Without a doubt, Claire Carré is a great storyteller. The writer and director of “Embers,” Carré created a world populated by compelling characters in a very unfortunate situation. The “Closing Night Film” at Slamdance 2016, the movie also has an intriguing look and feel to it.
“We started our film with a Kickstarter campaign, and we had to shoot it in sections over a year. We would raise enough money to shoot part of it; we’d raise more money and shoot another part of it,” Carré said when reached by phone for an interview. “It took a long time to make; I did the costumes myself.”
“Embers” takes place after a virus has robbed people across the globe of their memories. The survivors struggle to stay connected and survive, but they may not recognize each other from day-to-day or even moment-to-moment.
When asked about the settings and locations, the director said the first thing she did was look for amazing, abandoned places to shoot.
“I spent a lot of time on the Internet looking through urban exploration sites. I found this incredible church in Gary, Indiana, that’s in the film,” she explained. “There’s one guy in Gary who is the whole film commission. To get our permit, we went to his house. The permit allowed us to scout in any abandoned space in Gary.”
Carré points out that the locations feel real because they are true abandoned spaces. While they were shooting, the production designer actually had to go back and brings things in to make them look recently lived in. “We shot all the bunker [scenes] in Poland, a real World War II German bunker located in Poland. It’s 10 stories down and 33 kilometers of underground tunnels connected with underground train tracks. That was a great location that also felt really real,” she said.
A one-minute memory
Despite their memory limitations, the characters in “Embers” still strive for connections. Two lovers, for instance, wake up next to each other, but don’t remember their relationship. A similar wristband worn by both is a clue that they intended to stay together. “I do think for a lot of the characters, they have to focus on getting by in a pretty difficult world. I did a ton of research reading different neurology case studies. In particular, I read a lot about two amnesiacs and kind of drew a lot from their personal experiences to make it pretty realistic,” Carré said.
Known for decades in medical journals as “HM,” Henry Molaison is the man who allowed science to know where the human brain stores memories. “In the 1950’s, he was a teenager with epilepsy and this doctor tried an experimental surgery on him where he removed his hippocampus through a straw. It cured his epilepsy, but it removed his ability to form new memories for the rest of his life,” the director said.
Her research also led to Clive Wearing, a conductor and musician who contracted viral encephalitis, which is similar to the virus in the film. “He has about a one-minute memory now; he’s had that for about the last 20 years. I read the book his wife wrote; it’s an incredible, beautiful story because they are still together,” she explained. “And they are still in love.”
Wearing still has language skills and is aware that he can’t remember things. “[His wife] can leave and go to the bathroom and come back a couple of minutes later and he will embrace her. He literally can’t remember the last time he saw her,” Carré said. “Even though he shouldn’t be able to recognize her, he does. It’s one of the only things that he knows.”