We’re back with “The Journey” again—the film I spent twenty-four hours with on the Greek island of Aegina, back in the spring of 2013. Lance Nielsen is the director and I interviewed him back in March 2013 about his project.
The New Year of 2014 sees another Crowdfunding project drawing in—to raise funds to finalise this fantastic project, and I jumped at the chance to interview Lance again, this time on a more personal level.
Lance, from our last interview we learnt that “The Journey” is about a man who suffers a great loss and comes to Greece to overcome the recent events in his life. Events that happen to him in Greece help him to overcome his grief.
“The Journey” is loosely based on your own personal experiences: you lost someone/people very dear to you.
I will just prefix this interview by saying the time when the actual trip took place to Greece I was going through an extreme amount of grief, not just for one person, but several. At the end of 2008 , a couple of work colleagues passed away, both in a short space of time so their funerals took place one day after the other. After that my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and my Aunt was also diagnosed a week later – they both died within a week of each other in April 2009. That year is pretty hazy now. Angela and I had known each other since 2004, but we didn’t really get close until 2008.
Who was Angela and how important was she to you?
Angela was a really tall, striking black girl – British with Nigerian parentage. We met on the set of a film where she doing some background artist work. She also worked often on the set of Eastenders and Holby City (UK soap/series drams). We were both adopted and because of this shared fact, we seemed to hit it off. She wasn’t someone to let her guard down easily, but we just seemed to click…we were both quirky in our own way.
She seemed to ‘get’ me whereas not a lot of people really do.
We stayed in touch, but didn’t really socialise properly again until the middle of 2008 when I wanted her to act in a project I was involved in: Jericho’s Walls Are Falling: a film about HIV. Unfortunately she missed out on this as she was unable to take any time off work.
Her real passion was for her dolls.
She used to make dolls at home, dress and sell them on the net under the name Angela’s Angels. We socialised a few times, and I increasingly got the feeling she wanted to share something important with me.
In early 2009 she told me she wanted to write a book about a woman who experienced both sexual and mental abuse from within an African family.
Aspects of this were very autobiographical and she felt she needed to share this with people. As I didn’t have much experience with writing novels, I suggested we could perhaps do this as a play to start with and create the building blocks for the text of a novel at the same time.
As a result of this very personal disclosure about herself, I was also able to open up to her about many things
As friends, we became closer very quickly – it was one of those friendships where I knew we would be mates forever because of the nature of the things we had both been through. At the same time my mother was dying very rapidly and Angela, whom had lost her adopted mother some years earlier was very sympathetic and supportive – helping me to prepare for my mothers death. Around this time I also became estranged from my sister, so Angela helped to fill this role too.
What happened to her? Can you tell us a little more about the events that led up to you’re wanting to just run from everything and come to Greece?
Around July 20th, Angela was at my house helping me go through and throw out my old video film collection. At one point she needed to sit down and told me she had actually gone to hospital only a week earlier as she had collapsed with a headache and had some kind of problem in her brain.
I was rather shocked and we left the work we were doing and had some lunch. We arranged to go and see Harry Potter the following Tuesday, when I didn’t hear from her by Tuesday morning I became worried and called her – no answer.
Someone called back to say she had collapsed again over the weekend in her flat but wasn’t found until Monday.
I went into to see her on the Tuesday evening. There is a scene in the film which is very close to this, its one of the few parts of the film that is not fictional and every thing in that scene is was said between Angela and I, word for word, though the reality was much longer and I said more jokes to keep her laughing. She was very lucid and very scared, but by the time I left she was laughing. I made arrangements to stay near the hospital with a friend who lived close by.
I stayed that evening until they kicked me out but when I got to the bus stop something made me go back inside to see her again and I did so and made sure I told her that I was in love with her, and I realised I probably had been since we met.
Perhaps not in the traditional romantic sense, but at that moment I really needed her to know how much she meant to me. The following morning she went into a coma, and she died on the Friday.
