For The Duration

Filmed entirely within the boundaries of the Snowdonia National park in North Wales (UK), we follow the journey of 'Trench Coat', an undercover agent, who transports a mysterious suitcase across difficult terrain, pursued by 'The Black Cagoule', a counter-agent, who corners him in a heterotopic dream space, and tricks him into relinquishing the suitcase via a confrontational board game.

  • Phil Layton
    Director
  • Phil Layton
    Writer
  • Phil Layton
    Producer
  • Marcel Stoetzler
    Key Cast
    "Trench Coat"
  • Alan Holmes
    Key Cast
    "The Black Cagoule"
  • Project Type:
    Experimental, Short, Student
  • Runtime:
    14 minutes 8 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 18, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    1,000 GBP
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Country of Filming:
    United Kingdom
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    DSLR
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    Yes
  • Student Project:
    Yes
Director Biography - Phil Layton

I have been experimenting with the moving image for more than twenty years, but my image making began in childhood using a Kodak ‘Brownie 127’ camera. By 1978 I had my first SLR, a Cosina CT1. VHS video cameras were borrowed post-university. Eventually a Hi8 camera was purchased. A collection of digital cameras followed.

In the 80’s and 90’s I was a musician and artist in Birmingham, UK, playing in bands, performing solo and contributing to The Birmingham Experimental Music Network. This activity culminated in 1997 in a successful bid for funding from the A4E lottery fund to produce and distribute work by my experimental music collective S’pout Inc.

In 1998 I spent a year of negotiated study at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, and developed moving abstract ‘paintings’ using looped found footage. I also completed modules in sculpture and poster design, and submitted research on the elements of subversion in contemporary art.

Gaining an M.A. in filmmaking has enabled a greater understanding of film and television history in the context of the creative industries, whilst introducing me to the discipline of script-writing, narrative structure and the creative possibilities of documentary. I continued to produce experimental film works in parallel with the practical assignments required of the masters degree.

I have always loved watching films. My earliest memories are of watching test screenings for BBC2 of films from the Film Board of Canada, whilst absent from Primary school. The moving image on screen holds a fascination for me. The cinema of the avant-garde is special because it engages my intellect at the same time as absorbing me visually and aurally. Whilst I enjoy passive watching, active engagement in audio-visual works bears rewards that are absent from mainstream films.

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Director Statement

Why do people make films? To make money, to entertain, to instruct, to express opinions. I make films because I am interested in exploring the medium as a means of communication.

The film I have made is intended to embody some of the isolated, desperate feelings I often live with, expressed with some humour and packaged in the palatable form of attractive landscapes, curious characters and a puzzling narrative.

I have chosen to make a serious film that will appeal to an audience wishing to engage in an interesting emotional and intellectual journey, where there is a challenge in terms of comprehensibility. I have attempted to walk an ambiguous line with the various elements of the film to facilitate opportunities for the audience to take part in completing the half-suggested meanings therein contained. In this way, ‘For the Duration’ becomes a different film to each person who engages with it. As the writer and director, I have no special, privileged insight into the meaning of the film.

“For the duration” is a phrase used to answer various questions in various contexts, but it always carries a stoical sub textual meaning – a suggestion that the time period in question is to be survived, or at least tolerated, with an implication of difficulties to come. Its archetypal use is in times of war, where it also implies a determination to see things through to the end, whatever the cost. Another shade of meaning contained in the phrase is that of the inescapable duty.

The title of my film is also a reference to the philosophical concept of Duration, as expounded by the nineteenth century French philosopher Henri Bergson. He wished to point out that the Positivist concept of time as a series of discrete measurable moments (scientific time) ignored the important element of experienced time, which necessarily involved the flow and flux of duration – there is no absolute ‘NOW’, but a lived experience of time passing, and of time having past (memories). The medium of film lends itself perfectly to expressing this notion.

To be engrossed in watching a film is an experience not dissimilar to dreaming – you are experiencing the emotions (and possibly thoughts) of the characters, whilst they travel through and experience the diverse environments portrayed. This relationship of film to dreaming is, I think, an important one, as it points to the power of film to connect with the unconscious. It is why I have attempted to create a dream-like film, that actually portrays the dream of the protagonist, but also blurs the boundary between waking time and unconscious time.

Another important theme of my film is absurdity. This is related to, though distinct from, the surreal. By using ellipsis, an abstracted narrative has been created that begs numerous questions, chiefly about the protagonist’s journey, I.e. where is he going, and why? For me, this is an important nod to the absurdity of our current times.

The device of the board game, as forum for confrontation, is a film trope I have adopted to bring the two characters of my film together. However, whilst Bergman uses the established game of chess, I have invented an imaginary board game akin to the radio panel game ‘Mornington Crescent’ (I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue, BBC Radio 4). The game pieces effectively tie the film together, as they appear at random during the central character’s journey, then in the game, followed by a stop-motion crisis/epiphany, and then finally as a coda to the character’s death/dream, having fallen from his hand like the pills of an overdose.

This film is influenced by a variety of Avant Garde film movements, but chiefly the psycho-dramatic trance films of 1950’s America, created by, amongst others, Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger.

The main feature of these films is a central character who ‘passes invisibly …through dramatic landscapes toward a climactic confrontation with one’s self and one’s past’ (Carl Rowe: Film Quarterly Vol 28 Num 4 Summer 1975 Review of ‘Visionary Film’ by Sitney.)

The protagonist’s suitcase acts like a McGuffin, though not in a conventional way. The enduring puzzle is ‘what is inside the suitcase?’. This creates tension in the audience, and is deliberately unresolved.

Each location in the film represents a certain part of personality of Major Stiger, the protagonist. The story is about a man experiencing different emotional states through his interaction with each location, and his ultimate death and rebirth through a climactic encounter with his own being, instigated by watching himself on his psychological journey, in a sequence towards the end of the film. This is where an alter-ego/antagonist, in the form of Colonel Mitchell, confronts Stiger over a strange board game.

This film has a simple narrative, but narrative is not its main function. Above all things, this film is concerned with the visual, interleaved with the concept of ‘mythopoeia’ or mythmaking. Major Stiger represents an everyman in a mythical world that is the making of his own imagination. Ritually seeking out the symbolic yellow markers of his quest, he carries a suitcase that may be the weapon of his salvation, but turns out to signal his downfall at the hands of a double agent.

My goal has been to make a film that provokes thought, not nice warm fuzzy feelings. It is an intellectual film, and a film for the cineaste, as it presupposes an enhanced level of knowledge about and love of cinema. That said, the film can also be enjoyed on a more superficial level - the landscapes of Snowdonia National Park provide striking locations to be appreciated in and of themselves.