Cultural Limitation

Steven Eastwood is an artist filmmaker whose previous work includes Buried Land (2010) and the award-winning documentary Those Who Are Jesus (2001). His latest project Island is a sensitive documentary that follows four people with terminal illnesses on the Isle of Wight. We spoke to Eastwood about this and The Interval and the Instant, the accompanying exhibition in at Fabrica in Brighton.

ASFF: What compelled you to look at the subject of terminal illness and death in the way you did?

SE: The project started as a commission from a gallery, Fabrica, in Brighton … my pitch to Fabrica was simple. I said I wanted to be witness to the moment of death, because this is still taboo. I hoped the process of making and the final artwork might shine a light on cultural limits we have around images of death and dying.

ASFF: What drew you to the Isle of Wight?
SE: I originally developed the project with two London hospices, principally St Christophers … when I was finally able to fund the film via an Arts Council and lottery grant, my contact at St Christopher’s, Nigel Hartley, moved to run Earl Mountbatten Hospice on the Isle of Wight. Nigel fully understood what I was setting out to do, and his entire team backed the project.

ASFF: How did you find subjects willing to let you film these incredibly personal moments?
SE: Community nurses and other advocates including the ward doctors would introduce to patients the idea that I was making a film. When this was met with interest and a positive response a first meeting was set-up. I never brought out my camera on those first meeting days, we would just talk. After people had time to think over their possible participation I would call back or meet them again. Things then unfolded. It was very much a process of mutual selection.

ASFF: You literally have the camera on as someone takes their last breath. Can you talk a little about it? 
SE: I was incredibly privileged to meet and spend time with the four people who became the subjects of the film and artwork…I formed particularly close relationships with Jamie, a man in his early 40s and with Alan, an 82-year-old, who you see at the very end of his life in the film. Alan and I had a meeting of minds. He had something of a philosophy of life that he wished to impart, and a profound and radically detached attitude to his body, his image, his death. In fact, it was Alan who invited me to be with him when he died, and after he died, and in order for this to be possible I had to be named as his next of kin in his medical notes. I spent two days continuously filming Alan as his life came to an end and this is an experience I will never forget.

ASFF: Can you talk about the sister exhibition in Brighton? How does that dovetail with the film?
I make work for both the cinema and the gallery. This project began as a gallery commission … half way through principle photography on the island, I realised that the access I had been given, to very intimate events, had lead me to meeting people and recording footage that could be shaped into a feature film. Because of the long lead up to the Fabrica show I decided to make Island first. Once the feature was cut, I went back into the footage to explore its potential across screens and over longer duration.

Island plays at the London Film Festival on 7 October and 12 October. The Interval and the Instant is at Fabrica, Brighton, from 7 October to 26 November. For more details,

James Mottram

1. Trailer for Island. Courtesy of Vimeo.