Paris-based Reservoir Docs has acquired worldwide sales rights excluding Italy to “A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things,” a theatrical documentary by Scottish-Irish director Mark Cousins, featuring the voice of Tilda Swinton.
The film, described by the producers as “visually ravishing,” explores the art of the 20th century Scottish painter Wilhelmina Barns-Graham.
Swinton will voice the artist’s innermost thoughts, reading from her private diaries and notebooks, which have never before been made public.
The film is in late post-production for release in 2024. It is produced by Mary Bell and Adam Dawtrey for BofA Productions, and co-funded by the National Lottery via Screen Scotland, with the support of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust. I Wonder Pictures has acquired Italian rights from the producers.
“A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things” is the story of an unusual creative brain, and a magnificent lifelong obsession. One day in May 1949, Barns-Graham, then 36 years old and an emerging figure in the modernist St. Ives group of artists, climbed the Grindelwald glacier in Switzerland. She experienced an aesthetic and spiritual epiphany which rewired her brain and transformed her art. She spent the rest of her life painting the glacier. Through a cinematic immersion into her art and life, the film explores themes of gender, neurodiversity, climate change, and the nature of creativity from youth to old age.
Born in 1912, Barns-Graham died in 2004, creating vivid and dynamic new artworks right to the very end of her life.
Cousins said: “At school I was passionate about both art and maths. My heroes were visual people who seemed to see geometry and engineering in their work – Orson Welles, Paul Cezanne, etc. In the early 90s I discovered another one of that tribe, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, whose paintings analyzed glaciers like Cezanne’s analyzed mountains. Decades later, at the Barns-Graham Trust, I discovered how prolific she was, how unstoppable, and fell in love with her work in a new way. Her visual thinking, her wanderlust and her dynamism excited me. Add in her synaesthesia and the near disappearance of the Alpine glaciers and you’ve got a subject that’s perfect for cinema. I had to make this film. Barns-Graham’s work feels very contemporary to me.”
Dawtrey said: “Mark is a phenomenon, without doubt the most prolifically successful U.K.-based filmmaker of the past decade, whose work has been lauded at more major festivals than any other, and sold extensively worldwide. All of this by staying true to his own unique artistic vision – just as Willie did with her paintings. That’s why they are an ideal match. We are delighted to work with Reservoir Docs to bring this perfect marriage to audiences around the world.”
This is the fifth collaboration between Cousins and BofA, following “A Story of Children and Film” (2013), “Stockholm My Love” (2016), “The Eyes of Orson Welles” (2018) and “The Story of Looking” (2021).
Anaïs Clanet of Reservoir Docs negotiated the worldwide sales deal with BofA. Clanet will launch pre-sales at IDFA, after meeting the producers in Amsterdam two years ago, and pursuing the project ever since.
She said: “Creation, cinema and quality, this is really what attracted us to the project almost two years ago now and I couldn’t be happier to share the film around the world. Mark is a wonderful filmmaker who has a beautiful insight into Wilhelmina’s creativity. It’s a film about the inventive and unusual creative process from an extraordinary artist who deserves to be more widely recognized. Mark has created a one-of-a-kind project that we can’t wait to sell worldwide.”
The film is edited by Timo Langer, with an original score by Glasgow-based composer Linda Buckley, and animations by Danny Carr. Executive producer is Mark Thomas on behalf of Screen Scotland. Rob Airey of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, based in Edinburgh, acted as consultant.
In November 2022, Cousins staged a four-screen installation at Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh about Barns-Graham’s encounter with the Grindelwald glacier, titled “Like a Huge Scotland.” Extracts from this installation also feature in “A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things.” The intention is that the two works could tour globally together in suitable multi-arts venues, alongside exhibitions of Barns-Graham’s work.
Other recent films by Cousins include “My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock,” “The March on Rome,” “The Story of Film: A New Generation” and “Women Make Film.” In 2020 he received the European Film Academy’s inaugural Innovation Award, and in 2022 he was given the Outstanding Contribution to Cinema Medal at the Telluride Film Festival.
In 2023, he received the Persistence of Vision Award from the San Francisco Film Festival; the Maverick Award at the Dublin Intl Film Festival; the Outstanding Contribution to Film and Culture Award from the Ismailia Film Festival in Egypt; and the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award from the Sarajevo Film Festival in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the art of film.