Magazine article Screen International

Clio Barnard Talks Toronto Premiere 'Dark River'

Magazine article Screen International

Clio Barnard Talks Toronto Premiere 'Dark River'

Article excerpt

The Selfish Giant director on her new feature.

Clio Barnard

The director of The Selfish Giant brings to TIFF her new film Dark River, about a young woman haunted by past traumas when she returns to the family farm. Charles Gant talks to Clio Barnard.

Back in 2011, Clio Barnard was an acclaimed video artist and research academic who had made the jump to feature films with her innovative documentary-drama The Arbor (2010), exploring the life of short-lived British playwright Andrea Dunbar. Yet to make a narrative feature, she was surprised to be sent Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass by producer Suzanne Mackie at the UK’s Left Bank Pictures.

“Nobody had ever sent me a book before, asking me to adapt it,” she says. “I was a strange hybrid documentary filmmaker at that point.”

The journey from Trespass the novel (set in rural France) to Dark River the resulting film (set on a Yorkshire farm, and named after a poem by Yorkshire-born Ted Hughes) would prove to be transformative - which, when you consider the distance between her narrative feature debut The Selfish Giant (2013) and its Oscar Wilde source material, is perhaps no great surprise. What remained intact were Trespass’s themes of past incestuous sexual abuse bubbling to the surface years later through the conflict over land between a sister and brother.

Barnard had not even started with the adaptation when The Selfish Giant was greenlit and she had to set it aside. She then received a boost when, in November 2013, Barnard was awarded the inaugural Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship in partnership with the BFI and Film4. In addition to the $39,000 (£30,000) prize, she was given access to the Wellcome Trust’s archives, and introductions to scientists.

Dark River

The trust’s film and drama development manager, Meroë Candy, suggested experts for her to meet - notably Jackie Craissati, a clinical and forensic psychologist who treats perpetrators of sexual abuse.

“It was funny,” recalls Barnard about Craissati’s response to an early draft of the script. “She would use the term ‘stereotypical’. She’d go, ‘Yes, that’s very stereotypical,’ and I’d be thinking, ‘Oh, shit, does that mean [unoriginal]?’ What she actually meant was credible. …

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