One of the standout films at this year’s Brighton Rocks festival is Dogwood, an epic meditation on today’s throwaway world with a particular focus on the human cost of society’s slavish work culture.
Dogwood, by writer/director Steve Sale, follows Martin (Joe Newton) – an undervalued and overworked cog in the corporate machine. One day, overrun by the pressures of his working life, Martin suffers an apparent nervous breakdown and embarks on a new life off-the-grid in the forest. But what promises to be a simpler life at first, inevitably turns out to present a great many challenges for Martin.
Dogwood boasts a bare-bones drama guided by Joe Hill’s third-person narration. The film is reminiscent of a nature documentary, which at times distances us from Martin. The film oscillates between showing us Martin’s subjective experiences of the world and treating Martin as a subject to be gazed at. There is a lot of humour found in treating Martin as an animal, especially in the opening moments where Martin is viewed as a real creature of habit: his days a predictable blur of commuting, mindless work, and explicit pornography. In times like this, the voiceover juxtaposes civility with the crude facts of life to riotous effect.
If there is vulgarity in Dogwood, there is also sharp intelligence and poetry. Alex Caird’s verses elevate the film’s tone, drawing out questions concerning our relationship with nature. There are no easy answers to these questions and to the film’s credit, it doesn’t profess to have them.
Instead, Dogwood is a remarkably unpredictable film which perfectly reflects the chaotic times we live in. Actor Joe Newton does a remarkable job in bringing this unpredictability to Martin’s character. Throughout the film, Martin is well and truly pushed to the extremities of the human condition and Newton works wonders to hold Martin together throughout, shrinking and expanding into the energy of the moment.
The landscapes also contract and swell, not least because Martin’s main food supply is foraged mushrooms. Thanks to some excellent cinematography (Sale also serves as DOP on this project) we can really feel the different scales at play within the film. Dogwood‘s aerial shots are both visually arresting and loaded with thematic resonance: dwarfing Martin against the city and the woods. Sale’s framing constantly evoked this tone, with careful attention to the constricting geometry of the city and the humbling size of nature. The film’s ending sees Martin wash up on the shores of Brighton as a vagabond, and here Dogwood shifts its focus back to modern society and the homelessness crisis.
There’s much to love about this visceral tale of a wannabe woodsman. Dogwood, which recently won Best Director and Best Narrative Picture at Ramsgate International Film Festival, will screen as part of the official selections at this year’s Brighton Rocks Festival.
Brighton Rocks Film Festival returns for physical screenings this year 23-25 July at the Rialto Theatre, Brighton. For updates on the festival and to hear about when tickets are releases be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.