Kirk! An Interview with Film Director Michael Ferns

Kirk!

Film Director Michael Ferns

Michael Ferns

Michael Ferns

We Faery Witches have every reason to be excited about the upcoming film Kirk! about 17th century Scottish Faery Seer, Reverend Robert Kirk. He is such an important figure because, in a time when people believed in the reality of faeries and spirits, he recorded his experiences on the edge of the Otherworld first hand, and even read them from his pulpit in the church.

I was very pleased when Mr. Ferns  kindly agreed to share his creative process with us and his inspiration for the film. If the film is as remarkable as he is, it will be fabulous.

Interview with Michael Ferns

Arlene:

Can you tell a bit about yourself and your background in films, or what you want to express as an artist?

Michael:

I am 17 years old, living in Stirlingshire, Scotland, in a village in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. I have been passionate about filmmaking since a young age and have directed, shot and edited many contemporary short films. I have received grants from Lottery U.K. and various other organisations. I have also been very much supported by my local film society, Strathendrick Film Society. At the end of this month, I begin a BA degree course in Digital Film and Television at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD).
I am fascinated by the scope that the medium of film has to communicate ideas and stories. I aim to captivate an audience through a powerful blend of vibrant visuals and strong, engaging plots.

Arlene:

What drew you to the story of Rev.Robert Kirk?

Michael:

I had been aware of the story of the Reverend Robert Kirk for many years prior to the conception of ‘Kirk’. The village of Aberfoyle, where the real Doon hill sits, is only a few miles away from my home. I felt that the legend of Kirk was filled with intrigue, excitement and emotion, making it ideal material for a feature film. The producers and I were surprised to find that Kirk’s story was largely unknown to the wider local community which inspired us to take the project forward. On collaborating closely with the writers, we came to the conclusion that we would not attempt to convey any particular one of the many versions of the legend, but would bring our own dramatic interpretation to the screen which we felt held much human interest in the sense that it explores the emotional relationships of the key figures, Kirk and his wife, as well as those of some fictitious characters. We stuck pretty closely to Kirk’s ideas on the Secret Commonwealth, conveyed though the imaginary character of Mary, a local girl who has a strong link with the faery world. We feel that the film is true to the spirit of Robert Kirk and his ideas without being faithful in all respects to the legends.

Arlene:

Is Robert Kirk a prominent figure in Scottish history, or does he have a cult following? Has interest in him evolved with certain currents in society and Scottish culture?

Michael:

I think that Kirk’s story, besides within the immediate surrounding of Aberfoyle, is better known by those in the States with an interest in Scottish folklore. There are a few books and websites on the subject but currently, it does not have strong following within Scotland. However we are hoping that ‘Kirk’ will change that!

Arlene:

Is much really known about him, or is it mostly speculation?

Michael:

From my experience and that of the writers’ experiences when researching the legend for the screenplay, it appears that details of the story vary between sources. I believe a lot of the finer details to be speculation which is why the plot of ‘Kirk’ is only loosely based on the legend.

Rev. Kirk's church

Rev. Kirk's church

Arlene:

What is your understanding of Kirk’s faery experiences? Do you believe him? Or not?

MichaeI:

I  am as yet, undecided on my feelings towards Kirk’s faery experiences. I strongly believe that he was truly convinced of the existence of the Siddhe and that he was an intelligent, sane man. At the time he lived, belief in a spiritual faery world was widespread, legends and folklore dating far back into history from Celtic times and before. It was the way in which people made sense of many everyday happenings, the forces of nature, the rhythms of life and death. Christianity existed alongside this in Scottish communities and many did not see a contradiction. However, ‘The Establishment’ (i.e the Church and the educated classes) in the 17th century was beginning to condemn what they regarded as superstition, possibly because it was outside their sphere of influence.

I believe that the Reverend Robert Kirk was a man who was very much in touch with nature and the local people.

Arlene:

How do you think the people around him dealt with his revelations at the time?

Michael:

Kirk’ strongly explores this theme, showing three separate reactions to Robert Kirk’s revelations through the three supporting characters. Mary, the local girl who has had her own supernatural experiences, is convinced of the futility of any attempt to give their beliefs credibility. Abigail, Kirk’s wife, is concerned about his immortal soul and his standing in the Church. The Reverend Young sees Kirk’s writing as a challenge to the established Church and genuinely believes his beliefs to be blasphemous.

Arlene:

I notice the angle you pursue is for Kirk to convince his wife of the truth of his experience. Do general social issues come into it? What of the religious issues? Were they executing witches at that time?

Michael:

The film focuses mainly on the personal relationships. Social and religious issues are dealt with only through the three principal characters (see above). The film does not delve deeply into the wider context.

Arlene:

The settings look gorgeous! I think it says in the blurb that they are historic settings. Did the land effect your vision? Did you have to go to certain places to invoke the Faeries?

Michael:

The scenery is just Scotland! We live in a very beautiful part of the world and I wanted to emphasise how closely rural Scottish communities’ lives were intertwined with their natural environment. And hence how their folklore and supernatural beliefs linked to natural phenomenon. Kirk’s faeries centered around the tree atop Doon Hill, which provided a gateway, as the film describes “from their world to ours”. Kirk felt the faeries’ presence most strongly there but folklore tells of other local places and faery hills in the area and Mary alludes to some of these.

Although it was not feasible to shoot on the real Doon hill (only exterior wide shots were shot there) we felt that its beauty and presence would have to be recreated to do justice to Kirk’s story. We searched far and wide to find a suitable replacement for both the Doon hill faery tree (Loch Lomondside) and the village of Aberfoyle (Culross conservation village).

Arlene:

Doon Hill

Doon Hill

Is there anything else you would like your audience to know about you or why you felt so strongly to make this film?

Michael:

There were many reasons I made this film. First and foremost was the desire to share the captivating story of this charismatic, free-thinking Scot, who I felt had been neglected by the Scottish history books. I also of course saw an opportunity to create a moving, personal story for an audience. The period element to the film was important to me as it is my first experiment with this genre. I too feel passionately about young Scottish artists – writers, actors, musicians, make-up artists, technicians – being given the chance to explore and develop their art and to showcase their talents. And last, but not least, I aspired in some way to be an ambassador for Scotland, by giving its stories, characters, history and scenery a wider platform.

Best Wishes,
Michael Ferns
Director ‘Kirk’

Photos by Philip Coppens

Link to the trailer:

Kirk! Official Trailer

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