Down By Dawn.
Late 2008 I wrote a screenplay that dissects the complex concept of ageing and the inevitable decay of human life. I wrote it in the form of a modern-day western with a forlorn and decrepit loner at the centre. The story of Down By Dawn is set in the flatlands of Belgium, capturing a deeply rooted rural culture that is closely connected to my personal roots. In 2009 I had the chance to turn it into a feature film.
When I told people I wanted to make a low budget western set in Belgium I was usually met with a cocked eyebrow and a look of disbelief. Did I know how much movie horses cost? And period clothing, isn't that expensive? I did know, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Just because a film is low budget doesn't mean it needs to be small in scope. "Down By Dawn“ is the story of an elderly booze-addled man, who lives a banal, rural life repeating the same, systematic routine over and over.
Seeking escape from his drab existence he continuously devours old spaghetti westerns and becomes spellbound by the protagonists. Inspired by their heroisms he embarks on a cross-country journey in a desperate attempt to track down a girl he once knew, willing to do whatever necessary to rekindle a long-lost love.
Surrounded by flatlands stretched to the horizon, in compositions drained of colour, Down By Down is an exercise in restraint – with a small cast, barely any dialogue and simple, yet effectual cinematography. Widescreen compositions emphasize the sparseness of the human presence in the film’s landscapes, and low angles were used to capture the full weight of the grey skies. The film’s interiors also needed to have a similar evocative, unshowy familiarity – staying faithful to the unostentatious cosy-functional aesthetic of rural Belgium.
The film’s subjects, nature and blood, are at once the humblest imaginable, and the most implicitly poetic. Confronted with death he fights to preserve some aspect of happiness, which manifests itself as a vivid memory of his childhood love. The journey he embarks on serves to frame his existential anxieties: how insignificant his life can seem when measured against a bigger, wider world, and the risk of spending his last few years alone.
“Surrounded by flatlands stretched to the horizon, in compositions drained of colour, Down By Down is an exercise in restraint.”
Jack De Caluwé – Director / Screenwriter (2008)