Director George Griffiths has ‘become infatuated with the creative process of documentary film making’. We got in touch and asked why, and to find out more about his Exeter Phoenix RAW Film Commission documentary, The Visions in the Dark, about people with Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
D&C: The blurb about you says you’ve become infatuated with the creative process of documentary film making. How did this come about, and what is it about the process you find so appealing?
GG: I love the experiences and people that I would never have had or met without it.
For me both watching and making documentaries is mostly about this shared experience and widening of your world view as learning about these things (that without documentary you would never have been exposed to) allows you to empathise with a great deal more people and see the world through ever fresher eyes. This, in my opinion, is what makes them so alluring.
D&C: Your nature documentary, made when you were 10, about a 6ft penguin scaring people on the River Otter suggests a certain playfulness. Is this something you take into your film making and what other films have you made?
GG: I think that to a certain extent, as a child who grew up during the normalization of postmodernism, our generation’s response to media will always be inherently self aware and carry an anarchistic strain that asks us to not take film making at face value.
However, I don’t think that this necessarily will always filter though to the films themselves.
As for me I wouldn’t say that this film I have made for Two Short Nights is particularly playful in anyway, but I think that this is more due to the subject matter than artistic choice as most of my other films do, I believe, have the sense of playfulness you mention.
D&C: Your Exeter Phoenix commission film is The Visions in the Dark, and is about Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS). Why did you decide on this subject matter?
GG: I stumbled upon the syndrome one night while I was scanning through random web pages on the internet looking for an interesting idea to pitch as a documentary to my tutors at University and I happened upon an artist called Cecil Riley who had started seeing gargoyles and disembodied eyes in everything he saw.
The paintings he created from these visions spurred my imagination and I decided to delve deeper into the subject matter of Charles Bonnet Syndrome to which point I found that there were no documentaries that had been made about CBS, a condition which was to me both fascinating and also lead to an intriguing philosophical question in the sense that it calls into question how much trust you can really place in perception and sight, so I decided to see if I could capture my curiosity with CBS on film.
D&C: For the film you intended to capture what it is like to live with CBS. How did you go about this, and what challenges did you facing making The Visions in the Dark?
GG: I decided very early on that I wanted to try and capture what these people live with and how they feel about CBS rather than just asking them what they see and creating a library of experiences.
I also wanted to see if I could create the experience of having CBS on film, not so much verbatim what they see but instead a sequence of images that serve the purpose of imparting the feelings and experiences of living with CBS. Of course this proved to be quite difficult and the film went through many iterations with many different visuals unlit I settled on the final version.
It was also important to me that the film was more about the people I interviewed than the condition itself and served as a slice of their lives rather than an information film for people suffering from CBS.
D&C: George Griffiths, thank you!
You can watch George Griffiths’ The Visions in the Dark at the Two Short Nights festival at the Exeter Phoenix on Friday, December 2.