Having spent some time collecting various material, both primary-source landscape and interview from the Island and research around the wreckage, this project has lead to some unexpected thoughts around framing the narrative of this. The story around the sunken SS Richard Montgomery was always secondary, my interest in it initially sparked by the reaction to it by the nearby community. Stories of tidal waves engulfing the island, driving islanders to live in fear. Having spent some time thinking about this, it occurred to me this narrative, the narrative of misinformation, is so tied up in the socio-political make-up of the community – a community noted for nationalist views and all that come with that – that my very purpose for the project has acquired new importance since I began. It is representative of the faults I see in the global socio-political climate: of a status quo devoid of reason or fact, instead built on collective belief, thought steered by tabloid media warping facts in interests of the economic gain.
I was asked to pitch the project to the Guardian recently and wrote this summary of its contents; perhaps a useful starting point for the narrative:
In August 1944, American Liberty ship the SS Richard Montgomery ran aground in the Thames Estuary just north of the northern Kent Isle of Sheppey, breaking it’s back with 1,400 tonnes of explosives aboard. If these explosives were detonated, it would allegedly be the largest non-nuclear explosion in recorded history. They remain at the wreck- age to this day and continue to be a hazard to the surrounding area.
It’s three masts visible above the water’s surface at all tides, the wreckage leaves a lasting visual impression of the inhabitants of the nearby island since its sinking; convinced the explosives will one day create a wave that will engulf the island, an impending sense of doom hangs over the islanders like a sword of Damocles, permeating the very fabric of life in the community. Despite the grave-sounding nature of the projected danger, in reality, the wreckage poses no actual threat.
This film is about misinformation.
The footage I’ve captured so far consists of set-up shots of the island landscape and the decaying architectural relics of WWII that litter it, documentary footage of a journey to the wreckage, and interview footage with local shop assistants. I also have an archive of iPhone footage, the format and content of which might give a better sense of the residential locations.
My first thoughts of filmic structure are as follows:
- Open with long, coastal landscape shots that set the scene, paired with a droning score made from incidental sounds and a bleak, colour-drained grade that give a sense of the bleakness of the environment.
- A sharp cut to faster-paced footage of inhabitants of the island; opening with interview footage of a single person, perhaps whose voice continues to soundtrack iPhone footage of the town giving a sense of the space, and ending with a long string of back-to-back interviews explaining the story of the wreckage in the chinese-whispers-style way I first came across it.
- Cut to a journey to the wreckage itself, beginning in the muddy marina and ending at the wreckage itself with scratchy, shaky hand-held mini DV footage that abruptly cuts short.
I’m unsure where, if at all, to include actual factual information about the wreckage. My thought is as a final note, a reveal that pulls the curtain on the myth. The nature of a gallery screening, though, would mean this set up allows for viewers to enter the story at any part, and therefore learn the reveal before the word-of-mouth account. Perhaps a fitting format reflective of the subject?