Sailcloth is an enthralling example of short film making that addresses the subject of growing old in a gentle and subtle way that pulls softly upon the emotions of its audience.
The central character, played by John Hurt, is a resident in an old peoples’ home but is determined to leave. He packs his bags, sets off the fire alarm and escapes the premises in the ensuing confusion. There is one final journey that he needs to embark upon.
What makes Sailcloth so compelling is the humanity of the scenario and the way that its story resides in its characterisation without the need for generalisation or explanation. Indeed the revelations that do occur are entirely visual and the imagery is powerful throughout, especially in one notable scene where the use of shadow enhanced cinematography is at once beautiful and tragic. The film is entirely free from dialogue although it has a notable yet timeless score and it is to John Hurt’s credit that he delivers such a convincing performance – at times humorous, at times heart-rending – without uttering a single word.
With a running time of just 18 minutes, the film is short and yet not a moment is wasted. Sailcloth makes for engaging and emotional viewing, a gentle and moving reminder that old age is something that we, as a society, cannot ignore.
Kamera caught up with writer/director Elfar Adalsteins to discuss the making of the film and to give us his personal reflections on its themes.
It’s nice to see that Sailcloth has received so much critical acclaim. Do you have any thoughts on the way that films of its length are distributed and how it is possible for these to reach a wider audience?
That’s a good question. At the moment the film is only being screened at film festivals and it’s not until mid next year it will be released commercially. I guess my main options are to either to deal with a distribution company that specializes in short films or to sell it via the internet on iTunes, or alike. Some short films make it to compilation DVDs which is also good way to reach a wider audience.
Sailcloth is a powerful film. It deals with issues that are already very relevant in society and likely to become more significant – that of an ageing population and how we treat the elderly. It also appears to be very personal to you. Can you reflect on your perspective of the themes of the film?
The theme of the film is ‘The Last Great Journey’, which is a major recurring theme through film and literature. What makes it so personal is that it is someone very close to me is making that journey – in an allegoric way of course. I think the discourse on the elderly and death itself is not prevalent enough in our society, it’s almost a taboo. But my aim was never to pass judgment on these topics, only to tell a story.
You chose not to use dialogue for this film. Why did you make that decision?
It wasn’t a conscious choice. The idea for Sailcloth came to me in a flash and almost fully so. It wasn’t until I stood up from writing the script I realised there wasn’t a single word spoken.
Do you feel that the lack of dialogue strengthens the film as a visual artform that can be appreciated worldwide i.e. without a need for language?
Possibly. It certainly makes it easier for the film to travel. As a filmmaker you always hope that people from different cultures and ethnic groups will appreciate your work – that what you’re expressing isn’t too local.
It feels as though the musical score was very important. Can you tell us how you worked with the composer and what you wanted to achieve from the soundtrack?
Richard Cottle, who wrote the music, is an old friend of mine so it’s all very home grown. I wanted it to be hard to place time-wise, to be old fashioned even. So we tried out a few things and he ended up writing that beautiful score.
Can you tell us about the funding of the film and the production process?
It was funded and produced by my production company Berserk Films. The planning and production process were quite straightforward, but the filming was challenging as we had to work with water, fire and the unpredictable ocean. But somehow it all came together in post.
John Hurt gives a compelling performance. How did he get involved with the project?
I wrote the script with John in mind and after I finishing it I simply sent it to his agent with a personal note stating why I thought he would be perfect for the role. A week later his agent called back and said John wanted to meet me for a chat. We met, connected really well and at the end of the meeting he said ‘Elfar, let’s go make a film’; which of course was transformational. He understood what was at the heart of the story and he brought the character alive in perfect alignment with that.
What are your plans for the future? Are you working on further film projects?
I’m currently working on a feature length black comedy I aim to shoot mid next year.