Frankie Fenton’s award-winning documentary It’s Not Yet Dark on the life of Irish filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice has been released in cinemas across Ireland today. Ahead of the release we caught up with the director to talk about the film and its journey.
Narrated by Colin Farrell, It’s Not Yet Dark tells the ground-breaking story of Simon, who has lived with Motor Neuron Disease since 2008, as he embarks on directing his first feature film My Name Is Emily through the use of his eyes and eye gaze technology. The film borrows its title from Simon’s autobiography, which was published in 2015, around halfway through the documentary project.
Not only has Simon written his own memoir of his life, his wife Ruth Fitzmaurice has also written a book I Found My Tribe which explores her life with Simon. That book has been optioned by Element Pictures.
It’s Not Yet Dark was produced by Kathryn Kennedy and Lesley McKimm for Kennedy Films and Newgrange Films with funding from the Irish Film Board and Wellcome Trust, and is distributed by Wildcard Distribution.
It’s Not Yet Dark comes home to screen having been on a year long world-wide tour, including a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s been great. We’ve had a wonderful reaction in the States, or anywhere that’s seen it. I’d love to take all of the credit, but it’s really just a lovely story that speaks to an awful lot of people. Moviemaking, as you know, is one of the hardest things to do, and to do it with your eyes is insane. He’s an incredible and they’re an incredible family.
So how did he get involved in this? “I was asked to make a documentary about Simon and I basically started shooting Simon making the film at that moment. I was getting bits and pieces before then but I didn’t realise that he had a book coming out until the actual day of the book release. We turned up to shoot Simon in the evening and it was his book release. That was a big surprise for me. I thought that the story arc of that would make a great film but the problem was that we didn’t have any footage of all to back it up. So I started shooting Simon making the film on the set of My Name is Emily and I shot it almost like an EPK. I was shooting everyone on-set talking about Simon and documenting what he was doing from morning to night-time. I’d wanted to include pieces from his writing and pieces from his book, but the problem was that we didn’t have the pictures to back it up. So I started making recreations and using different visual aids to picture up his process and his words. Then suddenly on the first week of the edit he asked us to go around to his house where he handed us a mysterious drive that basically contained the last 10/11 years of his life. Most importantly it showed him through the process of Motor Neuron Disease until one day he put down the camera as he couldn’t hold it anymore and it was picked up by his kids. The last bits of footage were all pieces of us now looking at Simon. Those images, plus his thoughts and the thoughts of his wife Ruth, and their family combine to offer a powerful narrative.”
It’s Not Yet Dark is an amazing story of love and life. “The story isn’t about Motor Neuron Disease or about the demise of a man, but rather about what you can achieve when you have support. It’s a love story and also a story of love for family and friends and what you can do when you’ve been given the support of those around you. I’m not sure that I’d be able to get actors to convey those sentiments. That’s why the documentary works so well. You’re talking to real people who are talking about real love. You get to show it warts and all. What we really tried to do, and what we really thought about, was how to tell the story a little differently. I’ve never seen a documentary that is told the way of It’s Not Yet Dark, and I did that very purposefully. Having an actor as the voice of our main protagonist shouldn’t work by all rights, but it does. Before Colin Farrell come along we had a temp track put in by a younger actor and he was unbelievably good…to the point that I was really scared as I knew Colin Farrell was in to do the voice, but I was worried that he might not meet the mark of this other actor. Thankfully he did. The actual device of having an actors voice in there was something that shouldn’t have worked, but it really did and I’m not sure why. I don’t know if it would work with other stories.”
The film is bookended by the screening of My Name of Emily at the Galway Film Fleadh, a festival at which It’s Not Yet Dark would premiere itself one year later. “That was amazing. That was better than Sundance, better than any other screening. The screening at Galway was special as the opening of the film is in that theatre, in the Town Hall Theatre, so the curtain goes up and it’s like a mirror of the crowd that is watching the film. So that was really special moment for me. That was our premiere and then coming away with two awards, it felt very very good. We held out then for Sundance, and thankfully we did, but it was a big risk. So the Fleadh was July and Sundance was January. It was a long time. You don’t find out if you’ve made Sundance until the end of December, so you might have been waiting around for a very long time for absolutely no reason. At that point your film could be dead as you’ve already done your premiere and all that. It was very risky but thankfully we did hold out and now we are screening our film in Ireland on the back of all of these great international reviews. Screening in Ireland now is special. Friends and friends of the film have watched on social media all of this “hoo-ha” but they haven’t had the chance to see it. So by the time it does reach Ireland there’s an awful lot of people who do want to see it. It builds momentum, but it means that we’re near the end of the road. We head to the UK after this and there’s a few more little spots but that’s the end of it for the film for now anyway.”
It’s Not Yet Dark is out now nationwide.