Second Spring is a poignant and compassionate drama exploring identity, freedom and what it means to be human, telling the story of Kathy, who leaves the safety of her marriage for a man she barely knows after receiving a diagnosis of a rare form of dementia. We spoke to director Andy Kelleher about shaping the story around character and landscape, and the unique way it was shot. 

What led you to develop the concept for Second Spring?

Cathy and Jerry, both actors in the film, along with myself had been working together on some story ideas and devised film scenes. We shot a good number of these over a couple of years. These scenes or mini stories were a very organic way of making films, which I was really enjoying. It got to the point where we said that we should formalise what we were doing and take on a feature film. Martin Herron then came on board as the screenwriter. We both spent a week literally walking through the story – in London and Kent. It all began to take shape. We knew our main character should suffer from an illness as it was something that at the time was affecting all of is in some ways, through family or friends. We had done research and came across this fascinating mental condition called Fronto-Temporal Degeneration. It seemed to slowly progress over 5 to 10 years and affected the temporal lobes of the brain, which is the part that deals with a human’s capacity for compassion and empathy. We wanted to be as true to the real symptoms as we could and avoid a melodrama story arc. And so the character of Kathy Deane began to form. The Hoo marshes in Kent became part of the story too. It was such a beguiling place and we knew that it would mean so much to the character. Martin went away and wrote the script and soon we began a three year journey of shooting the film.

You have said that Second Spring is the last film to be shot on Fujifilm stock – how significant is that to you and why did you feel it was particularly well suited to this story?

We believe it to be the last, or certainly one of them. We were told that we bought the last bulk of Fuji film stock. And it took us about three years to shoot the film, on and off, and as the stock was going out of date and given that it took this long, we can only assume that we are the final long form film shot on it. Its a great legacy for the film to have. The stocks are quite special, designed in Asia they have a different colour make up to Kodak, which is made in the US. Fuji renders landscapes and faces in a very particular way. The stock really captured the allure of the eerie marshes in north Kent. Of course, most of the credit has to go to Jonas the cinematographer, who really got the most out of the 16mm negative – some of the film was also shot in 35mm. We spent our own money buying up the stock as we were dedicated to making the film. It has become part of the film’s own story for those reasons.

Midway through the film, Kathy receives a diagnosis of Frontotemporal Degeneration, a rare form of dementia. Was that a condition you were aware of previously and how does it tie into the story you wanted to tell?

We weren’t aware of the condition before the film. We knew of and had family and friends that suffered from dementia and other mental health issues, but this was quite different. FTD was especially interesting to us as storytellers in that it affected the part of the brain that deals with compassion, morality and empathy. It also affected younger people, meaning our character didn’t need to be elderly. We came across an interesting case study and one thing the person with FTD said really stayed with us: he was ‘aware that he was unaware’. A person can loose inhibition, behave irrationally. This was happening to Kathy in the film, she was slowly losing her sense of self. Later in the film she starts to become more self aware. It was also important that we saw how the changes in her affected those around her, which is such an important part of real life. Our personal circumstances made us all feel that a mental condition in the main character was the right thing to explore. Now audiences too, can be more aware of this particular illness.

What do you think the film has to say about the relationship between mental health and identity?

This notion of the brain being affected in such a way that you begin to lose your sense of self really drives Cathy’s performance. There are many nuances in her behaviour and actions that are all true to that illness. In a way she has tunnel vision for quite a bit of the film. This notion that the brain is changing and therefore the person is, is very interesting. The Kathy in the film is quite an enigma, but so is the illness. Deep down she knows in herself there’s a change, but she just can’t consolidate it. She’s a moral individual and her moral sense is key to her identity, the illness attacks that sense of integrity. It was always important to us that she attempts to regain a glimmer of her morality in some way. When we see someone go through something and we don’t understand the why, its important that a drama can go some of the way to explaining this. At least show it, depict it for an audience and they can respond or react in their own way. FTD is quite an elusive condition and there is still a lot about it to be discovered.

Second Spring is your first feature film – what impact has it had on you as a director?

I had wanted to make a feature film for some time, and it took a lot longer than expected. Its been – and continues to be – a huge learning curve both in making feature films and how the industry works – we are currently trying very hard to get it out there and find audiences. Its an incredibly difficult environment for independent filmmakers at the moment. Films can get lost and drift into obscurity. If anything its proved to me, as a director, that I have the stamina to keep at it. You really need to believe in the story you are telling, that passion, perseverance and belief in the material is essential to seeing it all through. I’m keen to do more feature films for the cinema. It has always been my goal and at the very least proves its possible to complete one independently, with hard work and dedication.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

Martin and I have started a new script. It won’t be that different from Second Spring stylistically. This time instead of an illness, the crisis in a character’s life is financial desperation and where that leads him. I feel good about the story that we’ve come up with and think that it should resonate with audiences.

Second Spring is screening at CCA, Glasgow on Sat 12 May at 7.30pm and will be followed by a Q&A with Andy.