It’s been a long day of finishing off my script outline with under an hour to spare to meet the submission deadline. I’ve edited and uploaded what must be hundreds of photos from my Bardsey trip (out of over three thousand). I tried where possible to stick to the chronological order of the days. I’d love to make a few posts just as souvenirs – the food we ate, the things we did, the little aid memoirs that have kept me in touch with the memories over the last month. They will inevitably start to fade so I think perhaps a few pages as holiday reminders will not lower the tone here too much. I still need to edit and uploading the sound files I made as well as the video.
So much still to do. My mind is a mess of pictures. I almost feel like printing out the photos – or at least the images that are crucial to my script – and writing the scene on the back of them. It might make it easier to juggle the scenes than just plain text. Storyboarding but with photos. Perhaps I can find a digital way to do this? Or just decide to expend the paper and inks to do it physically.
I have been listening to the soundtrack from the Lord of the Rings films while I worked today. I suppose this was because I was wanted to create the island arena as a character – not sure if I did or not, that proof is in the pudding of the beholder! I wanted to create the island as a kind of Mordor – but in a good way! My daughter informed me that Bardsey would be better likened to The Shire as it is round and bumpy. But the music for hobbits is just too happy – I love it, but it always reminds me of Munchkinland.
I wanted something in my ears that was more powerful for Bardsey. Its magic is strong. Its call is loud.
Anyway what I am about to do goes against the grain: revealing a work in progress. But since it is kind of a requirement for the course, that we allow our work to be tempered in the heat of the public’s gaze (the fires of Mount Doom?) I hereby submit the script outline for my Bardsey short film. Please be kind!
Outline: Being on Bardsey
The story opens as a small yellow catamaran crosses the two mile stretch of rough sea between the mainland and Bardsey Island.
Bardsey is an ancient place, populated since Neolithic times and revered as a holy place, a retreat. It is said by some to be the mystical Avalon where Merlin lies buried waiting for the return of King Arthur. As the boat arrives on the beach on the other side we see its passengers disembark. The boatman and his father lift down an elderly woman who has her eyes closed. She is smiling broadly. They place her on the back of a trailer and the tractor drives away with four generations of her family following up the track behind her. She is still smiling broadly as the tractor shakes its way up the bumpy track.
The island is dominated by Mynydd Enlli, a tall round mountain that blocks any view of the mainland unless you climb its steep slopes to the summit. The island is studded with ancient wells and sacred springs, the remains of the 13th century monastery and the graves of twenty thousand saints who came here to die and whose remains lie just below the surface, making its visitors’ footsteps tentative and reverent.
The small farming and fishing settlement with its proud history lives there cut off from the world with its back to the mountain, its face braving the harsh winds and roaring waves of the Irish Sea. It can sometimes be months before the boat can return to take people off the island or bring supplies.
Bardsey Island, or Ynys Enlli as it is called in Welsh, is a mystical place that for millennia has been calling out to people across the miles, bringing them to it. In the 6th century saint Cadfan set up a monastery there. It was considered such a holy place that Pope Callixtus II declared that three pilgrimages to Bardsey was equal to one pilgrimage to Rome. To die on Bardsey or on the route to it was said to be a guarantee of entry to heaven. The people of Bardsey lived to be very old. For centuries pilgrims went there, many to die or be buried. In the 13th century Augustinian monks built a monastery there. Despite its remote location, in the late 1870s it was ‘a Paris of a place’ and famous people visited the island.
Today Bardsey continues to call out to people. The faithful still make pilgrimages, but there are also many pilgrimages of other kinds. Many visit for nature and birdwatching, others come for the remoteness and the simplistic way of life. Many families come to visit their heritage because their roots lie on Bardsey and so have been returning for generations. Today it is not uncommon for four generations of a family to stay together on the island in the summer.
This is the story of one such family on their annual pilgrimage back to the island and how one young girl, visiting for the first time, learns to really be where she is instead of wishing she was somewhere else.
We discover the delights of the island, its beauty and its magic through the memories of the great-grandmother who herself came there for the first time as a girl in the 1930s. Even though she is now blind and unable to walk far, she revels in every aspect of being there, despite not being able to see it. She sits with the sun on her face, bees buzzing all around her, clutching a bundle wrapped in distinctive scarf. She squeezes it tighter and it flashes up a memory. We see through her mind’s eye reliving her visions of the island through flashbacks of her first visit. We see 1930s girl wearing this scarf as she steps off the boat and looks around. Elements of nature around her and scenery on the island continue to transport her back in time and we see her as a young girl in the same location.
