Coventry based filmmaker Brian Harley journals his visit to the Isle of Wight Film Festival with his latest short, Eventide, a film about fatherhood.

Henry Ward Beecher once said that every artist dips his brush into his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. I couldn’t agree more with this. For me, the best art is often that which derives from personal experience. As a filmmaker, I believe you should savour the forces that shape your life because they are, in essence, what gives value and relativity to your stories. With that in mind, Eventide is in some part anchored by my own experience of losing my father and the growth and wisdom that I have gained from this.

The Isle of Wight Film Festival takes place in Ventnor, which is on the south coast of the Island. This sixth year, the film programme was incorporated into the larger Ventnor Fringe, which was founded in 2010 by a team of ambitious teenagers. Given the organisers tender years then, it’s a shockingly accomplished event, modelled on the famous Edinburgh Fringe.

I’ve visited Ventnor before, just a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful place. There are more cafes than Paris it seems, squashed together in narrow, swirling streets built on steep hills. Here’s a tip: avoid walking down the slopes if you don’t like walking up them! There was real carnival spirit in Ventnor. Every street was adorned with festival related flags and banners. When I located the screening venue (an old church dubbed the ‘Sacred Cinema’), I was greeted by the film festival’s director, Bruce Webb, a really nice bloke who’s opening strand nerves were no match for his warmth and hospitality.

With some time to kill before the screening, I went for a wander around town and found a nice little cafe called The Met, across the road from the beach. The sun was out. The tide was in. I bought a croissant and a cup of tea (which came with a free flake!). It was exceedingly close to idyllic and given the carnival atmosphere, I had the mild sensation that this is what it might feel like being at the Cannes Film Festival, enjoying something alfresco on the French Riviera. I can’t say for sure, but I may even have eaten the flake in elegant slow motion!

As I sat there watching the sea surge and roll against the shore, I couldn’t help but feel a bit lonely, so I imagined my dad was sitting with me and our likely conversation…

He’d tease me first off, for picking a cafe with red table cloths with white polka dots. I’d argue it was classic and old timey and he’d scoff and order a beer. We’d gaze at the sea and we’d both think of the film, Jaws. He’d pretend to see a dorsal fin.

We’d snigger at the numerous passers by, examining the way they walk or noticing how daft people look eating ice cream. Everyone’s got a technique. All of them look funny.

When a happy couple ambles by, we’d discuss women, briefly. He’d downplay the moment and tell me not to worry about them and to keep doing what I’m doing, and when I least expect it, someone will come along. Someone special. He’d address me as ‘son’ here. And for a few precious moments, I believe him and all my pain and anxiety vanish and it’s just the two of us, me and my dad, sitting in the sun watching the sea without a care in the world.

It was my favourite part of the trip.

Oddly, I’d tell him we need to keep an eye on the time otherwise we might miss the screening.

Sounds utterly daft, doesn’t it? But losing my dad is the reason I’m here, really. Before I left, I promised myself I would think about him more than anyone else.

I’m not sure he comes to mind as often whenever I watch Eventide lately. I don’t know why that is, exactly. Since we completed the project, life changed a little bit and there is some extra pain that lurks in the film now. Perhaps that’s why. These days, when I watch it, I try to do so as if I’m someone else entirely and try to feel what other people might be feeling when they see it for the first time.

You never forget the first time.

Eventide was programmed into the festival’s opening strand. The projection screen was huge and the film looked very proud and mighty up there. As for the response, well, it was great. Everyone in the audience was really quiet and involved. During a line in the film, I heard someone gasp. It was one of those reactionary noises people tend to make when they’ve just seen or heard something upsetting. This was good for the film but I felt a little guilty too, suspecting that maybe it had caught someone off guard and upset them.

A few people came up to me afterwards to commend me. One man called it “astonishing”. A young reporter asked if he could do an interview. He’d recently lost his Grandad and Eventide made him think of him. I had my picture taken and was introduced to the festival’s blogger. She asked me some questions and scribbled parts of my answers into a notepad without looking, which was pretty impressive. She’s since given the film a nice little mention. It was all very humbling.

The other films were strong. My personal favourite was a film called ‘Look After Yourself‘ by Paulo Monezes. I made a beeline for him after the screening to praise him for his film. It was excellent. Well observed, painful, a little too close for comfort I told him. He should do well.

I nearly never went to the Isle of Wight Film Festival.

Not because I didn’t want to, of course. My impulse is to attend every screening I’m invited to. It just seemed unlikely due to a combination of short notice, long distance and expense. But in the end, I decided I had to go and would treat the opportunity as a sort of pilgrimage, to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going and above all, to go for my dad and I’m glad I did. I’ll remember this trip forever. Not only for a lovely festival experience but for the peace of mind and renewed perspective it afforded me. Most of all, I’ll remember it for that exquisite, ephemeral presence at the old timey cafe opposite the sea…

I miss you dad. I think of you everyday, always at Eventide.

Eventide’ isn’t available to search online yet but if you would like to see it, pop over to facebook and ‘like’ the Short Night Films page, then drop me a note and I’ll send you your very own private link.