Simon Fitzmaurice is a talented Irish director and writer. He is a husband, a father, a brother and a son. He is a man with an extraordinary spirit and outlook on life. He is all of these things and more while being unable to walk, talk, move, or breathe on his own. Simon Fitzmaurice is battling Motor Neuron Disease, a debilitating condition that means he is solely able to communicate through a revolutionary computer system that utilizes eye gaze technology. It’s Not Yet Dark, the debut documentary feature from Frankie Fenton, is a glimpse back on Simon’s life and a chronicling of his efforts to continue his passion of filmmaking.
Narrated beautifully by Colin Farrell, the movie takes us on Simon’s journey as he battles to overcome the increasing difficulties his condition throws at him, while as the same time trying to provide a normal life for his wife Ruth and his five young children. It’s clear right from the beginning that Simon’s strength comes from the love and support his family, in particular Ruth, have for him and he draws on that to find the willpower to keep fighting, despite being told in 2008 he had only three or four years left.
Farrell’s quiet narration lends a soulful quality to Simon’s words and director Fenton manages to wring emotion from interviews with Simon’s closest friends and family, without ever resorting to melodrama or sentimentality. There’s a dignity to the film, to Simon’s story and the way he refuses to let MND curb his ambition.
After spending a large portion of the film dealing with the obstacles MND present to Simon and his family, the third act shifts in tone, focusing on his efforts to complete a movie that has been a passion project of his for years, My Name Is Emily. This act serves to function almost like a “making of” for My Name Is Emily, but with a more urgent feel as Simon races against time to get as much of his feature written and storyboarded as he can. With the help of an amazing team of collaborators and the use of eye gaze technology to communicate, Simon is able to direct his passion project, and it’s clearly a process that reinvigorates him. It’s a shame then that this part of the film feels rushed, as it provides a much-needed catharsis after watching Simon struggle for so long.
It’s Not Yet Dark is Simon Fitzmaurice’s story, the story of a life less ordinary. It’s powerful and tragic and yet conveys very well the sense of pride that Simon and his family have of their journey. Even as his life is destroyed by MND he refuses to be defined by it and this film is a testament to the ability of people to overcome.