Inverness filmmakers Mike Webster and James Roddie hold world premiere for new film Down The Rabbit Hole at Inverness Film Festival on Sunday
CAVES are by their nature dark, often hidden and challenging to explore – so you can see why they might seem like a good place to go in search of fresh thoughts on mental health, as they do in Mike Webster and James Roddie’s film Down The Rabbit Hole.
Mike and James both worked at Eden Court in the past and both are pleased that the film will return there on Sunday for its world premiere at the Inverness Film Festival.
Back in February, Mike presented Divided, a film he co-directed and produced with adventure cyclists Lee Craigie and Rickie Cotter, when they cycled from Canada to Mexico along the Tour Divide. The film went on to win best adventure sports film at the Kendal Mountain Festival and it was shown at Eden Court as part of the 10th anniversary Banff Mountain Festival World Tour.
Since then, Mike – after spending 10 years as a film tutor with the theatre's engagement department – is now working full-time as a freelance filmmaker.
As the information about the film reveals, James lives outside Inverness and is a caver, climber and award-winning professional photographer who also runs workshops – and he is also a 30-year-old man with an eating disorder coming to terms with the death of a close family member.
Mike set the scene for the first ideas for the film.
He said: “James and I had made a couple of little films beforehand and we were starting to work on one about mental health when we first set out to make this film.
"We shot some of the initial material 18 months ago and had done some bits of interview and started trying to put that together. But we soon realised it was far too big a story to tell as part of the little piece initially planned.”
A radical rethink followed.
Mike explained: “In January we decided to reapproach it and decided to use the three caves that feature in it as a way of exploring our mental health story.
“We wrapped it up in April/ May and finished the final edit in July.”
Down The Rabbit Hole takes viewers on a 40-minute journey to three Highland caves, as professional photographer James endeavours to photograph them.
James said: “I got into caving a few years ago when I moved to live in Derbyshire for a few months. I had been an obsessive rock-climber and ice-climber for years and needed a change, so I tried out caving and potholing instead.
“I took to it immediately and found I had a natural ability, and it wasn’t long before I was caving at a high grade.
“To my knowledge I’m the first professional photographer to have entered some of these caves, some of which have only been discovered in the last few years.
“My aim was to produce the best images seen to date of these caves, and hopefully shine a light on Scotland’s subterranean world.”
Mike described what hopes he and James had when they set out to make the film.
Mike said: “On the poster it says ‘A film by Mike Webster and James Roddie’ and the content is very much working on things we feel need to be said. On the mental health side, we wanted what needs to be said correctly to come across correctly.
"Also, we wanted people to know that we were being careful in the caves,and there’s a secret cave where we wanted to make sure its location remains secret.”
After the film has screened, there will also be the chance to take a closer look at James’s cave photographs.
He said: “I have an exhibition of my Scottish cave photography running throughout the whole of this month in the first circle gallery at Eden Court.
"To my knowledge I’m the first professional photographer to have entered some of these caves – some of which have only been discovered in the last few years."
James revealed his favourite cave of the many he has explored in the North.
"My favourite cave in the Highlands is called Uamh nam Fior Iongantais (Gaelic for Cave of True Wonders). It contains the longest and most spectacular stalactites and calcite formations yet discovered in Scotland, so the location is kept secret to preserve the cave.
"My aim was to produce the best images seen to date of these caves, and hopefully shine a light on Scotland’s subterranean world.
“It is hard to overstate just how difficult it is to photograph some of these caves.
"They are tight, dusty, and prone to flooding. You have to carry in a considerable amount of photographic gear, often through tight sections of cave passageway that you have to squeeze through with only a few inches of space around you.
"And once you’ve got all the camera gear in, you then need to go about lighting the cave with multiple flash guns."
James is brilliant at setting the scene to be able to fully appreciate the pictures he has put up in the exhibition which runs until the end of November.
"Each photograph takes a long time to set up, and all the time you are fighting condensation and water dripping on the lens, dust and mud, and you are struggling to keep warm – as you may have had to crawl through deep water to get there in the first place!”
After the Inverness screening, Mike and James already know that so far other places the film will be seen include Dundee Mountain Film Festival and Kendal Mountain Festival. For Mike, the film has been a challenge in at least one way.
He said: “I had to learn to cave for the film. So when we started making it initially we did a couple of excursions down in Yorkshire where we were just working out if it was a practical, doable thing to do at all – taking sensitive equipment underground and wondering ‘How well will I cope with an underground situation?’.
"But actually, the most stressful and sensitive thing was just being really delicate with stalactites and bits of caves that are fragile and so many years old.”
Like Mike, James is pleased to be able to premiere the film at Eden Court, where he used to work. Music has been specially written for it by composer Deborah Shaw – who writes as Aurora Engine – and local musician Nicky Murray has also written a piece for it.
"We're really excited and happy to have the premiere of our film here at Inverness Film Festival, " James said. "It’s a film entirely set in the Scottish Highlands, and it's showing a side to the Highlands that many people aren’t very aware of, so it’s good to be showing it here for the first time.
"Inverness Film Festival and Eden Court are great supporters of local artists and they are fantastic to work with.
For James, there is an important thing he hopes people will take away from the film.
“Broadly speaking, we are aiming to openly say a few things you don’t often hear (specifically) men talking about when it comes to mental health. In general, I think people are becoming more open to talking about their mental health, but it’s fair to say that men in particular can find it extremely difficult to discuss openly.”
Down The Rabbit Hole has its world premiere on Sunday, November 10 at 2.30pm at Eden Court. More info on down The Rabbit Hole at: https://www.spiraloutpictures.com