Sophie Austin

“Dorset is light and dark, ecstasy and melancholy.” PJ Harvey

AWAKE is a short experimental documentary about a liminal moment in the calendar - midwinter - observed by the inhabitants of a small rural village in England. A time outside time, magic is everywhere and anything is possible. Bearing witness to this turning point, the inhabitants gather for a wassail - a centuries old thanksgiving ritual of in which folk gather to honour the slow return of the sun and bless the apple trees whose fruit are essential to the village ecosystem, not least the crumbles, juice and cider that sustains them throughout the year.

Beyond tradition going through the motions, the film captures the villagers’ heartfelt, creative communion with ancient ways remembered and reimagined for the modern age. Eschewing voiceovers and interviews in favour of found sounds, we hear human and bird song, babbling brook and cracking fire entwined. The film is full of contrasts, mirroring the season. In the gloaming, mists slowly lift off the hills - the sunrise bringing an end to the darkness of night. We see the playful, creative spirit of the villagers, their joy expressed through colourful costumes, painted faces, music and chanting.

Organic in its composition, the film steps away from high-definition views. Instead, we get up close and down low, bending time and perspective to view the goings on through a wilder eye. Deliberately raw and disorientated, we express the entanglement of life, power and meaning that we witnessed playing out on this patch of land. This is a movement through and for the earth - a celebration of togetherness, a communion of wild natures and a prayer for hope in dark times.

We watch the preparation, the riotous procession and the offerings given to the apple trees, then it is all over, rosy dawn arrives. But the wilder ones are awake, the birds, the musician and the children; acknowledging their place in the family of things.

‘On the eve of catastrophe the living make a commitment to the future’.
Ben Okri

This film gratefully acknowledges the land featured and all beings who reside upon and within these layers of chalk and earth.

  • Credits
    Director - Sophie Austin
    Producer - Becky Burchell
    Wassail Creative Director - Lorna Rees
    Cinematography - Mike Davies
    Sound Artist - James R.G Wright
    Original Music – Simmy Singh
    Drone Pilot - Bill Hemmings
    Studio Recordings - Loz Poulton
    Colourist - Edward Webb
    Post-Production Producer - Charles Gillett
    Editor - Sophie Austin
    Stills Photographer - Jayne Jackson
  • CAST
    Master of Ceremonies - Adam Coshan and Lorna Rees
    Songs led by - Lorna Rees and Rufus Rees-Coshan
    Musician - Simmy Singh
    Head Apple - Liam O’Brien
    Wassail Created by:
    Eva Arnold, Mali Arnold, Sarah Arnold
    Jez Barfoot, Niki Barfoot, Lili Barfoot, Georgie Barfoot
    Sue Burchell, Becky Burchell, Liam O'Brien,
    Davey Burchell-O’Brien, Jarrah Burchell-O’Brien,
    Anne Dove, Alice Favre, Elfie Harold, Will Harold
    Daisy James, Juliet James, Toby James
    Dora Matthews, Iris Matthews, Jon Matthews, Steph Matthews
    Dave Thorne, Jordana Wakelin, Andy Young
  • Thanks to
    Sam Lee, Zoe Laureen Palmer, Sandie Campbell, Fi Kilroe at FreeFolk
    Sixpenney Handley First School and Nursery
    And the wider community for supporting the Wassail and featuring in this film.
  • Funded by
    the Dorset Performing Arts fund at the Dorset Community Foundation
    Gobbledegook Theatre
    CHANGE FESTIVAL
  • A Wild Neighbour Production

Screenings and Festivals

  • Cornwall Film Festival November 2023
For information on licensing this film view this Screening Pack