It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to have a stroke without knowing someone who’s been through one. The human brain is a tricky beast on the best of days, and it’s hard to put into words much less into visuals on a screen. But directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall get closer than anyone else has with The Possibilities are Endless, playing this week as a part of the Reel Indie Film Festival after debuting earlier this year at Hot Docs to considerable acclaim.
Through imagery and voice over, we see the journey back of rocker Edwyn Collins, best known from his hit the 90’s “A Girl Like You, ” which was notably featured in the movie Empire Records. In 2005, he suffered a serious stroke, and rather than craft a film of talking head confessionals and moments in the hospital, we get a mostly faceless voiceover set to some stunning imagery and unique archival footage designed to illustrate mindset of someone trying to find their way back to a normal existence.
I got the chance to sit down with directors Lovelace and Hall earlier this year about their unique approach to the movie, what Collins thinks about it, and what drives them as visual artists.
Dork Shelf: This isn’t your typical “Whatever Happened To…?” kind of documentary. What ultimately drew you to this story and inspired you to tell it in such a unique fashion?
Edward Lovelace: Well, we were always fans of his, and then we had heard about his stroke and after that dagger there was really no more press about it. I even forget what we thought about it at the time, but he released an album 5 years later called Losing Sleep. We thought we had some perspective on what it might be, but it just sounded so youthful and so energetic, like it was a band’s first record. Before he was interesting and a lyricist and everything was quite flowery, whereas on this album everything was quite simple and almost very direct in a way.
James Hall: Yeah, I mean, he was tackling some very similar themes, but this new side of him was emerging and coming out of him because at that point his vocabulary was so limited. We heard it and it felt to us like it was coming from this otherworldly place. It made us really wonder what happened in that time frame and wonder how he had redefined himself and was this the same guy who had been recording beforehand.
EL: We really wanted to play with the ideas of memory and identity because we didn’t want to make a “music” film in any sense of the word. We wanted to tackle this and imagine it like he was a painter who has gone crazy, disappeared, and then remerged years later to paint new works, and we were dying to explore if that would even work,as an artist’s trying to find his voice and determine what his message would be all over again.
DS: And the film has such a distinct look to it. It’s not a talking head doc or a music doc, but it’s a story about a man trying to find himself again, so what brought on the unique way you tackled it from a visual standpoint? The entire film just stands out in such an amazing way.
EL: I Think that we don’t rely on being a fan of the band. When you see other music docs and you interview the band or the band’s manager you just get info that most fans already know, so our approach was: let’s make a film about memory because, quite frankly, it can go anywhere. We were watching other documentaries like Sleep Furiously and Modern Life as inspiration, and we figured if we could get Edwyn’s voice to narrative a story about his life, then we could just create our visual tapestry.
We spent so much time interviewing him, just audio and our inspiration was just to mirror how soothing his slow, stilted pace was when he was talking to us. It’s very much a film that’s going at its own pace, and you have to understand that going in. We got there when we were talking to Edwyn and just getting into the rhythm of how he talks about things. It’s almost meditative.
DS: We don’t even get our first look at Edwyn until about 25 minutes in to the movie. How reticent was Edwyn to participate? Bcause for a musician and storyteller it has to be such an exposure when your words and your way of communicating are essentially gone.
EL: I really think that for anyone that goes through something like that, they have to deal with sort of the stereotypes and preconceived notions of what other people are going to think about them. Sometimes when Edwyn is trying to say a sentence, it could be something so amazing and beautiful that it actually takes him a while to get it out, but if we just use our natural desire to help finish saying something, then he’ll just retreat and say. “Yeah, Yeah that’s what I meant.” We really had to make an effort to make sure that we let Edwyn found his own voice in this whole process, and get even Edwyn to believe in his story. We just cared about what was in his head.
JH: Yeah, it was such an emotional journey.
DS: Was it a long process to get all this together?
JH: Well, we started doing the audio interviews almost three years ago. They almost acted as pure research, as well doing these audio interviews with Edwyn to let him have the time and the the space to be able to deliver his story. Every time we came back, his speech kept getting better and better and seeing that really did create the structure of the film. It really came from that, and with all the stories that he was telling us, we didn’t want to depict them in any literal way, but almost have it play out like a suggestion of what was going on his mind.
DS: The film really does manage to give a certain sense of hope as well.
EL: Yeah, absolutely, it was really amazing being in this room with Edwyn over all of these months and watching him get to the point where he could tell his story, and it was just so interesting to us. We almost just said “screw the film” because we recognized how much we were are part of the process and we could see him getting better day by day.
As fans we were dying to ask about the first time that he had ever picked up a guitar, but we may have had to sit there for 20 minutes as he worked out in his head how to articulate that feeling and those emotions. There was so much stuff that we got to see him remember in the moment as it was just so cool and amazing . The idea that we were actually helping was so cool.
The Possibilities are Endless screens as a part of the Reel Indie Film Fest at the Royal cinema at 7PM on Friday October 17th.