A life-affirming documentary for BBC Four’s Storyville strand sees director Xavier Alford become the subject of his own film and, in the process, learn about his illness, multifocal motor neuropathy.
In Locked In: Breaking the Silence, which is made by Bristol indie Marble Films and aired at the end of November, Alford talks to doctors and fellow sufferers but, crucially, opens up to his family about a progressively worsening condition that causes muscle weakness and atrophy.
Following a diagnosis a decade ago, he felt a “responsibility”, as a documentary-maker, to make a film, but “felt way, way too raw – I wasn’t ready”.
Alford was talking to Lynn Barlow at an RTS West of England event that offered a first look at the feature-length documentary.
A Bafta nomination for 2017 BBC Three series Drugsland boosted Alford’s confidence and, he felt, his chances of getting a personal film off the ground: “The real clincher was that I’d reached a point where holding my camera had become really difficult. I was declining quite quickly, although I’ve been very lucky and [since] had a steady, stable two years.
“I had to do it now, otherwise I might risk never being able to shoot it myself.”
Storyville commissioning editor Mandy Chang said: “We knew it was going to be a journey – turning a camera on yourself is not an easy thing; you’re very vulnerable. We kept pushing him to challenge himself, but he rose to the challenge every time.”
Editor Colette Hodges discussed working with Alford: “A lot of the filming took place during the edit, so we were on this journey together. There was a lot of banter and I think you need to have a sense of humour, especially with a bleak subject like this, to get yourself through it.”
One of the film’s contributors, Rob, can only communicate by winking. “It was a huge lesson for me,” said Alford. “All [Rob and his wife] want to do is talk and, whatever I’m going through with this illness, I’m a thousand miles away from being unable to talk – it was just myself stopping myself from talking.”
Chang concluded: “I wanted Xav to make an authored film about his condition and everything that goes with that, the emotional ups and downs.
“It brings the science into it lightly but really beautifully. It’s a film about the universal thing of how we don’t talk to each other about these really important things… I’m really proud that the film is part of Storyville.”