What was it, specifically, that Greece helped you with? Overcoming grief, loss? Did you find people understood you and nurtured your spirit back to health?
Come Sunday I was a mess.
I hadn’t slept properly for about 5 days, and I got an email saying that my Dad’s twin brother – my closest uncle – died from pneumonia back in Denmark. At that point I think something inside me just broke in half. There was so much pain there and not a lot of anything else – I really couldn’t cope.
I was venting on-line in a chat room, thinking I needed to get away and asked if anyone had taken a boat down the Rhine, at this point a chat window opened and this complete stranger to me suggested a link to this island called Agistri and a hotel called Rosi’s Little Village.
He said he had been reading my comments on-line and could feel what I was going through. He was stuck on the island because he missed the last ferry.
The people were so kind to him that he thought the place would be perfect for me.
Within 72 hours of that conversation, I was on the island of Agistri. I also visited Aegina while I was there, the island on which most of our filming has taken place so far.
I spent seven days on Agistri. Towards the end of my trip, I was befriended by a Greek couple and they offered to let me stay at their house in Athens – and I had only known them a couple of days! I did that on the way back, they have since become good friends.
One of them, Shirin, plays a character in the actual film: a character loosely based on the hotel owner I met.
The film is an incredibly personal one to make. Do you feel you’re faced with personal difficulties when you see your past pain being bared for all to see?
You have to remember that although this story is inspired from a single event and moment of truth, I took that and made it into a fictional story.
I found out that I was not the only person to go to Greece under such circumstances and several people had made the same journey and found peace in the country.
I didn’t want the story to be biographical, so I changed as much of it as possible; brought in new characters, – but they all seem very real because parts of them were all taken from people I met on that or subsequent trips to Greece. All the conversations that happened were really said by someone though sometimes under different circumstances, so there is a strong sense of truth about the whole piece.
With the exception of the scene in the London hospital, which was a very faithful recreation of the last moments I spent with Angela Thomas, the rest of the film must be seen as a very fictional work, even if it is very personal to me still.
I think it will be hard not to cry when I finally get to see the film complete,
but that will I am sure be as much about experiencing the joy of seeing it finished for the first time as much as it be myself responding to the portrayals on screen.
Duncan Pow – who plays Jason – even knew Angela himself from working on Holby City, so I didn’t have to convey to him how special she was…he already knew that and his pain was very visceral during his hardest scenes. It is a very impressive performance and I’m sure viewers will recognise this.
How did you find the location for filming?
During the recce we looked at various locations for the key hotel scenes. Eventually we were lucky to be offered a hotel owned by the Krassas family in Kavos Bay, Aegina, which we were given completely for free.
The family pretty much saved us from going under at one point when they also offered us free accommodation.
Who do you think would benefit from seeing this particular film? How can they relate and gain from it?
The film is about loss and how people deal with it in difference ways. It’s also about learning to listen and heed advice and receive help from others even when sometimes you do not really want it. I think in the modern era, it’s hard for someone to reach even the age of thirty and not have been faced with some kind of loss or another.
Bereavements and grief takes many forms.
When relationships end, it’s not always through death. I had a really good friend of seven years who suddenly, one day, cut several people out of his life including me. It was very hurtful and I still think about this even now because there was no closure. We found out later that there were other controlling forces in his life that made him do this, so even though I have forgiven him, I still miss and mourn the loss of the very special friendship we had.
This film covers not just the main character Jason, dealing with a loss, but other people too.
Someone else is going through a divorce and another man feels he has lost his country. So everyone in a way is trying to heal from something as well as trying to help each other – that is a core message of the film: that certain people are put on this earth to help you. They do it not for rewards or personal gain, they do it because they want to, they do it because they can.
Lance, this is a very personal project for you and I thank you for sharing your personal insight with Leaving Cairo. I look forward to coming back on set with you. Ladies and gentlemen, keep your eyes peeled for the new Crowdfunding Project to raise funds to enable “The Journey”‘s completion in the New Year. And get in touch with myself or Lance for any further info.