Juxtaposed with this we see her great-granddaughter fighting tooth and nail against the separation from her world and her boyfriend, as she desperately – and comically – chases all over the island trying to find phone signal to contact him and trying to charge her mobile phone with hand-cranks and solar chargers. We see her phone screen as she dials and a photo of her boyfriend’s face as she tries the number and repeatedly calls fail. She talks to his photo. She rushes through a montage of the idyllic scenes where 1930s girl is pausing and noticing everything.
Many aspects of life on the island are largely the same as they were when her great-grandmother first visited, only the farming methods and communication methods have really changed. Today there is no electricity or indoor plumbing. Fresh water still comes from the wells and is very precious and never wasted. Both girls initially hate this lifestyle and lack of modern facilities and yet eventually they will share the same love of the place.
As they begin to settle in and enjoy the delights and magic of the island, they both still feel the pain of being cut off from their young men at home. The 1930s girl solves her problem by drinking in her experiences as best she can and writing them down in a letter to her boyfriend (and these memories are so well formed that she still revels in them today). We hear the contents of the 1930s girl’s letter as voiceover as we watch the antics of the 2010 girl as she desperately tries to ‘bring him’ to her by sharing her experiences using various methods of technology and social media. Her experience is much harder because all of these methods get in the way of her fully experiencing where she is. We see this as narrow shots through a viewfinder with hissy sound as compared to the 1930s girl’s rich experience as she drinks it all in and we hear her poignant and evocative words describing her experiences on the island and her feelings about the place.
The grandfather is taken ill and mother goes with him to the hospital on the mainland, leaving 2010 girl alone in the house with her great-grandmother. News is slow in coming. Things only grow worse for the 2010 girl as messages from her boyfriend give her the impression that he is losing interest in her and small snippets of news from the ‘real’ world start to reach her. The longer she is there the more involved in island life she is becoming and the more cut off she feels as the trivialities of everyday life back home seem more and more distant and strange in comparison to the more pressing realities of life that she is dealing with – and enjoying – on Bardsey.
2010’s girl’s story reaches its climax one dark late-summer night when she tells her great-grandmother of her fear of the dark and her fear that losing her boyfriend would be the end of the world. The old woman takes her hand and they walk to the wooden back door and step out onto the cobbled path.
The voiceover of her 1930s girl’s letter continues. It is September 1939 and she has heard the news about the declaration of war and is worried that her boyfriend might be caught up in the expected air raids. We hear of her fears of being apart if the war lasts long enough for him to be called up. We see her covering the windows of the cottage with thick black curtains. She sits fearfully in the dark.
2010 We hear the elderly lady speak of the blackout and how she learned to face it, here on Bardsey. Together they walk out into the darkness. Blackness envelopes them. The milky way is a clear slash across the sky. Meteorites blaze long golden arcs across the night. We hear strange sounds that dart about in the air all around them. The eerie and very unique sounds are birdcalls made by Manx Sheerwaters that arrive on the island on dark nights in August and make their calls to their mates as they fly together unseen in the dark. The elderly lady talks of the Saints who came here back in the mists of time and how they will have regarded these sounds as demons in the air to scare them and test their devotion.
Then she talks of how the birds represented her and her boyfriend calling out to one another across the miles in the darkness and how she came to feel safe, even when eventually he was called up and even when he was held in a prisoner of war camp, because she was still calling, no matter how long his reply took to come. She tells her great-granddaughter to trust the call. To trust Bardsey’s call. It’s stronger than you my girl. Because the island’s call has magic in it. But first you have to let yourself believe. And before you can believe it you have to answer the call. You have to come here. Really come here. Be here. Drink it all in and store it up tight in your memory. The elderly lady squeezes the distinctive bundle tightly in her hands.
A montage of 2010 girl transformed. She is looking around, taking it all in, touching things, watching seals sunning themselves on the shore, swimming in the dark with other kids, smiling, happy. We see her settling down under a tree with a pad of writing paper.
One fine late summer day the girl waits with her great-grandmother at the dock for the boat to greet her mother and grandfather back from the hospital. The young girl nervously grasps a letter in her hand.
Great-grandmother smiles and flashes back and we see 1930s girl beside the boat nervously handing her letter to the boatman. Her letter is in a distinctive envelope.
We cut back to see the great-grandmother giving the bundle wrapped in the distinctive scarf (that we have seen her wearing throughout the flashbacks) to 2010 girl. She has no idea what it is.
We flash back to 1939 to see the boat almost ready to depart when at the last moment the boatman reaches into his jacket with a grin and hands 1930s girl a letter. It too has a distinctive envelope.
2010 unfolds the scarf to reveal these two letters inside.
The boat arrives. She smiles, seeing her mother and grandfather on board. A young man helps her grandfather down the ladder.
We hear the great-grandmother’s voiceover: “trust the island to work its magic”.
The young man turns around – it is the boyfriend that we have seen in the photos on the phone.
The elderly lady smiles on the back of the tractor as it rattles up the track with her family behind.