It could be argued that a confined story, one that features only a few characters in a tight space for the entire duration, is one of the most difficult to adapt for the big screen. Generally speaking, there’s nothing to hide behind. Not only are the actors out in the open, almost as vulnerable as if they were onstage in front of a live audience, but the writers and directors are on display just as much.
Shandi Mitchell’s film, “The Disappeared,” which played at this summer’s Maine International Film Festival, is one such film. And, to add one more major obstacle to the film’s production, it’s set entirely in the ocean, something usually reserved for big-budget films. Not indies.
When Mitchell brought the script to Halifax, Nova Scotia-based producer Walter Forsyth, he thought the concept was simple yet brilliant. “The Disappeared” is about six fishermen lost at sea after their vessel sinks in the North Atlantic ocean.
“Shandi told me it was going to be easy to do because it was six people in one location,” Forsyth, who’s also a writer and director, said in a recent interview. “And I was like ‘That’s awesome, I’ll read it.’” The bad news, of course, is that the script took place entirely on the ocean.
“The Disappeared” was shot inexpensively off the coast of the historic fishing village of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and the three-week shoot presented challenges upon challenges. “[We were in the middle] of the open ocean forty five minutes by zodiac from the doc, which means you can’t come back to pee, the actors can’t come in for lunch, you’ve got union rules and SAG rules, it’s really restrictive,” Forsyth said of some of the obstacles while filming. “Just moving – ‘oh, let’s turn the boats around’ – everything moves slower on the ocean.”
Then there was Mother Nature, whom the filmmakers hoped could be the seventh character in “The Disappeared.” They got more than they bargained for.
“You can’t do anything about it. If the fog rolls in, go to a different script page. It’s hard on the actors, right? OK, it’s sunny out again. Back to this scene. We were going to shoot this in cloudy weather, but it’s gonna be sunny now.”
As impressive as it was for Mitchell, the cast and crew to overcome and work with those hardships, the film’s success rests on creating characters who are believable. Without that, the film would lose everything.
But here we have six actors, Billy Campbell, Ryan Doucette, Brian Downey, Shawn Doyle, Gary Levert and Neil Matheson, whose authenticity is never even brought into question. It’s almost as though they’re not actors at all, but Canadian fishermen who happened to have ended up in a movie.
Beyond that, “The Disappeared” gives audiences an up close and personal look at the beautiful North Atlantic ocean, though the context is treacherous in this particular tale. The inconsistent weather conditions will surely resonate with anyone who has ever spent time on the Maine coast, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island.
“The Disappeared,” though often challenging in its minimalistic style, is definitely worth seeing. With any luck, this film will come back to Maine for more showings, but until then, check out the trailer.