The director of Rotterdam premiere When The Lights Went Out talks about his personal connection to the horror story.
UK filmmaker Pat Holden (Long Weekend, Awaydays) had a personal reason to tell the story of his Rotterdam world premiere When The Lights Went Out – it was his aunt’s home that was the target of the haunting. “I was about 8 or 9 when it happened,” Holden remembers. “My mum was always around there with the family.”
The film is loosely based on the story of the Black Monk of Pontefract, the true story of a haunting of a working class family in 1970s Yorkshire. Holden says: “It is recognised as the worst case of poltergeist haunting in European history; many people experienced it at first hand; the police, neighbours, relatives, priests — even the local mayor.”
“I grew up with the story, it was a famous thing in the town. I was getting asked about it at school,” he says. “This has been a part of my life for so many years, I’ve been desperate to make a film about it for so long.” He got it made with producers Bil Bungay (Moon) and Deepak Nayar (Bend It Like Beckham).
He didn’t experience the spooky stuff first hand because of his age — “I was never allowed in the house [at the time of the events], I’m sure that was for the best.” But he doesn’t for a moment doubt the story’s authenticity. He tells Screen: “These were staunch Catholics, the idea of them making it up or exaggerating the story wasn’t anything I’ve ever considered. If anyone doubts it, I understand that emotion, but for me there’s never been any doubt in my mind that it happened.”
The film boasts an impressive performance by first-time actress Tasha Connor. “It was a real learning curve for her,” Holden says of the shoot. “By the end of the film, we were calling her ‘One-Take Tasha.’ She was amazing.”
The cast also features Gary Lewis, Kate Ashfield, Steven Waddington, Craig Parkinson, and Martin Compston.
Rankin, who Holden first met in the mid-90s, shot the striking image of Connor for the film’s poster. “One of the things I like about it is that it’s unexpected, the obvious thing to do would be to make a period poster…this really symbolises the girl’s journey,” the director adds.
The film is still screening in Rotterdam tonight (Thursday) and Simon Crowe’s SC Films is handling sales and will be screening the film at Berlin’s EFM.
Up next for Holden, he’s working on something very different, writing a sci-fi family comedy animation for Elton John’s Rocket Pictures.
He’s also working on a biopic of Robert Fraser, a central figure in swinging London of the 1960s who was a conduit from the art world to celebrities and musicians. That is being adapted based partly on Harriet Vyner’s Groovy Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Fraser.