Adapted from writer-director Simon Fitzmaurice's titular novel on his struggles with Motor Neuron Disease, It's Not Yet Dark documents Fitzmaurice's early life and his first forays into film, culminating in the short The Sound of People accepted to Sundance Film Festival. However, it's at Sundance that Fitzmaurice notices his 'floppy foot', an early symptom of MND. Given only four years to live, Fitzmaurice goes about penning his debut feature script My Name Is Emily (released 2015) and spending as much time with his family…
Similar in some respects to Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon's excellent 2013 documentary I Am Breathing, which explored MND sufferer Neill Platt's final months, It's Not Yet Dark is an altogether more upbeat affair despite the personal tragedy. Debut director Frankie Fenton uses talking heads (mainly Fitzmaurice's wife Ruth, his family and friends) to paint a picture of Fitzmaurice then and now. We understand that he was lively and adventurous (a climbing expedition to the Himalayas), full of confidence (so much so he rubbed Ruth up the wrong way when they first met) and he left DIT with the award-winning short Full Circle. Marriage and children followed and then onto to Sundance with The Sound of People (starring Martin McCann). Then disaster.
"It's so gradual," Ruth remarks about the onset of the disease, "you get used to each stage." These stages are documented in their full horror: first loss of muscular activity, then total movement and voice. A bout of pneumonia hints at a failing respiratory system. Despite being unable to move or breathe without ventilation, Fitzmaurice can feel everything. Home videos show each stage with Colin Farrell's softly delivered narration (taken from passages in the book) undercutting cheerful scenes; one moment has Fitzmaurice chase his giggling son down the hall but his thoughts are all too aware that this could be the last time he does it.
Throwing himself into the script for My Name Is Emily, Fitzmaurice uses a state-of-the-art device that allows him to write by sight (discarding another on the market for being 'crap'). Meticulous preparation to cut down on delays during the shoot makes the film possible, along with 'support director' Elizabeth Gill (Goldfish Memory, TV's The Hardy Bucks), acting as the go-between for director and actors.