By Helen Cox
Just about every film geek I know has bemoaned the lack of originality in filmmaking at some point in the last month. Hardly surprising when the highest grossing film of 2011 list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood fat cats. Transformers 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and Kung Fu Panda 2…are these really the kind of flicks that make for a golden year of cinema?
I don’t speak as a film snob, anybody who knows anything about me knows that I am a bad film enthusiast but I can’t stand blandness and in terms of mainstream cinema things have felt a little lack-lustre this year, to put it politely. Of course I would never dream of doing something radical like, say, selling my house in order to fund the kind of film I think people want to watch. Firstly because I, admittedly, don’t have a house to sell but secondly because it’s a massive personal and financial risk. That is, however, exactly what the director and screenwriter couple Sloan U’Ren and Ant Neely did to fund their film: Dimensions. Subtitle: A line, a loop, a tangle of threads.
And what an enthralling tangle of threads it is. The resulting picture is beautiful, moving and meaningful on many levels. When a young girl called Victoria dies at the bottom of a well in 1920s Cambridge her two best friends Stephen and Conrad, both of whom were in love with her, grow up into scientists bent on discovering the secrets of time travel in an attempt to reorder the events of the past and save the girl they love. It’s a complicated and ever-twisting journey that dabbles with parallel universes and possible insanity, the narrative moving at a considered but intriguing pace.
The cast is a roll call of talented character actors including: Henry Lloyd Hughes, Camilla Rutherford, Patrick Godfrey, Edward Halsted and Olivia Llewellyn all of whom work carefully to weave the intricate threads of the plot together. Although this is a piece greatly concerned with the entanglement of time on the surface, it is the emotional entanglements within this script that truly grip, surprise and move the audience. Every frame has been lovingly composed down to the detail of period headscarves and vibrant hair ribbons and the very sensitive handling of a complex premise makes this undoubtedly one of the best films I have seen this year.
Naturally having seen the quality of this film, which is almost unbelievable given that the budget was a paltry £180,000, I had to speak to the producers about their incredible filmmaking journey. When I asked Neely about how it felt to take such a risk he explained: “Sloane and I spoke about it in depth, so we didn’t take the decision lightly, but we knew the only way we could make the film was to invest ourselves. We came to the conclusion that life is too short to just talk and if making our own film was what we wanted to do then we just had to find a way.”
This is a science fiction film like no other you will ever see. The tone, the setting and the situation are a unique blend of many influences. Simply coming up with the concept must have taken an immense amount of thrashing out. Neely confides: “When we first visited the main location (my brother’s house, just outside of Cambridge) we were entranced by the atmosphere. My brother and his wife had mentioned we could use the location to make a film and that started the ideas. The property felt so 1920s and we decided to set the film in that sort of time period. Meanwhile, I had become fascinated with some videos online that explained how we might be able to imagine higher dimensions. I think the idea of the masked-waltz probably came first – it just seemed like an interesting way to get these ideas of higher dimensions across. Sloane is a big science fiction fan, but (like me) is more interested in the characters than the concept, so I decided to explore why someone would be driven to travel through time, and what they would be willing to give to make it happen.”
The biggest barrier to shooting the film Neely and U’Ren wanted to shoot was undoubtedly money but given their creative talents they did manage to find ways around this as Neely explains: “There were plenty of things we just couldn’t film and we had to decide what bits to sacrifice. We tried to think though which gaps the audience could fill in (with a little thought) so we could maximise our time and resources on the main thrust of the story. Often the things we didn’t film were ‘physical’ moments. For example there is a scene where a piece of heavy machinery has been moved to a new location. If we had the money, we would have had burly extras, a horse and cart, etc and actually show the move. That said, seeing the move isn’t integral to the plot and with a little imagination the audience can fill in the blanks – so the money could be spent elsewhere. We knew we couldn’t follow every thread and tie up every end, so we chose to deal with what we thought was the main arc of the story. We never had any intention of answering some of the threads – we wanted the audience to make some decisions for themselves. Stephen (our lead) is mentally fragile and I think in his state of mind the world becomes difficult to decipher. Leaving some threads unanswered reflects his unsettled, disjointed and confused view of the world.”
With these types of challenges it’s important to have the support of people who really believe in the project and Neely is quick to clarify that they were extremely lucky in this respect: “We had such an amazing cast and crew, all of whom worked incredibly hard. I think if you haven’t been through the process, it is hard to imagine just how incredibly difficult it is to shoot a film so quickly (we shot for 21 days) with so little resources. Thankfully, we were surrounded by some fantastic people, and had an amazing level of support all the way from pre to post-production.”
The film has yet to find a distributor but with a film of this calibre it can only be a matter of time. Neely and U’Ren are already in talks about releasing their film in the UK. Some selected screenings have already been taking place and to stay updated on such screenings I recommend visiting the Dimensions Movie website.