The Lark (United Kingdom, 1 hr 15 min)

Directed by: Steve Tanner, Brett Harvey, Mark Jenkin, Paul Farmer

Written by: Paul Farmer

Cast:

Mark Pearce, Mary Woodvine

Niamh's world is a nightmare, a seemingly endless maze in which every corridor disappears into an infinite darkness that can suddenly part to reveal uncanny scenes and characters. But Niamh has made a home here for her children, a shelter from a poisonous world outside, where they live under the protection of the strange friends Niamh has found here, while she tries to discover a way they can all escape to safety. But then the balance of the nightmare is disturbed by intruders from outside. The violent Jackson and the prying Siobhan claim to have come here in search of a missing friend. But the truth seems to be very different. The newcomers have plans for Niamh that could lead them all to disaster.

Interview:

Interview with Paul Farmer by Lina Zeldovich


LZ: The film is a brilliant mind-teaser which will keep the audience guessing until the end – and then surprise them with an unexpected answer to all their questions. How did you get the idea of playing with an ecological disaster and the human mind going astray from this peculiar angle?


PF: There were two aspects of this – one was that War-rag (the collective that created 'The Lark') initially planned to work within a horror genre. In the end we didn't make a genre film, but the horror certainly stayed in! The combination of not being able to trust the world you live in and at the same time having cause to doubt your own perceptions of it represents the ultimate horror. The other major factor was the location. It was a huge 19th century derelict building that had once been the headquarters of Holmans, an engineering company. The building was enormous with two staircases and many passageways and two very large spaces, one of which had been fitted out as a nightclub, complete with bar and dance floor. We divided up some of the many other large rooms into smaller spaces and partitioned off extra corridors. When we were exploring the building one day, we found a new wing […] where we placed Niamh's and the children's rooms – the nearest they had to a safe home. We filmed everywhere from multiple angles so a large location came to seem infinite. And these are the corridors and spaces of Niamh’s mind. It was easy to create a hell in the camera when you were living in it sixteen hours a day. The building was a wreck – it was cold, wet and dark – the electricity had been turned off in most of the building. Apart from our creation of the ‘messages’ and ‘maps’, the building was exactly as it appears in the film and once you had been in there a few hours it was easy to believe the end of the world had already happened.


LZ. The audience is given a unique chance to see the world from the mind of a disturbed individual, surviving in the world of poisonous air, respirators, hallucinations and nightmares. What did it take to create this world – first in the script, then on the media?


PF: The script was created very fast out of necessity – once it was made available to us, there was a limit on the time the location would be available before its scheduled demolition. We had about three weeks altogether to get into production. [..] I went away and wrote the script in a holiday chalet in Teignmouth, on the coast up in England. I circulated drafts by stealing Wi-fi outside the window of the site office or in the town square. It was autumn and the weather was dark and stormy, which helped to maintain the atmosphere of the script.


LZ. Every filmmaker has things that he/she would do differently if they were to make the movie all over again. What are yours?


PF: We scraped together money and eventually went into production with £10,000. This meant we couldn’t get paid and this pushed The Lark down people’s priority lists. We needed more money – we also needed practical commitment from those charged with developing the film industry in Cornwall but they seemed to develop a bit of a blind spot when it came to The Lark. The result of all this was that, although we know this is an extraordinary film in all sorts of ways, it has been really hard to get it in front of its audience.


LZ: Was this script, by any chance, written from a true story?


PF: The history of Niamh, the main protagonist played by Mary Woodvine, horrific as it is, was derived from true events. I cant go into details without giving too much away, but the terrible truth is that this really happens….


LZ: While working on the movie did you ever find yourself wandering through the black-and-white shadows of The Lark’s labyrinth? Did you ever picture yourself having to survive in a post-ecological disaster world? Did you ever imagine yourself going insane?


PF: Yep! The horror existed in the real world as well as the imagined one. We lived in that labyrinth for several weeks, often from early one morning to the small hours of the next. Sometimes it felt like you couldn’t get away. At night you could lose touch with the other people in the building and feel very much alone. And the atmosphere of the film was bound to leech into our everyday interactions…. We did end up living the film.


Interview with Mary Woodvine


LZ: What was your opinion of the script? Did you like the part?


MW: I was very excited when I was approached for the part, and when I read the script this excitement increased as I loved the ambiguous nature of it. The whole story is such a guessing game for the audience, but for Niahm, it is clear. She has her own reality, and as an audience we have to take what we\'re given and try and find the \"truth\". I loved playing the part, and as an actor having the luxury to spend two weeks to really immerse oneself in a character is a rare opportunity.


LZ:. While working on the film, did the black-and-white world of The Lark’s became real for you? . Did you ever picture yourself having to survive in a post-ecological disaster world? Did you ever feel you were losing your mind while being in character? For the rest of us, who hopefully will never have to experience that journey – how does it feel going insane?


MW: As Paul has mentioned, the disused building that we filmed in really was like another world, you did feel completely cut off from the outside world. It was filthy and bleak and very unwelcoming, so yes it did feel real. There were times when I did feel I was losing my mind […] For Niahm and for me as an actor, it was a very real journey and moments like when she has loses her friend Doc, is desperately trying to save her children, and when she talks to them ( to camera ) at the end, I felt very raw and vulnerable.


