Making the event trailer for The Cruel and Curious
When asked by Cai from Hickory Nines to create the trailer for the Cruel and Curious Hinterland, I, like the artists involved, had to define not only the term, but also what it meant to me personally.
The hinterland as a theme is brilliantly ambiguous – looking inland/inwards can mean different things to different people and how they express this could (and hopefully will) differ greatly, offering endless modes of expression, and a variety of media to do so.
Cai and I could pinpoint a few mutual aspects of what was meant by ‘hinterland’ and this helped determine the shots, tone and what we wanted the film to achieve. Focusing in from the dictionary-style definition of ‘the land behind the sea’, we looked at the loneliness and isolation afforded by this liminal zone; the unknown and thus unnerving; the concept of there once being a human presence in an area and the idea of the natural world reclaiming what was rightfully its own. We wanted the film to be slightly unsettling but not have the feel of horror.
Immediately I saw the film being in black and white. I thought it would provide a stark contrast to the colourful, scenic view usually offered when showcasing the West Country. I hoped that such a dramatic change would create an unsettling feel and almost a pessimistic tone, as experienced in film noir.
I tried to include a couple of sites looked after by National Trust; Wheal Betsy, seen at the end of the film, being one of them.
With the tone set, I then had to scout and chose locations that fitted these criterion.
As someone with an interest in archaeology and built heritage, it seemed natural for features like redundant engine houses, viaducts, railway track beds, disused mills and the like to make an appearance. After all, the landscape of Devon and Cornwall is littered with relics of the industrial revolution, but often on the periphery of the landscape and thus of our attention.
Davidstow airfield was also a prime contender. I looked at it from the view of an outsider: if you came across it by accident you would ask – ‘what happened here? Why is it no longer used?’
This to me, was the hinterland. These were areas often overlooked and unexplored by most – after all, these buildings are ruinous, so serve no purpose. Paradoxically, this made me want to visit them, to find out what happened here and why? In the process I came to terms with the great endeavors people had gone to when altering or manipulating the landscape and how those times are now gone. They offered an air of mystery, and their often dramatic positions in the landscape or the mixture of lighting they offered seemed to look good on camera.
Looking upstream towards the ruined mills of Rocky Valley.
Other locations in this hinterland were deemed curious as they posed unanswered questions. The fallen pylon along the road between Bude and Otterham Station was one such site. This structure had fallen over, only to be replaced by another pylon – but why had the old, broken one not been removed? The land owner had kindly given me permission to film, but did not allude as to why it was still lying there. It was this very discourse that had sparked the theme of the show. This seemed a flagship shot for the film and Cai was keen to include it. Visually it would look great. I was happy to oblige.
In terms of the voiceover, Cai had organised interviews with two artists with differing backgrounds: Eldmer, a male tattoo artist (and like myself originally from Wales) and Somerset/Devon girl Hannah Wheeler, a painter working in oil portraiture. (Both of which now work in Bude). Such a contrast in background and style, we hoped would offer an interesting narration to the film.
Planning the shoot for this film was totally different to any others I have
done, in that I planned little. As someone not originally from the area, much of the landscape felt like the hinterland to me and many locations that feature in the film are places that I have simply stumbled across when walking the dog or out with my camera. This act of discovery in unknown areas epitomised the theme to me. There were of course some shots that were planned, whether by driving past a place, through conversation with others or by hovering over an OS map. But the best locations, I feel, were the ones that would reveal themselves unexpectedly to me, and simply said ‘hinterland’.