When my aunt and uncle first agreed to let me film them for a student project, I don’t think they were anticipating that we’d land here, with a film that’s travelled the world, aired on BBC, won a BAFTA and been nominated for a Grierson (it’s been a big surprise for me too!). They’re just two lovely, humble people who were keen to help out their aspiring-filmmaker niece, and they couldn’t fathom why I’d chosen them as a subject. But I always saw the magic in them and their story, and it’s a real delight that other people now see it too.
Lindsay and Paul have been together for as long as I can remember, but their idyllic life in the remote Wicklow Mountains of Ireland became incredibly difficult after Paul suffered a serious brain injury, leaving him with short term memory loss and the unusual side effect of telling the same jokes repeatedly. People always laugh when I tell them that part – it is funny, and he’s funny… but a decade on from his injury, the jokes have worn thin for Lindsay, living in what she describes as a ‘real life Groundhog Day’.
I knew there was something uniquely fascinating about the light and shade in their story, that presented a real opportunity to take the audience on an emotional journey and ask themselves questions about life and love – but it took me a while to ‘find’ the film. I was studying Documentary Directing at Goldsmiths University when I first went to Ireland to film; it was the first time I’d picked up a camera and I made all the usual mistakes that come with inexperience, managing to simultaneously shoot far too much and not enough. I found the editing process incredibly tough, not really having considered the difficulty of making a documentary full stop, let alone a documentary about my family. So the film I made at uni never saw the light of day, but I kept all of the rushes, knowing that I wanted to return to it.
The opportunity to do so came a year later via Bridging the Gap, a development and funding scheme for new filmmakers run by Scottish Documentary Institute and Screen Scotland. For three months, I developed the film, and in that time I grappled with which parts of their (very complex) story to tell, whose perspective to follow, whether I should be in the film, etc. I filmed solo over 10 days and tried to make less mistakes, and managed to capture some really poignant moments. Paul’s jokes hadn’t changed in the year since I’d first filmed him, so the joke montages in the film are sometimes made up of footage shot a year apart. It was important to get that sense of repetition across in the edit, but difficult to strike the balance between humour and pathos. Once again, the edit was tough – but this time I was helped massively by the folks at production company Forest of Black, who were very supportive and generous with their time.
The amazing thing about filmmaking is seeing your vision enhanced by the expertise of others – my occasionally shoddy self-shot footage assembled in exciting ways by the editor, elevated by a colour grade and sound mix; the subtle soundtrack beautifully composed by Francis Macdonald of Teenage Fanclub. The final music track is one of my favourite songs of all time by an Edinburgh artist called Withered Hand. We were using it throughout the edit knowing we’d probably have to replace it, but I got more and more attached to it so my Producer Beth emailed the artist asking if we could use the track – and he said yes! For me it just completes the film, and it’s really surreal to me to have an artist that I so admire supporting the film.
In her typically unassuming and eccentric manner, when I texted my aunt to tell her the news about the Grierson nomination, she wasn’t too fussed about the award – she was just curious to know more about Grierson himself! For Lindsay and Paul, film or no film, life goes on and it’s tough – there’s no escaping that. But it’s lovely to see their story gaining recognition, reaching new audiences and shining a light on invisible illness and unseen carers. I couldn’t have hoped for more than that.
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