On a beautiful fall afternoon I watched Fire Horse at the Washington West Film Festival. The organisers of the Film Festival had organised all of the short films submitted to them as two programmes, one was titled “A Change is Gonna Come” and the other was “Rooted in Love”. Each programme was scheduled for showing on two days. Fire Horse was part of the “A Change is Gonna Come” programme and I went to the second showing of of that programme on Saturday, 26 October 2013.
In the film, Barnaby Kay plays Roddy, the owner of a local convenience shop who supplies various goods to the local residents. The shop was originally owned by Roddy’s father. One of his father’s customers is Ada (played by Doreen Mantle), a lady who was getting on in years and who has very strong views and beliefs. Ada was determined to support Roddy’s shop even though there are plans by bigger businesses to drive Roddy out of business. To do this, she continues to buy dog food from Roddy’s shop even though her dog has died a long time ago. Both Ada and Roddy knew that all these purchases were part of a charade.
Roddy is married to Jules (played by Nicola) and together they have a baby. In various scenes, you can see Nicola holding and carrying their baby. Roddy’s store looked rather messy and perhaps not very appealing. In an attempt to attract customers to his shop, Roddy stacked many canned goods in the shop window. Jules was outside of the store and gave him a thumbs-up when he was done with his chef d’oeuvre of stacked cans. To show her support for her husband’s efforts, when Roddy came outside the shop, Jules first kissed him on the cheek then on the mouth. The move looked spontaneous so I wasn’t sure whether this was part of the script or not, but it drove home the point that the wife was very supportive of her husband and did not denigrate his futile efforts to save the store.
I had to smile at Nicola’s hair. She told Ruth and Sofie that she wasn’t keen on the wig she was given to wear for her character and that viewers might only notice her huge wig when her character appears on screen. In fact, the wig was not that bad. I thought it made her look different from her other roles.
Things came to a head one day when a van used by one of the bigger businesses was going through the village to deliver goods to customer. Ada felt that the only way to stop the van from making deliveries was to lie down in the middle of the road, even though she was at the risk of being run over. The driver of the van then called the police to try and remove Ada from the middle of the road. They tried to reason with her and at that moment you see Roddy (in great physical shape!) running towards the scene. Roddy asked the driver of the van for a list of customers in the village where the driver was making deliveries to and read their names. Roddy then joined Ada in her protest by sitting next to her in the middle of the road in front of the van. The story was not really resolved in the end. The police and van driver left the scene and only Roddy and Ada remained. The last shot was that of Ada putting her hand on Roddy’s hand to show him her support with his struggle. Both knew that Ada’s protest was in vain and that Roddy would have to close his store in due course. He had already come to that conclusion when he spoke to his wife earlier.
Barnaby Kay gave what I thought was an understated performance which made it easy for the audience to root for Roddy who knew that he was losing the battle against the bigger supermarkets waiting to annihilate him. Doreen Mantle was great as Ada who wanted to fight progress at all cost. Barnaby and Nicola were very sweet together in their scenes. It is a poignant story that has universal appeal. For a film with such a sombre theme, there were also some funny moments. All that in 17 minutes. I found it sweet that the last closing credit of the short film was: “Mom x”.
Apart from Fire Horse, I watched five other shorts on the same bill. Talking about opposites, Fire Horse was screened just after “Fool’s Day”, a typical American dark comedy and before the rather strange “Interne” which had French credits. “Time2Split” was also a French short, but without dialogue. I also enjoyed the touching Iranian movie “Bishtar Az Do Saat” and the striking “The Rider and The Storm” about the devastation of Superstorm in Breezy Point in New York. I loved all the movies, but obviously Fire Horse had a special appeal for me.
Attendance was half full on Saturday screening I went to. I do not know the figures for the first screening on Friday. But the audience at my screening, a mix of old foggies like me and younger people, was very appreciative of all the movies on the bill. After the end of the screening of the 6 short movies, there was a Q&A with four of the movie directors, which included Cody Snider who directed “Fool’s Day”, David Darg and Bryn Mooser of “The Rider and the Storm”, and Matt Bell.
Members of the audience were curious about the title of Matt’s film and the origin of his plot. Matt explained that as a youngster he lived in a village where old folks, war veterans and also the younger generation all shopped in the village stores and chatted. He returned to his village after 10 years in London and was shocked to see that everything had closed, from the stores to the pub. It saddened him that the community spirit he knew as a child was lost and that young people would no longer experienced such close ties between generations.
My own question was: How did Matt Bell get Nicola and Barnaby Kay involved in his movie? I seemed to have been the only member of the audience (at the second screening) who knew who the actors were. Matt replied that he had gotten to know Doreen Mantle professionally as an assistant director of various UK TV shows. Doreen had worked with Nicola in Chalk and Nicola was the link to Barnaby Kay. I wondered if audience members at the first screening on Friday were more aware of the extensive work done on UK TV by the three leads.
One person in the audience asked about Matt Bell’s next projects. I believe he said that he hoped to direct another short story and then if possible a feature film. (I am not sure if he meant turning Fire Horse into a feature length movie or a new movie). The audience really seemed to like Matt and was very encouraging. I too hope to watch his future movies. It was really neat to be able to meet the director of Fire Horse in person, though I did not get to speak with Matt personally as he appeared to be busy with the other Directors and the Festival organisers at the end of the Q&A. I hope that the two screenings in Washington will help Matt Bell publicize his movie in and outside the UK. He looked like such a lovely man, so open and friendly.
Its a pity my husband didn’t join me at this screening. He decided to watch the simulcast of the opera “The Nose” instead of coming with me to Fire Horse. As someone who saw many of his small town grocery stores in Southern New Jersey disappear over the years, he could have easily related to Fire Horse.
Ed’s Note : Big thanks to Beatrice for this write-up. I think Matt should seriously consider submitting this film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration in the 2014 Oscars for Short Films!
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