It was shaping up to be a big year with projects such as debut novels, feature films, festivals, music showcases and even a trip to the Olympics on the cards. And then a global pandemic put the kibosh on everything.
Lorcan Finnegan‘s latest feature film Vivarium premiered at the Dublin Film Festival and was about to be released in cinemas at the end of March, when COVID-19 put a halt to proceedings. He talks to us about his lockdown experience.
“We are strange creatures that like to imagine a path in front of us and then progress along that imaginary path to fulfill the plan. Uncertainty really messes with that.”
Vivarium was supposed to be released theatrically in the UK, the US and most European countries around March 24th. It was released in France first, on March 11th and I was over there for some press and Q&A’s. The atmosphere was right on the tipping point, people were talking about coronavirus as something that might be spreading in France and there were a few cases in Ireland. On March 12th I was in Chartres, close to Paris, for another screening and you could tell people were beginning to worry about going to the cinema. That evening the French president announced the closure of schools. On the 13th it was clear that cinemas had to close. We had 16,000 tickets sold in that brief period so it was looking like it was going to do really well in France. I was booked to fly to NY on March 14th to do a series of special screenings and a press junket with Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg. By March 14th the whole theatrical distribution plan had to be scrapped.
It all happened very suddenly. The distributors had spent a lot of their advertising budget on marketing the theatrical release but had to switch tack to a VOD release strategy. Obviously the film is best experienced in the cinema but the content and themes of the film were oddly fitting to lockdown, even strangely prescient. There were only a few new films on release at the time and everybody was stuck inside watching more films than ever so Vivarium actually did really well on VOD. It was a weird time as journalists wanted to write about the film as the ‘ultimate lockdown movie’.
Now that cinemas are opening up again Vivarium is back in the cinema and on VOD. It was always planned to have a later release in Asia and the timing has worked out quite well as cinemas are open and playing Vivarium in countries like Japan, Thailand, Laois, China and Taiwan. So although the release was weird and not what we planned, it’s getting lots of exposure. It’s a strange film but it’s making its way into the minds of an audience that would otherwise not see a film like it, which is interesting. It’s divisive and causing debate. Making the film was chaotic and plans kept going awry, so its wonky release seems oddly fitting.
What have we lost?
Apart from the tragic toll on lives from the virus most of us have lost our plans. We are strange creatures that like to imagine a path in front of us and then progress along that imaginary path to fulfill the plan. Uncertainty really messes with that.
What have we gained?
I think I’ve probably gained more than I’ve lost. Having the time to focus on the work you are interested in rather than the random distractions that an economy in full swing can bring with it has been good.
It felt that the world was about to have a breakdown one way or another, so maybe having a beat to reflect has been beneficial to some. It has been nice to spend time gardening, cooking, listening to the birds, developing new projects and refining planned ones.
What did you learn?
To declutter creatively and just do the things I find interesting. I like to cook so I’ve perfected a lot of things that I like to eat and learnt some new tricks!
What did you miss?
The usual simple stuff like going for a casual coffee or a pint. Spontaneity has changed.
What surprised you?
How quickly we can get used to something as strange as a ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’. The incredible momentum of Black Lives Matters movement, despite the pandemic, was a good surprise.
What disappointed you?
From an anthropological point of view it has been a really interesting time. Maybe it’s because we are often too busy to notice these things but seeing how some humans behave, what they will or will not believe, constructing their own reality to suit themselves, how some people can be incredibly selfish while others are incredibly selfless. I suppose some facets of humanity can be disappointing, but I still find it fascinating.
What’s next for you?
I’m gearing up for my next film, NOCEBO. It’s a supernatural thriller set between Dublin and Cebu city in the Philippines. We are planning to shoot later this year or early next year, so there is an immense amount of figuring out to be done. I also have several other projects at various stages of development, so contrary to uncertainty, I’m planning lots of new things!
Images: Martin Maguire
Read our review of Vivarium here.