Just a glimpse of Trengellick Rising and you know you’re in for a rather special ride. From the film’s first crackle, this is something different. You’re pulled into the horse-powered revenge of a candle-lit world on the brink of change. And that immersion comes from old school film techniques, making the whole experience more tangible.
“You always want to make work that stands out,” director Guy Potter tells D&CFilm, from a rainstorm-hit Cornwall, adding another wedge of authenticity to the force of nature of Trengellick Rising.
“I felt the black-and-white camera work and use of film was one part of that.”
He did ask himself, how far can you push a film that’s in Cornish and set in rural Cornwall in the 1700s and still make it watchable while being true to the essence of the story?
“I was going further down a niche, and the more it went down a niche, the more attractive it became to people,” he says. And it fits the bill in terms of the realism for that era. Plus, with films like Parasite being so popular and well-recieved, the immediate turn-off factor for subtitles is diminishing. As Parasite director Bong Joon-ho said in his Oscar acceptance speech, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Trengellick Rising has its own identity. And it’s a very strong identity. Filmed on a clockwork camera from the ’50s with 16mm black-and-white Kodak film, and with Guy hand-processing the negative himself, it was a creative decision that drags the viewer back in time.
Shooting in the vagaries of Bodmin weather, which skipped between torrential rain and blazing blue skies, the use of filters and the black-and-white film itself created its own grainy consistency. “The way that we shot it and the way that we deliberately manipulated it, you wouldn’t be able to tell from one shot to the next,” says Guy.
As it wasn’t shot sequentially, Guy’s learning curve with the processing is subsumed within the film. “Some of it actually worked really well,” he chuckles, as he describes the process of processing, talking about chemicals, light, and negatives sticking together.
“I’d like to say that that was deliberate, but it’s a complete accident,” he says. “It worked for the film. It makes it look more like found footage and fairly experimental. And it worked in its favour.
“You can’t separate the story from the form. If you shot it on your iPhone in digital, it would look very strange. You wouldn’t sell the audience into that era as readily. It definitely has helped the story of the film.”
The script was translated into Cornish through the Konsel Kernow Language Office and Cornish Bard Paul Hodge, along with Cornwall Council’s Mark Trevethan, when the original 22-page script turned in 28 pages for what became a 28-minute film.
“The idea was that audiences in Cornwall could watch it and get more exposure to the Cornish language,” says Guy. As well as adding to the identity of the film, being in Cornish was to positively contribute to the Celtic language revival.
It was an ethos that spread to the cast. “We wanted to find people that were into the Cornish language, into indie film and into a bit of risk-taking.”
That included Guy, who found himself in the film, initially as a placeholder, but then as a character.
“With my character in the film, you end up following me almost like I’m a metaphor for the audience,” he says, describing his role as leading the audience to other actors’ fantastic performances.
In the cast, along with Guy as Private Gerren Pascoe, Zennor Rose is Persepone Cadieux, Jeremy Manning is Jago Helghyer and Michael Fenner plays The Constable.
The story follows a British soldier as he’s battling with his own conscience and reality, after being banished to a remote outpost in the land. In terms of feel, the film takes its influences from 1920s German Expressionism.
A lot going on
“You’re going to look at a black-and-white image, you’re going to hear Cornish and you’re going to read English. So you’re going to be pretty busy,” says Guy. And there’s a lot going on in the exciting film. “It feels like a feature film, condensed. It’s right off the bat, full speed.”
On set, the noise of the cameras made it untenable to record any dialogue.
“Everything that you hear has been done after,” says Guy. That’s dialogue, sound effects, wind blowing – none of it was done on the day. It was a challenge for the actors, too, to return to their characters two years after filming.
Peter Arthur Moon came in towards the end with the score, the Foley and the ADR because the picture needed to be a locked picture for him to work on it. It took him about four months to do something that could have taken him 18.
With this being such an undertaking, there had to be plenty of inspirations. One of them was Stephen Spielberg, who Guy worked with on Ready Player One.
“It’s hard not to be inspired by somebody like that,” he says. Guy was a stand-in and double for lead actor Tye Sheridan, who plays Wade in the film. Guy spent time with a team of people who’d worked together on Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park.
As good as you can be
“You’re on your best behaviour, trying to be as good as you can be. But you inherently absorb their experience and the random bits of conversation they have and when the cameras start running, or they’re just waiting or just having a coffee and you chat with them and you absorb it. It’s like doing a doctorate in filmmaking in three months.”
Trengellick Rising grew out of a follow up to Guy’s micro-short first film, Prey. Comparisons will inevitably be made with Bait and Mark Jenkin.
“I’m just trying to bring the Cornish language to society here, through the medium of film. I don’t want to compete with anyone,” says Guy.
“I want to have something where it’s readily available for the public to watch something in an exciting way, and get taken back to a world where Cornwall existed in a certain way. Yes, you’re watching an old story and an old picture and an old world. But actually, the themes that run throughout it are modern problems that Cornwall goes through.
“You’ve got one era where Cornwall was shifting from one trade to the next to an economy that’s sort of in flux. And now you’ve got the same thing happening in Cornwall, where we’ve gone from fishing and mining to tourism. And maybe people have overdosed on tourism a bit too much?
“There’s a parallel that’s become apparent, which wasn’t intentional,” says Guy.
The aim is to get Trengellick Rising in cinemas.
“It’s a cinema experience,” says Guy. “Because of the way it’s done, you are experiencing cinema. For me, it was the number one thing behind choosing celluloid and choosing Kodak was because a lot of people spend a fortune trying to make digital look like film. And if you just actually use film, you’ve skipped all that trauma.”
The process has enhanced the evocation of an era and added to its energy. With the learning, developing and growing as a director and storyteller, it has undimmed Guy’s enthusiasm, but with one caveat.
“In the future,” he says “I would definitely like to operate without being such a maverick.”
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