Interview – What Are The Wild Waves Saying

Interview with Declan Clarke

Your film charts a network of Irish-German connections through three figures, central amongst which is the author Francis Stuart. How did this project originate?

I first encountered Francis Stuart in the late 1990’s when a friend of mine who was studying literature at Trinity College Dublin told me about him. In particular his fictional memoir Black List, Section H (1971, although completed in 1961, it took a decade to find a publisher). I bought a copy shortly afterwards but didn’t get around to reading it at the time. Years later I was reading Anthony Beevor’s Berlin: The Downfall 1945 and he mentioned, as an aside towards the end of the book, that the pro-Nazi Irish nationalists at Irland-Redaktion were the last remaining voice of the German propaganda services.
This made me think of Stuart – who had broadcast for Irland-Redaktion, the Irish branch of the Third Reich’s vast and extensive propaganda broadcasting services. It struck me as bizarre and absurd that an Irish propaganda service could have been active so late in the war, and the last voice of fascist Germany to be heard on the airwaves. I made a note, but the strange and unsettling historical fact stayed with me. In March 2020 the idea returned to me as I was doing research into broadcasting history, and I started to read quite extensively about 20th century radio propaganda, and books about and by Francis Stuart, and decided to make a short film about it which, as happens, expanded into a feature length film.

You choose to film in black and white or colour depending on the era being depicted. Why this visual choice?

A simple way of differentiating between two subjects, two eras, while also remaining, relatively speaking, true to the epochs depicted. I often shoot in both black and white and colour, and often combine both in my films. I always have multiple still cameras going, some with black and white film and some with colour, using different types of film stock. I find it useful to examine the difference in tone and atmosphere, the sense of time that different camera bodies, different lenses, different film stocks bring to the rather mundane photographs that I take. It seems very natural to incorporate this approach into my films too.

You also choose to keep your film almost completely silent as far as voices are concerned, the only sounds being those of objects? Why this choice of silence?

I have enormous faith in the ability of moving images to convey meaning, and I try not to fill my films out with too much chatter or superfluous noise when avoidable. I partly feel that this film could have less voiceover, but it was important to accurately convey the historical words and deeds of those depicted. It made sense also to have an approximation of Stuart – the character both is and is not Francis Stuart – relay the actual wartime broadcasts of the Irish writer in a wartime exile of his own choosing.
Objects are also very capable of telling their own story. The East German laser communication device compellingly conveys the methods developed for the secret observation of unsuspecting citizens. For me, it was important to document the device, and to let it speak for itself in its own vernacular. Telling you what it is is far less interesting than showing it to you. There’s a quality that analogue machines innately share. In a way, by pointing the film camera at the laser device, they communicate naturally with each other through their shared language.
The inter titles serve as a way of being as succinct as possible with the filling out of the set up. I had further inter titles written and produced, but edited them out because I felt the film was becoming overly explanatory. Most narratives find their own way to their inevitable conclusion if not interfered with too much.

There seems to be a pun in the title on « waves ». Why this title ?

I wanted a title that could be evocative, while also serving to obliquely suggest the complex moral decisions that the film considers (not to forget their consequences). The title comes from an 18th century ballad that was written in response to an incident in Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son.
Yes, the waves are both radio waves and the wild and deafening waves of the Atlantic ocean as they crash on to the Irish coast after their 5,000 kilometre journey. But the waves are also perhaps waves of conscious, or consciousness even, those deep roars that rage through the mind in the wee small hours.
As the song itself goes:
“But at night when ’tis dark and lonely,
In dreams it is still with me.”

Interview by Nathan Letoré