Irish public broadcaster RTE has acquired the rights to “Four Seasons in a Day,” director Annabel Verbeke’s documentary feature about the inhabitants straddling the post-Brexit divide between Northern Ireland and Ireland, Variety has learned exclusively. Cologne-based 3Boxmedia brokered the deal.
“Four Seasons in a Day” offers a glimpse at the contentious Brexit debate through the eyes of the tourists and locals aboard the Carlingford ferry, which shuttles passengers between British-controlled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the European Union. The film, which world premiered in the International Spectrum competition at Hot Docs, took home the prize for emerging international filmmaker.
Using an unobtrusive, fly-on-the-wall approach to film conversations aboard the ferry and on either side of the border, director Annabel Verbeke and cameraman Pieter-Jan Claessens strived to capture the nuances of a debate that has often played out in heated rhetoric, and at a fever pitch.
The portrait that emerges is presented not in black and white but in shades of gray, as the film’s subjects discuss—across a range of ages, accents, opinions and grievances—what borders mean to them and their families. In the process they rekindle old arguments and probe unhealed wounds, all the while searching for some common ground.
Belgian-born writer-producer Frederik Nicolai said “Four Seasons in a Day” is an attempt to bring “another dimension” to the ongoing Brexit debate. “I don’t want to push people in a certain direction. But I would like to make them think a little bit,” he said. “We really wanted to go into that gray zone. We didn’t choose a side.”
“Four Seasons in a Day” is one of six documentary films in the Borderline collection, which focus on border regions around Europe and shed light on “the people who live there, how they see themselves and how they see people who live on the other side, how they interpret their identity, their history, and how they look at the future,” said Nicolai.
Previous Borderline productions include “The Wire,” by Tiha K. Gudac, which had its world premiere at DOK.fest München, and centers on the fence built between Slovenia and Croatia to halt the influx of refugees from the Balkans into the E.U.; and “Where the World Ends,” by Anna Savchenko, which travels to the fringes of Eastern Europe, where Lithuania ends and Belarus—often dubbed “the last dictatorship in Europe”—begins.
The collection is “a huge European collaboration,” said Nicolai, who set up co-productions in seven countries, working with a range of filmmakers, line producers, and local crew. Deeply researched and intimate in their storytelling approach, each production takes anywhere between one and three years to complete, creating a slew of financial constraints—the six films were shot on a total budget of €1.5 million ($1.8 million)—and logistical hurdles.
For the crew of “Four Seasons in a Day,” no less a challenge was shooting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which upended the production schedule and forced Nicolai and his team to compile most of the footage during a frantic, three-week shoot last summer.
Finishing the film was itself a notable achievement, and Nicolai admitted he couldn’t have predicted the kudos of a Hot Docs prize when the “Four Seasons” journey began three years ago. “That’s why I think that sometimes you need to swim against the current,” he said.