'It's Not Yet Dark': Film Review | Sundance 2017

A tender look at a man's struggle with physical decline.

Colin Farrell narrates a doc about Simon Fitzmaurice, an Irish writer and filmmaker who is defiant in the face of ALS.

It's Not Yet Dark is a heartfelt and stirring documentary about the extraordinary love for life of Simon Fitzmaurice, an Irish writer and filmmaker stricken with a devastating ALS diagnosis but determined to never give in. 

At the cusp of his filmmaking career, Fitzmaurice's body turns on him. He develops a foot impediment, which, though exasperating, does not seem to be life-threatening. Yet slowly his physical condition regresses and subsequent medical testing concludes that he is stricken with the horrible and fatal illness.

Never losing a fighting-Irish spirit, nor his robust sense of humor, Fitzmaurice is buoyed and fortified by his loving wife and their kids (eventually six), as well as his parents, siblings and friends. It's a story of uncommon emotional fortitude, as he never wallows in self-pity. After all, he has much to live for: his family, his writing and his dream of filmmaking.

Even when confined to a wheelchair with his body kept alive by an array of tubes, Fitzmaurice cannot move, but he still communicates, writes and makes jokes. He expresses himself with the help of a remarkable computer program; instead of finger tapping on a keyboard, his eye-gaze stimulates the keys. Immobile and dependent totally on others to maintain his daily physical functions, Fitzmaurice perseveres. He works on a novel, gestated as good-bye letters to each of his children, and continues writing a screenplay. Through his grueling daily regimen and continually declining health, he never wavers from his ultimate dream: to direct films.

Filmmaker Frankie Fenton conveys the jarring arc of Fitzmaurice's life, beginning with childhood photos and home-movie style snippets and retracing from there. Fitzmaurice grows into a dashing, charismatic young man. A hit with the ladies, as well as a fun-loving friend to many, he seems to be headed toward a charmed life. His short film is selected for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and he seems on the fast-track to his dream of making filmmaking his career. While much has been given to him, the disease ultimately robs him of his body.

Under Fenton's tender but never maudlin directorial hand, the technical team shines. Cinematographer Kate McCullough's compositions, including an array of beautifully somber shots across the Irish countryside, imbue a tonal majesty to the story. In addition, composer Stephen Rennicks' baleful but jiggy score resonates with the subject's inner strength, while narrator Colin Farrell's warm brogue captures his life-affirming gusto.

Production companies: Kennedy Films, Newgrange Pictures
Director: Frankie Fenton
Producers: Kathryn Kennedy, Lesley McKimm
Executive producer: Jackie Larkin
Cinematographer: Kate McCullough
Music: Stephen Rennicks
Editor: Dermot Diskin
Narrator: Colin Farrell
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Documentary Competition)

78 minutes