Today: February 22, 2024

Sailcloth Interview

Director Elfar Adalsteins & Star John Hurt in Conversation

Sailcloth is an Oscar
shortlisted short film starring the ever-hypnotic John Hurt. Cinema Editor David Watson sat down
with the star and director Elfar Adaslstein to discuss the project.

We don’t often cover shorts
here at Filmjuice.

It’s not that we don’t want
to but I’m quite lazy and it feels mean being snarky about a film that’s only
20 minutes long. Plus shorts are
tough. They’re tough to
review. But they’re even tougher
to make.

Any schmuck can take an hour
and a half to tell a story. Doing
it in 20 minutes is tough. Doing
it well in 20 minutes, well, that’s rarer than good Danny Dyer films. So we don’t tend to cover shorts. Which is why director Elfar Adalsteins’
Sailcloth is unusual.

Clocking in at less than 20
minutes, Sailcloth is a wonderfully
tight little movie that unlike most short films actually moves. An elderly
widower (John Hurt) engineers his escape from the nursing home that confines
him, steals a boat from the local harbour and voyages into the unknown. Refreshingly dialogue-free, Adalsteins
relies purely on his mastery of film grammar and his lead actor, the wonderful
John Hurt, to create a purely cinematic experience, taking a relatively simple
tale and telling it simply, beautifully well.

Warm, poignant and
ultimately uplifting, Sailcloth may
just prove to be the little film that could this awards season. It’s an understated, assured piece of
work, dealing delicately with loss and loneliness, made all the more impressive
by the fact that Adalsteins never intended the film to be dialogue-free.

“It was unintentional,” says
the rangy Icelandic director, “I wrote the piece. The idea was born out of the sheets that were holding him
down. They turn into the thing
that sets him free and that’s the turning point of the story and I spun the
rest from there.”

“When I finished it, I
realised there was no dialogue in it and I thought why add to it? I saw it visually in my
head with the emotions and the past and I thought I might be able to pull it
off without having a word uttered in the film.”

“That’s why it’s important
to get an actor with guts.”

That actor was British
screen icon John Hurt.

“When I got the script,”
says Hurt, “I felt that if this was going to succeed, you can never be quite sure
from script to film, that it would be pure cinema.”

Hurt clearly enjoyed the
experience of working on Sailcloth
and is both an impassioned advocate for a purer cinema and a champion of
Adalsteins work.

“Here was somebody writing
something that was completely original for the cinema, intended for the cinema,
with the image on screen being all your information.”

“It was thrilling working on

“I think we have to keep
reminding ourselves what cinema is. Cinema is not a story with

“It is something in which
the information and it’s content is described in the image and pushed forward
in the image and that is the be all and end all of your information.”

Adalsteins continues: “The
character doesn’t talk to anybody or converse with anybody or meet anybody
along the way. So I wanted him,
for other people, to disappear. And
that’s what he does to me; he completely vanishes from the face of the Earth
without anyone noticing.”

Adalsteins was inspired to
write Sailcloth by the death of his
grandfather and drew inspiration from the memories of the man who raised him.

“I was raised by my
grandparents in a small fishing village on the east coast of Iceland, as far
away from the capital as you could get, and when he passed away in 2008, the
idea came to me about a year later.

“He’d gone into a nursing
home and he’d been there seven years and possibly I just wrote him an alternative

“A glorious exit!” beams
Hurt, “That’s what I love about it.
If you make something about suicide everybody thinks: ‘Oh, it’s got to
be gloomy, it’s got to be miserable’ but I think it’s a fantastic celebration.”

“It’s a love story on a metaphysical
level for me,” says Adalsteins, “We see that he’s still very much in love with
his wife and we get a glimpse of his reality. The fear of death gives way for love. It defies that most terrifying thing of

“Death is inevitable whereas
love is a privilege,” reflects Hurt, “If you look at the things I’ve done over
the years, I’ve made quite a few short films and student films as well. I really enjoy them.

“It’s a fantastic breeding
ground I think and we don’t have enough anymore. We don’t have B-films as it were for directors to be able to
start off.

“I think the more shorts we
can make the better. And the more
that they’re properly appreciated, the better too. I think it’s important if you care for cinema.”

For Adalsteins, Hurt was the
only actor he considered for the role, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed John’s work
and this being a non-dialogue film, I thought it needed somebody with artistic

“It was fantasy casting gone
right. I wrote it with John in
mind, sent it to his agent and a week later I get a phonecall saying that he
wanted to see me to discuss the script.

“And really nothing more to
it than that; I picked the best actor in my mind for the role that I could
possibly envision. And here we

“It’s a great generosity
that artists of John’s stature give back and it’s obviously a great springboard,
not just for me as a director, but everybody on set. They up their game.”

“I don’t consider it an act
of generosity at all,” says Hurt, “Its part and parcel of being in the business
of making cinema. I don’t think I’m
lording it over and saying ‘Oh, I’m going to lend my massive talents to this
tiny little film.’

“I can’t think of it that
way at all, in any way, any sense, it’s part of what I do and I’m thrilled to
be a part of.

“In terms of making first
films, I’ve made a lot of directors first film and that’s a pretty good

“Where you want to be a
little bit careful is when a director has had a big success with their first film
is making their second one.

“That can go wrong.”

Adalsteins reflects: “John
gave me one advice on-set; When you’ve made your first feature, go straight on
to the third.”

Adalsteins is currently developing his first feature
film, scheduled for production in 2012 while John Hurt can currently be seen
playing irascible old men at a cinema near you in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Immortals.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email:

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