Sussex film-maker has eyes on 2021 Cannes Film Festival with story of heroic Channel swim

The UK’s youngest feature film director has his eyes on the 2021 Cannes Film Festival with his Sussex-based story of a record-breaking swimmer.

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 9:51 am

Elliott Hasler from Hove has been described as the most exciting emerging talent in the country and won high praise after completing his first feature, Charlie’s Letters, aged 16.

The former Shoreham College student wants his second feature film, Vindication Swim, to showcase the county while telling the story of Brighton-born Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel.

More than 80 extras from various groups in Worthing, Shoreham and Southwick are involved in the feature film and many of them were at Worthing Town Hall yesterday for the filming of court scenes.

Kirsten Callaghan as Channel swimmer Mercedes and John Locke as her coach, Harold Best. Picture: Steve Robards SR18121901
Kirsten Callaghan as Channel swimmer Mercedes and John Locke as her coach, Harold Best. Picture: Steve Robards SR18121901

Elliott, 19, is currently at Exeter University studying history but spends his spare time making films.

He said: “I found this story, it just popped up on a link, and I realised it would make a good film. I have been writing it for about a year.

“It is a local project and at the end of the day, we hope it will become renowned for the place it was filmed, kind of like Quadrophenia.”

His Brighton-based production company, Relsah Productions, is aiming for Vindication Swim to screen at Cannes 2021 and then perhaps Netflix but Elliott said for him, it was not just about money.

Elliott Hasler, the UK’s youngest feature film director. Picture: Steve Robards SR18121901

He explained: “I am not so much making it to be sellable, I am making it for me.”

He has been interested in film making since he was 10, when he worked on a film project based on The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at primary school.

Elliott said: “It has built up and up and now we are here. This is the largest scale proper independent film there has ever been, so it is quite complex. It is a champagne film on lemonade money.

“Worthing Council has allowed us to use the Town Hall, they are the best people to work with on location.”

The paparazzi for the court scene. Picture: Steve Robards SR18121901

All the extras are local, including The Wellington Wailers, members of Wick Theatre Company, the U3A, The Ramblers and Dr Mark Signy, cardiologist at Worthing Hospital

Simon Hasler, Elliott’s father and manager, said his son had built up a great reputation. They were flown to the Maldives in July, where the Soneva Jani luxury resort hosted a screening of three of Elliott’s films, Charlie’s Letters, To Hunt a Tiger and Nootau.

The resort has also asked to host the premiere of Vindication Swim at its overwater cinema.

Elliott said filming at sea, which was renowned to be difficult, had been an exciting challenge and they had been lucky to have good weather for it.

The bench for the court scene, filmed at Worthing Town Hall. Picture: Steve Robards SR18121901

He said: “I like the big, wide aspect and dramatic cinematography, like David Lean.”

Mercedes completed the Channel swim in 1927 in 15 hours and 15 minutes, and set many records for endurance in swimming.

She is played by Kirsten Callaghan, who had to train for three months for the huge amount of swimming involved in the film.

Kirsten said: “It was very exciting. It is always nice when you are an actor to do something that challenges you in a new way. I like getting my teeth into a character and I really enjoy the challenge.”

John Locke, who played Oliver Wilson in the Oscar-winning film Darkest Hour, takes the role of Harold Best, Mercedes’ coach.

John, who also worked with Elliott on To Hunt a Tiger, said Kirsten was ‘quite extraordinary’ during the three months of filming in the summer, when they took a boat out from Newhaven Port to about a mile off the coast.

Filming for Vindication Swim at Worthing Town Hall. Picture: Steve Robards SR18121901

He said: “When you see it, it is genuine sea swimming.

“Elliott’s style of filming is to use the whole environment and that is what makes him such a huge talent. The way he encaptures the size of the Channel and at the same time, the more personal nature of Mercedes, you get the sense of this woman who has spunk but is nevertheless at the mercy of the sea. He is an exceptional talent.”

Elliott finished Charlie’s Letters in 2017 and it debuted at both the Brighton and Edinburgh festivals, where it was critically acclaimed.

Filming for Vindication Swim at Worthing Town Hall. Picture: Steve Robards SR18121901
Kirsten Callaghan and John Locke filming for the court scene at Worthing Town Hall. Picture: Steve Robards SR18121901