The Northern Ireland of the future has forgotten the past in Factotum's first feature film
Click on the video above to watch a trailer for the Factotum film Ditching.
An unknown catastrophe has struck. We don't know when it occurred or by what means, all we can tell is that it's the future and the survivors of the apocalypse have been left to wander Antrim's barren wilderness, confused and becoming increasingly frightened by the depopulated county's descent into feudalism.
We join John (Lalor Roddy) and Meave (Mary Lindsay) pushing their shopping trolley of possessions across the countryside, on a quest for medicine to cure John's unnamed illness, which is causing his health to rapidly deteriorate.
On the way, their heads are filled with rumours from paranoid locals, whisperings of tribes, of cannibals and a mysterious place called the Sanctuary which holds a powerful object, only to be seen by the King of Armagh.
That's the intriguing premise of Ditching, the slow-paced debut film produced by Factotum, the Belfast-based arts group best known for the publication of satirical freesheet The Vacuum.
The film stars a large cast of Northern Irish talent including Lalor Roddy (Hunger), Jonathan Harden (Fifty Dead Men Walking), and Juliet Crawford (Five Minutes of Heaven) who all put in a solid effort on a strange, yet realistic story of what might yet be. Fra Gunn is a notable newcomer as soldier Tom, on hand to intersperse some much needed humour to the dark tale.
The dramatic locations of countryside buildings in ruin and the sweeping landscapes give Ditching a real feeling of desolation and loneliness, the film's opening sequence of derelict buildings and farmhouses showing a potent vision of a land forgotten.
The atmospheric soundtrack is to be lauded, enveloping the imagery with ambient contributions from David Holmes and RL/VL (aka Space Dimension Controller), enhancing the film's dreamlike quality. The collective's experimental jam sessions give interesting results too, set to scenes of curious rituals and games now carried out by the country's lost souls, longing for meaning and purpose.
Stephen Hackett and co-director Richard West explain how Factotum began the journey to creating their first feature.
‘We have always wanted to make films, ever since we were children. Once we had confided this secret to one another it was inevitable that we would give it a go.’
In 2007, having won the Curated Visual Artists Award, the wheels were set in motion on the collective's ambitious project, with the feature premiering at last year's Belfast Film Festival.
Although Factotum certainly hold no lack of enthusiasm for a unique film experience, Ditching couldn't escape the pitfalls inherent in any low-budget feature.
'Given it was shot outside, without electricity, in February, there was the weather,' Factotum says. 'But also the sound of distant scooters, aeroplanes etc, not found after the apocalypse but insistently present today. Probably the biggest obstacle was that it was our first feature and we were a bit green.'
As a programmer for the Belfast Film Festival, Hackett is no stranger to the weird and wonderful of the celluloid world, and unsurprisingly cites a number of satirical flicks that if not a direct influence on the film, at least found a place in orientating the story of Ditching.
‘These would include A Boy and His Dog, The Bed Sitting Room and Stalker and many others that I can't remember now, not all of them post-apocalyptic. The name of the Temple derives from a Japanese film called Floating Clouds.’
Indeed, the struggle of Floating Clouds protagonist Yukiko Koda finding where she belongs in post-war Japan has parallels to the senario faced by the band of survivors in Ditching, floating endlessly in the search for purpose in a world of primitive technology, tribalism and cannibals.
‘We enjoy the post-apocalyptic genre of films, perhaps because of its idealism. Even when things go badly for characters there is something invigoratingly utopian about a world stripped down to its bare essentials’, Factotum said.
Produced on a budget of around £25,000, Ditching was always going to struggle to elevate itself from 'bare essentials', but where it stumbles in terms of production value, it finds footing with its multitude of exciting ideas and the occasional flourish of powerful imagery, not least a beautiful closing scene using the light (when the weather finally lifts) to deliver a poignant end to Factotum's dark tale.
So does Ditching hold any message the good folk of Antrim should heed for the future?
‘Keep the instructions booklet near your domestic and other appliances,' warns Factotum. 'Because at some time in the future, in a post-apocalyptic world someone else may really need to know how they all work. But it is also a realistic vision of a post-apocalyptic Northern Ireland, at least as we experienced it. Although I suppose it may have been different in Ballymena or Enniskillen, it often is.’
Apart from the possibility of a screening at the Mid-Ulster Film Festival, Factotum have no plans to take the film around festivals, so this week's showing at the QFT may be your last chance to see it, this side of the apocalypse.