LZ: A few personal tidbits: where were you born, what made you choose acting as your career, what are your aspirations, what’s the next big project and are you ,by any chance, planning to join us at the festival?


MW: I was born in London and both my parents were actors. so it was always a possibility for me, although my parents were desperate for me to get a \"proper\" job! My sister also trained as an actor and then as a voice teacher, so we have both ended up in the same theatrical and creative world that we grew up in. I went to drama school in Wales and shortly after leaving, got my first profesional job with a theatre company in Devon, then from there I became a member of Kneehigh Theatre in Cornwall, who now have a fabulous international reputation and following . I still work with them and still live in cornwall with my partner and two sons. I have worked extensively in television,and made 3 feature low budget films and several short ones, but have only just landed my first role in a major movie.

Review:

BY Lina Zeldovich The Lark: a brain-teaser film with a Fellini look and feel will leave you awe-struck in the end. Trapped inside the endless labyrinth of doors, walls and floors, Niamh (Mary Woodvine) and her two children hide from the poisoned world outside where one cannot survive without wearing a respirator. Niamh keeps the maps of their black and white maze on paper scraps she sticks to the walls, and she follows their directions in the light of the unevenly flickering electric lamps, which, strangely enough are still working. People come and go inside this eerie world of shades and shadows, sometimes white and ghostly like apparitions, sometimes embodied and violent. They, apparently, leave disturbing messages for Niamh, so to keep out evil intruders she sets up traps, one of which kills Sean, whose body she now has to hide. But the worst is still to come – Niamh’s children fall into a deep sleep and she cannot awaken them. When Jackson (Mark Pearce) and Siobhan (Helen Rule) show up looking for Sean, Niamh denies ever seeing him, but demands to know how her intruders are able to walk outside without dying. While Jackson and Siobhan refuse to share their secret, Niamh reluctantly tolerates their presence and Jackson’s advances. But, when she can no longer find her children anywhere in her maze, she realizes that something had gone terribly wrong… and she might be the cause. A powerful brain-teaser with a Fellini look and feel, The Lark throws you into what appears to be an aftermath of an ecological disaster where reality and delirium go hand in hand. And as you sink deeper into the dark unfamiliar world, your own mind can no longer tell illusion from reality. When I first spoke to Paul Farmer, the producer, I expected to hear about a big budget, a script that took a couple of years to perfect and a psychology consultant that helped to make the story real. But Paul surprised me. “We had three weeks altogether to get into production,” he said. “I wrote the script in a holiday chalet in Teignmouth, on the coast up in England, circulating drafts by stealing Wi-fi in the town square.” The dark and stormy weather helped to maintain the atmosphere of the script, he added. “We scraped together money and eventually went into production with £10,000.” Such rare precipitation was caused by the impeding demolition of the filming location – a huge abandoned structure that once was the prestigious headquarters of Holmans, a big engineering company in Camborne, Cornwall – so it was now or never. “We ditched all our previous work and brainstormed ideas stimulated by the Holmans building,” Paul explained. “Apart from our creation of the ‘messages’ and ‘maps’, the building was exactly as it appears in the film.” Paul describes the Holmans as a mammoth structure with endless passageways, enormous staircases, and two very large spaces, one of which had once been a nightclub with a bar and a dance floor. Paul’s crew divided large rooms into smaller spaces and partitioned off extra corridors, filming from multiple angles so a large location appeared infinite - to create “the corridors and spaces of Niamh’s mind.” Paul recalls that the building was a wreck. “It was cold, wet and dark… It was easy to create a hell in the camera when you were living in it sixteen hours a day… It was easy to believe the end of the world already happened.” One day exploring the building, Paul and crew found a new staircase on the top floor and discovered a whole new wing that looked like a little sanctuary which was where they placed Niamh and her children. When asked whether he ever pictured himself having to survive in a post-ecological disaster world, he gave an affirmative “Yep!” and added that the crew often stayed overnight. “Sometimes it felt like you couldn’t get away. At night you could lose touch with the other people in the building and feel very much alone. We did end up living the film.” Mary Woodvine who played the part of Niamh, agrees that the old Holmans headquarters felt like another world, but also felt like a refuge, and helped her to feel in character. She says she felt raw and vulnerable during the moments when Niamh lost her friend Doc or desperately tried to save her children. “I loved playing the part… having the luxury to spend two weeks to really immerse oneself in a character is a rare opportunity.” Mary adds that when they “opened the door at the end of the day it was easy to imagine that something terrible may have happened while we were cut off in our intense world.” Paul reveals that he very much wrote the script with Mary in mind as he was well aware of Mary’s stage and screen work and could “go for the extremes” as he knew the part would be “played by an actor of the very highest caliber.” Mary’s both parents were actors; she went to drama school in Wales, worked extensively in television, acted in several shorts, made three feature low budget films and recently landed her first role in a major movie. Just as his film, Paul managed to surprise me at the end when I asked whether his film was inspired by a true story. I was hoping for a negative answer, but he said the idea was indeed derived from true events. “I can’t go into details without giving too much away,” he said. “But the terrible truth is that this really happens.” A native of Black Country, an industrial area of the English Midlands, Paul had worked in theatre, radio and film. His work in the arts is about communication, he says – the creation of a realm artists and audience can share to exchange insights into the larger world we actually live in. I’d say he definitely succeeded with The Lark.