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A poetic storyteller through word and image, the artist’s latest project brings stories of recovery to the film screen.
“It’s not meant to be like this, it’s meant to be different,” utters SAM BATLEY in the closing line of forthcoming short film Three Bull-Mastiffs in a Corner Kitchen. The film, written by Batley in collaboration with filmmaker Paul Chambers, is informed by Batley’s continuing journey of recovery from addiction.
In the last year Batley has flourished as a writer and photographer. This has led to live readings of his poetry at La Violette Società and being part of a joint photography exhibition at Love Wavertree Community Hub.
He is an artist who has faced up to his past and turned his pain into purpose. He is now clearly grounded by his creative outlets and talks with such passion about his love of Liverpool, how it inspires him creatively the energy it gives him. “Liverpool’s saved my life, and I don’t say that lightly. Liverpool saved me. I feel like I’ve found somewhere I’ve started to put roots down,” he happily proclaims.
Although now relocated to Liverpool, Three Bull-Mastiffs in a Corner Kitchen offers a raw portrayal of his life as a young man growing up in a South Yorkshire mining town, focusing on the cycles of addiction that Batley was experiencing at that time.
The foundation of the film draws its main dialogue from a poem that was first thing Batley wrote in recovery. “As I was getting into recovery, I was starting to get some clarity over my past, pieces started to fit together and I started seeing my past as what it was, and not what I thought it was,” he admits. “I was becoming more aware of the feelings attached to the past. The whole thing was about revisiting that part of myself and seeing it for what it was.”
What he produced is a brutally honest piece of writing, a pounding release of consciousness which confronts old ways and habits. It acts as the heartbeat of the film and provides a compelling energy through which the film’s messages are conveyed.
The film’s title, which is the first line of the poem, draws on Batley’s experiences when picking up drugs from a dealer. The three dogs were used by the dealer to go badger baiting and would frequently be physically damaged from the activity. “They are a representation of the chaos and the foreboding of the space I used to go into,” he recalls, “as the bull-mastiffs would be the first thing that I’d see.” The dogs are omnipresent throughout the film and act to highlight the spectre of addiction, one formed in an isolated and long forgotten pit town where hope and opportunity were overcast by the bleak surroundings. “I can’t remember the pits, but I waint [sic] forget, I’m not allowed to forget,” the poem reads.
The film powerfully captures the boredom of long empty days, the endless cycle of nothingness which enhances the attractiveness of substances as a means for escape. Batley confirms this. “You’re bored as fuck, sat about. There is an energy about the place, there’s fuck all to do, the nature of pit villages is that they are isolated. Just them days when there is fucking nowt to do.”
The theme of masculinity hangs heavy throughout the film, framed succinctly on the promotional artwork as “fragile masculinity, fragile ideas of pride” – ideas and prescribed norms that are passed effortlessly from generation to generation. The peer pressure that demands this conformance is cleverly reflected in the early scenes; the submergence in the everyday routine of drug taking, the confusion of wanting it to be different while doing nothing to change that. “No one gives a fuck as much as me, I’m just willing to do absolutely fuck all about it,” Batley’s narration poignantly outlines, highlighting the feelings of entrapment.
By his own admission the whole project has been a surreal experience; almost ghostlike seeing his life played out on screen. “It was a roller coaster. It wasn’t necessarily negative. Some parts were over-powering, and some were really beautiful,” he says. “Revisiting them spaces and experiences in a detached way, I’m still processing it now.”
When the film is released it will be accompanied with behind the scenes documentary offering a closer look at the personalities within the project. The documentary is likely to be the happy ending the film doesn’t give us. As well as Sam’s experiences it will draw out the stories of the other members of the cast who are also in recovery. Stories of hope, strength and positivity which the team behind the project will aim to serve as an inspiration to others in their own early stages of recovery, or even those still struggling to take them first steps.
Three Bull-Mastiffs in a Corner Kitchen positively underscores that people can recover from what has gone before; there is a different way that’s about living and not merely existing. As the film displays, Batley has found a way for his life to be different.
Three Bull-Mastiffs in a Corner Kitchen will premiere later this year. One Day At A Time is currently in production.
(Design: Declan Connolly, Photo: Jack Gibson)