Alexis Kirke‘s new film A Boat takes on the task of recreating the experience of Lewy bodies type of dementia. It’s a pretty big ask, but he seems to have managed it. We popped him a few questions about how he got involved with representing dementia on screen and the top notch team he worked with.
And you can catch the premiere at an event supported by the University’s Marine Institute on Tuesday 24 April.
D&CFilm: A Boat is about early onset dementia. Why did you pick film to explore and highlight this?
Alexis Kirke: It is not only about early onset dementia, but also a specific type called dementia with Lewy bodies. This form of dementia causes night terrors / visual hallucinations as well as the better known memory / attention symptoms found in many dementia.
Film is a great medium to capture these visual elements.
Film is also able to compress a high emotional impact into a short period of time, due to its multimedia language. I wanted to create a short form narrative, so short film was the ideal mode for this.
D&CFilm: How did you get involved with dementia research and policy and do you think there’s an accurate, or even enough, representation of it?
AK: I met Ian Sherriff, Academic Lead for Dementia Partnerships at the University of Plymouth a few years ago and he invited me to become involved with the Prime Minister’s Task & Finish Groups that he chaired.
This was in parallel with myself writing a piece of music for Soprano and Cello (‘Remember a Day’) designed to help a person with dementia with Lewy bodies to remember their regular daily plan.
I’ve also done work with BBC Radio Devon, co-writing and presenting documentaries about dementia, music and broadcasting.
The accuracy of the presentation is obviously going to become clearer, the more people with dementia who see the film. But during writing I spoke to a person with young onset Lewy bodies dementia who lives in the region Norman McNamara.
He had written about his experiences of Lewy bodies dementia and night terrors, and I was able to use that in the script. I showed him an early version of the script and he said ‘The script for the film is without a doubt the most realistic interpretation of someone living with Lewy bodies Type of dementia’.
In fact he went on to say it might be too realistic for the general public. I did give him a sneak preview of the film yesterday, and his response was ‘This is beautifully done, far better than expected, so much good luck with it and so honored to have been asked to advise on it’, so that was encouraging.
Terry Eccott, an Alzheimer’s Society ambassador living with dementia in London, also kindly spent time before the shoot speaking to the lead actor Jamie about his experiences.
D&CFilm: To show aspects of the condition you’ve used a number of techniques. How difficult was it to get those elements into the film, technically and in terms of narrative and editing?
AK: Narratively this film was extremely difficult to write. A few weeks before the shoot I realised that the density of techniques was drowning out any story, and I did a major re-write, greatly changing the story and reducing the complexity. But I had to write the ‘wrong’ script before I could write the final one. It was a difficult process.
I depend significantly on my DoP Christopher Jones for capturing the shots needed to tell the story. His experience is infinitely greater than mine, and he is a filmmaker as well.
I’m working with a new editor this time, Dom Lee, also a filmmaker himself. He took what could have been a rather clinical and prescriptive set of visual and sonic techniques I wanted, and turned them into a story with a heart. I was also fortunate that he is also a sound designer. So we were able to collaborate fully on that.
D&CFilm: The lead Jamie Satterthwaite is from ‘up-country’, but you’ve got a substantial cast and crew of substantial South West talent? How did you put together the team, and where do you think the South West sits in terms of talent, both in front of and behind the camera?
AK: My co-producer is Andrew Eccleston, who I’ve be working with on my music and film projects since 2011! We think very differently which is ideal, he is more practical.
I have an ongoing relationship with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, who are one of the top drama schools in the world. One of the contacts I met through them is GSMD graduate Mel Fulbrook, who founded Go People Theatre. I worked with her on a previous project at the V&A Museum so knew she was a brilliant actor. Thus I trusted her opinion. I found two possible actors through her, and the one who was available for the shoot dates was Jamie. I’d seen his showreel, and was particularly impressed by his performance and screen presence in Charismata, a feature doing the film festival circuit at the moment.
I’d already worked with Christopher Jones as DoP on my previous film ‘Buddha of Superposition’ and was very happy to hear he was up for working with me again. I went straight to him of course.
The editor I’d used on my previous two films wasn’t available. But I’d met Dom Lee at Shooters in the Pub in Exeter. Apart from the fact he was a relaxing and friendly guy to be around, he had a great show reel, and there was a good buzz about him.
I thought the other two acting roles would be hard to cast. Through Dom I got a list of possibles, and it became clear that there were two stand-outs.
Actors Katherine Drake and Phil Baker had done a short film together, and I could see from other shorts they had good voices and range. Also Katherine was perfect from a casting point of view. I spent much time putting pics of her and Jamie next to each other, and realised they would work onscreen together.
D&CFilm: How is A Boat and the experience of making it different or similar to your other films and work?
AK: The similarities came from shooting in my house again. My co-producer has instructed me I’m not allowed to film in that house for my next film! And also working with Chris Jones again was comfortable and gave me confidence.
Some key differences included the shooting on water. Almost all of the practicalities were dealt with by Andrew Eccleston and Chris Jones. Andrew sourced a safety boat, and was allowed to pilot it himself because of his experience -he also found us a safe venue to shoot on water.
We also had double the budget of my previous film: thanks to the Marine Institute and Medical School at University of Plymouth. This meant that for the indoor scenes I had far more lighting. This gave Chris much more to work with than in ‘Buddha’, and much more for people to trip over!
D&CFilm: A Boat will get its first screening University’s Marine Institute event on Tuesday, April 24. What’s next for the film, and for you?
AK: The film will be shown a second time at the Plymouth International Dementia Conference in the Plymouth Guildhall on 4th May.
Then the next two routes for showings will be the standard film festival circuit, and it will also be offered to the dementia support community on an ongoing basis to be shown where useful.
Next for me, is to start writing for another short film, though first I need to develop some solid ideas for development. I also have a fun zero budget side-project short which I won’t say too much about, but it makes ME laugh!
D&CFilm: Thanks for your time Alex and good luck with A Boat and your other projects!