Essay Film Waterfall Explores Memory and Grief Embedded in the Landscape

Essay film Waterfall is about memory and grief embedded in the landscape. It explores how the physical environment triggers spirals of thought that are present if not always seen. The film will be shown three times as part of the Experimental strand during ASFF, from 3 to 6 November in various venues. We speak with director Tom Lock Griffiths about the story behind the film, how the filming locations were selected and how he hopes it will be experienced by the viewer.

ASFF: Waterfall is shot entirely underwater; can you talk about why that is?
TLG: Waterfall is a film about memory, depression and grief. All those things it seems to me give you the feeling of drowning. Even memory, or at least the act of remembering, is like diving into water or falling through water, and the memories themselves are mediated, seen through something, changed.

Memories aren’t quite real, they can’t be experienced just like reality; they’re different, as though viewed through water. I think that’s the simplest way to put it, looking back through time is like looking at something through water. And depression and grief are the same. They affect your view of the world around you, so that even the real world is mediated, changed, distorted, again like looking through water.

ASFF: Can you talk about your choice of locations in Waterfall? Were they of personal importance, or do they harbour a wider poignancy?
TLG: Well the title of the film Waterfall comes from an actual waterfall in North Wales called Pistyll Rhaeadr. It’s a very beautiful place. It’s where my mum’s ashes were scattered after she killed herself back in 2003. The whole film is about her depression, my depression, my grief, my remembering of that moment and trying to understand it. But in the writing of the film it became about something broader, it became about the nature of memory and the nature of depression… hence everything being underwater.

So yes, I was thinking about certain places when we started to scout locations for the film, but I made the decision early on that I didn’t actually want to go and shoot at Pistyll Rhaeadr itself, I didn’t want some fake moment of catharsis, that was just too personal, and not in a useful inviting kind of way, but an alienating way for the audience. Claire Oakley, my amazing Producer and I were talking about shooting at one of the underwater ruins talked about in the film… but we realised that would be too romantic; too mournful somehow, it’s hard to explain… too on the nose?

I always feel that if the narration and the images are showing the same things then it’s a waste of time, a waste of the power of cinema, so we decided to look for abstract images that had the right feeling that didn’t just mirror what was being said. We shot in places in London, where I live, in Wales and also in the south of France, where we felt we could evoke the sort of mood we wanted. Some of them could feel very grim and some of them very uplifting. The editor on the film, the horribly talented and lovely Matteo Bini said the last shot in the film ‘was like pure love’… I loved that.

ASFF: Is there a certain way you hope audiences will respond to your film, or something from it you’d like them to take away?
TLG: Well I hope that we invite the audience in to play a part in creating the feeling and meaning for themselves. I hope people enjoy it as a piece of art, as a film in its own right, rather than just a campaign piece, we didn’t want to do that, it’s not how we approached it. But absolutely yes, I hope it does help create a conversation about the issues it raises, especially around depression and suicide. Not only did my mum commit suicide, one of the musicians in the soundtrack for Waterfall took his own life while we were in postproduction on the film. He also happened to be one of my closest friends.

I looked into this, suicide is the biggest killer for men in their thirties in the UK right now. It’s shocking, and of course my mum didn’t fit into that demographic either, so I think it’s a real problem that we’re not talking about enough. One of the nicest things for me was that a friend who came to our private screening when we wrapped the film showed it to her son who’d been struggling with depression. And the feedback was really moving – he completely connected with the way the film looked and felt, apparently he said, ‘yes that, that’s how it feels for me’. The film is also about how I overcame my own struggles with depression, I was suicidal myself some years ago and I got through it, came up for air, I hope that’s useful for people too.

ASFF: How do you think showcasing your film at festivals such as ASFF contributes to the wider discussion of mental illness?
TLG: It’s a complete pleasure to be at ASFF, the programme across all the categories looks amazing so we’re all very pleased to be a part of it this year. And absolutely the opportunity to screen three times is great, the more people who see the film the better, the more people we can get discussing these issues. I also hope that we’re given the opportunity to talk about why we think the film is important for the same reason, so it’s great to be talking to Aesthetica now.

ASFF: Are you planning to produce further films of this nature, or is Waterfall simply a singular statement piece?
TLG: Yes I am. I think the essay film has a lot of scope for me as a writer and director as a way to discuss these things. I think death, grief, memory, the landscape, all these things are subjects I’m not going to stop working through any time soon! I am currently in production of my next film Mistral, it’s a film about loss, madness and the wind… I’m interested in the landscape and the way the elements, and also weather, reflect our state of mind, so I’m sure there will be more. I also loved making this film, so that’s reason enough to keep going.

To find out more about Tom Lock Griffiths’ films, visit

Waterwall screens at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2016 between 3 – 6 November, in Experimental Screening 1. To find times and locations, see the programme:

1. Tom Lock Griffiths (Debatable Space), Waterfall