are doing now” – Dan Emmerson
Thankfully for the London-based filmmaker, he soon found what he was after. After arranging to meet with figures from the community, Emmerson spent a weekend in Newcastle with the few Whippet racing clubs still hanging on. While the film shows that the old guard remains as passionate as ever about their niche and unique pastime, they bemoan an impotence to attract interest from the younger crowd they need to keep it alive. Sadly, eventual extinction seems only a matter of time.
“Nowadays, you’ve got very, very few youngsters coming,” explains one of those unnamed dog-owners half-way through the film. “My opinion is, more often than not, they don’t want a dog to look after cos it’s gotta be walked, it’s gotta be fed, it’s gotta be groomed. They can go on computers and have virtual this, that and the other – they can have virtual dogs if they want them.”
While, on paper, it’s tempting to snigger at declarations of a Nintendogs revival, Emmerson’s film never threatens to stray into judgement territory, choosing instead to operate as a snapshot commentary on the disparity of shared interest in the two different age brackets. Rather, Gannin Hyem (Geordie for: ‘going home’) is about an inability to connect; to come together.
“The film, for me, isn’t about Whippet racing so much. It’s more about the North East, identity and what young are people are doing now.”
The spectral presence of Thatcherism haunts the films seven-minute running time (you can almost hear her whispering “there’s no such thing as society” as Emmerson cuts to archive footage of people dog-walking in front of decimated collieries), with Whippet racing’s slow decline mirroring of small, dismantled communities left behind by Conservative governments. “It’s still there, they’re still clinging onto Whippets, but it’s a very post-industrial vibe. You feel that now,” notes Emmerson, on the similarities.
While the film ends on a semi-poignant note (courtesy of Josh, who, as a young person involved in Whippet racing, serves as Gannin Hyem’s sole contrast to vaping, adolescent indifference), it remains, ultimately, a short, sharp documentation of a subculture at its most localised. It’s about the beauty – and inevitable demise – and of the idiosyncratic. Why aye.
“(I love) the bond between people and their dogs,” he explains. “When I was doing it, a lot of people were like, ‘that’s so cruel.’ But, if you’ve got a long dog like a Whippet or a lurcher or a greyhound, that is what they love – they love to run like that. It looks a bit gnarly when you put them in a cage and put a cloth 100 metres away, but they love it. At the end of it, they’re so hyped. All they wanna do is do it again. Once you see that, it makes total sense.”
“It’s a realer connection.”
Follow Niall Flynn on Twitter here @nwflynn