In Search of Silent Landscapes

I’d totally neglected this space in favour of my Twitter and Facebook accounts, complimented by my Crescent Arts Profile page:

In Search of Silent Landscapes DEMANDED a more expansive forum, so, I’ve reviewed it here.

A subdued portrayal of triumph. In Search of Silent Landscapes, painterly in its vision and sharp in its production and the first feature length film by film-makers Webb-Ellis, documents Sharon Gayter’s extraordinary feat: emancipation.


Sharon Gayter, pretty yet androgynous in appearance with darting glacial eyes, is a record-breaking international ultra distance athlete. The film matter-of-factly details her breath-taking achievements, which include surpassing male, as well as female records. Sublimely spare, nothing is glorified, despite accounts of the intense boundaries she has transcended.


The film-makers have moderated their response to their protagonist by speaking visually, in a manner akin to Gayter’s gentle, meditative and humble nature. Webb-Ellis detail Gayter’s training and participation as she races (against medical advice) to maintain the British number 1 title she held for 12 years at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo. Her dedication, and extreme, but somehow natural, sense of purpose is addressed throughout. The concluding reflections however, suggest a more philosophical response to this individual’s acceptance of self: conjugated, for example, by subtle shots of Gayter’s reflection in the window of the gym where she trains on the treadmill.


The film offers an understanding of how Gayter achieved her spiritual freedom, having overcome personal struggles: growing up in an abusive environment and her forgiving response to that daily trauma (“I was no-one…I had no social life…I just existed”). The heart-warming outcome, not fluffy but wholesome and glowing, is the relationship that grew out of compromise, between her and her husband Bill, her soul-mate, and unassuming protector. Bill is there at every step and their solidarity appears to drive her devotion to achieve.


Punctuating the film are audio recordings by Jiddu Krishnamurti, an interpersonal revolutionary guru. These sound-bites highlight the overwhelming message: that of listening to one’s body and the stamina required for nourishment of the soul. Over-layered with stylistic nuances transcribed by landscape, including panning shots of Gayter’s initial hilly stomping ground before she could run a mere mile, these two elementary factors within the film direct the viewers attention towards a refined tranquillity in thought and a pragmatic approach to living.


The viewer is made very aware of the physical pain and exhaustion that Gayter has to endure to succeed, but as stated “it is always the mind that breaks first”. Krishnamurti paraphrases elements brought out within Gayter’s experiences “Is there anything sacred in life, which has no beginning and no end…in that tremendous quality of silence…there may come something that is not made by thoughts?” We are challenged to consider the pursuit of nirvana, as evinced by Gayter’s apparent equilibrium.   


The locations Gayter trains and competes in dictate the colours in the film: highly saturated, resembling clinical lighting or an airport terminal. Certain shots are, however, reminiscent of Mondrian and Rothko’s abstract paintings – this analogy is heightened by the consideration aforementioned of spirituality.


Sharon Gayter is fearlessness personified and the film harnesses a goal for humanity, without fervour or as an object for glorification. What Gayter does in the race we are witness to, is literally pass the beginning over and over again. If we pause for thought we might recognise this necessity to keep traversing old ground before reaching a destination – wherever that might be, as long as it is, at least occasionally, visceral.

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