Simon Fitzmaurice in It’s Not Yet Dark (FilmRise)

Based on the memoir of the same name, It’s Not Yet Dark is a beautiful visual representation of Irish filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice’s struggle with motor neurone disease (or MND, known in the States as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). While showing his second short film, “The Sound of People,” at the Sundance Film Festival, Fitzmaurice, then 34, noticed his foot was acting “floppy.” While he brushed the sensation off initially, he was diagnosed with MND not long after and given three to four years to live—he’s now 42. The film explores Fitzmaurice’s passion for life, love, and art even as his body slowly degenerates. Yet despite becoming immobile, his creativity hasn’t waned, whether it’s writing or filmmaking.

It’s Not Yet Dark moves between a traditional biographical documentary and a platform for Fitzmaurice’s work. Though narrated by Colin Farrell, the text is pulled from the memoir as though Fitzmaurice narrates his own story. The film explores his childhood and youth, with the addition of talking-head interviews of his family and friends. Struck by the creative writing bug as a teen, Fitzmaurice eventually enrolled in a film program. He states that through his father’s passion, “Film is a religion in our house.” After directing a short film, “Full Circle,” which gained attention and won awards at festivals, Fitzmaurice began pursuing a career in filmmaking. Fitzmaurice also finds himself in a grand real-life love story. His wife, Ruth, is a source of light in his life, and his words about his love for her, and his five children, are incredibly touching. They both fuel each other creatively as well.

The film is quite reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, mixed in with a typical documentary. That film, like one of Fitzmaurice’s early short films, is often a visual stream of conscious exploring the meaning of life and the importance of love and family. It reflects Fitzmaurice’s own work: his writing is sparse and honest. Likewise, director Frankie Fenton, while sticking to traditional nonfiction filmmaking, scatters Farrell’s narration over gorgeous shots of nature, combined with homemade footage from Fitzmaurice’s life. A particularly emotional scene includes a video of his kids running around the house and him speaking about this potentially being the last time he’ll be able to run with them.

This honest and emotional film is about a lot of things: not just living with MND but what it means to live at all, what drives a person. The documentary will inspired viewers to watch Fitzmaurice’s works, including his feature film My Name Is Emily (2015), which he made through the use of a computer and eye-gaze technology. It’s particularly striking that clips of his short films reflected the themes Fitzmaurice writes about in It’s Not Yet Dark. In some ways, the documentary is really about filmmaking: making film no matter the obstacles.

Directed by Frankie Fenton
Released by FilmRise
Ireland. 81 min. Not rated