Garnet’s Gold is the fascinating first documentary from Ed Perkins, following the life of an eccentric man who goes on a quest to find buried gold in the Scottish highlands.
The first time we meet Garnet Frost he’s telling us about how he’s going to recreate Houdini’s escaping act, while climbing into a chest for practice. People that know him describe him as a bit of an oddball, who’s never had a career or gotten married/had children. He spends most of his time caring for his bedbound 90-year-old mother, and then painting and singing show tunes in the pub when he can. It’s a meager existence for a man who obviously has big ideas about the world, but we get a sense that Garnet is trapped. Then we hear about his madcap plan – 20 years ago he was trekking in Scotland when he fell beside a lake, completely lost, and thought he was going to die. Fortunately he was rescued, but before he was taken away he found a staff sticking out of the water and became convinced that the staff marked the point where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s gold had been buried. This notion plagued him for years and made him plot his return to Scotland. Garnet buys a boat and a metal detector on ebay and then he’s ready for action.
What’s most enjoyable about the film is how intimate the viewer becomes with Garnet’s life. Although in itself the journey is un-extraordinary, Garnet is an instantly likeable fellow and so makes it all captivating. It is testament to the trust that Ed built with Garnet to what he shares from his life – trips to the hospital with his mother and personal details about past relationships are all revealed, showing a human element not often seen in its entirity. It’s a joy to see that there are films of such small beginnings in the festival, particularly screening next to Aiweiwei: The Fake Case and Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?, this portrait of one man’s obsession with treasure proves there is room in every festival for grassroots projects and as a launching pad for careers.
Having premiered at Tribeca earlier this year, Garnet’s Gold has already received some critical acclaim. Director Ed Perkins should be given credit for his beautiful cinematography (he filmed segments for National Geographic) and for his honest portrayal of Garnet. But props should also go to Oscar-winning producer Simon Chinn (Searching for Sugarman and Man on Wire) and Oscar-nominated composer J. Ralph (Chasing Ice) who helped out.
Garnet’s Gold continues on the festival circuit – no UK release date has been announced.