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Developing Development-the-movie at Branchage

I wanted to take Development out to a bigger world, to get a fresh perspective on the project. So I went to the Branchage Directors Lab. It preceded the quirky Branchage Film Festival, where many movies are shown in unusual places—on a tugboat, in a polytunnel (the compelling Vanishing of the Bees), in a sushi bar, in a herd barn, onto a dam's wall one year. Accompanied by lots of live music and performance with and without movies, and even a magic lantern show. And amazing parties, one in an ornate mirrored Belgian Spiegeltent where people have caroused for 100 years: the extraordinary Ziveli Orkestar and their associated performers completely seduced me that night, lovely to want to dance again.

The lab was seven busy days with seven other participants, all based in Europe, each very different than the others, every one of them wonderful. We were all at completely different stages of development but it didn't matter at all. Day after day we told and retold our stories and listened and responded carefully, and our understanding of our stories grew. Every day the tutors taught me lots: script editor Kate Leys, actor Orlando Seale (I admire how smart actors are, and now have new respect for their courage), director Gillies McKinnon, producer Rebecca Mark-Lawson. All organised with grace and generosity by Rebecca Coley, with help from her fellow Jersey filmmaker-in-residence Michael Pearce, from Peter Stewart, and from Rosalind Fowler.  I loved all the people there. I loved their stories. I loved their generosity, too. It was another International Institute of Modern Letters-type experience, the kind that nourishes hard work.

And its effects on Development-the-movie? I learned how to talk and write better about the project, and that made me rethink aspects of the script. Another draft is on its way. Almost everyone told me stories about women in the European film industry, many of them similar to the stories that inspired Development. And many conversations at the lab and later at the festival—an especially memorable one with Menhaj Huda, director of Kidulthood—expanded my perceptions of international filmmaking and Development's place there, taught me more about the strengths and weaknesses of our business model, and generated new ideas about finding the resources we need.

We ate at a different place every night. Once in a restaurant right on one of the most glorious surfing beaches I’ve seen, at St Ouens. Like a long long St Clair/St Kilda beach in Dunedin but wilder and in less inhabited surroundings.  High tide smashing against seawalls (that's a wee tower in the sea).

Rows and rows of surfer vehicles tucked into the dunes above the shoreline. Tanned ten year olds with tangled blond hair, surfboards hitched to their bikes, pedalling home for dinner. I could imagine German soldiers goose-stepping along the sea wall when they were here during the Second World War, the French lieutenant’s woman appearing out of the dunes, fishing boats on the horizon—instead of a container ship or two.

One afternoon we went to find images that related to our projects. Rebecca C took me to two exposed cruciform dolmens. Magic. And then, the morning after the course ended, I went on a pilgrimage.

Just up the road from the Hotel de France in St Heliers—where the lab was based—is Jersey’s highest point, where there's a covered dolmen built 6,000 years ago, now with an old well near its entrance and with an old double chapel on top of its mound. Because I’d visited the smaller, exposed, dolmens, and—long ago—another intact dolmen on Gavrinis, a tiny island off Brittany, I was keen to check out this one—La Hougue Bie. So I walked up the road, past where the footpath ended. Then on, under chestnut trees, and past blackberries and huge nettles and country houses. And there it was.

I was scared AND curious when I stood at the entrance. The entrance is small, and I had to stoop to enter. And stoop along the first few steps of the passage, illuminated by dim night-lighting.

Then the passage widened. The ceiling rose. I passed the small chambers at the end of each cross arm, and came to the large chamber at the end of the passage, a massive rock placed across its entrance, like a half-drawn curtain. Then I stood inside the chamber, in the shadow of the curtain-stone.

I told myself that after 6,000 years it wasn’t likely that the roof would collapse; I wasn’t about to be buried alive. But I had to do some calming qi gong breathing, because it was exactly the kind of total under-the-ground-ness that I associate with splits in the ground during and after earthquakes. And as my body calmed down, suddenly there was a nothing-ness, with no emotion at all attached. I waited for the nothing-ness to change into something. It didn’t. I waited, watched some seepage moving down a stone. Then I thought, is this utter nothingness where some stories start? Or is it a full stop, like the one where life ends? Or both? And made my way out into the sun. Followed the circular path to the little double chapel, which is almost bare inside, and very beautiful.

Each equinox, rays from the rising sun reach the entrance of the dolmen and then down the passage into the terminal chamber. The autumn equinox had been a few days earlier. When I visited a little shop in a corner of the grounds, and bought an apple from the complex’s only apple tree, I told the woman behind the till that I wished I’d come at dawn, earlier in the week. And she told me that this year, the corn in the field just beyond had obscured the equinoctial rising sun.

Then I went into the German bunker that is now a memorial to all the people brought to Jersey as forced labourers. Saw the Maurice Blik bronze sculpture outside, above it.

Maurice Blik, who was in Bergen Belsen as a child, describes his powerful work as:
A disturbing and dislocated figure struggling to emerge from the imprisoning earth, depicting the pain and alienation of slave workers who were used by the Nazis during WWII to build underground bunkers. This sculpture is sited on top of one of the bunkers and together they form a memorial to the slave workers.
I went very slowly back down the hill. Gathering nettles to make tea, thinking about ‘work’ and ‘labour’ and about the earth and under the earth. Back to experiment with a new one-page version of Development’s treatment. This week I’m working on yet another one-pager, which will go to writer/director Peter Strickland (Katalin Varga) to look at.

A huge thank you to the generous benefactor who made this trip possible. To everyone at the lab. To the Branchage Festival organisers. I know Development a whole lot better now. It'll be a better project. And the trip's transformed me, too.

St Ouen's images from Logrider's Jersey Surf Blog.
Interior La Hogue Bie by Adam Stanford from Archaeology Safaris


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