I saw a remarkable film on Saturday night. Born of Hope is a sort of prequel to The Lord of the Rings, based on a few paragraphs about Aragorn's parents which are buried in the appendix to the book (the bit that, even as a Tolkein-mad ten year old, I never got around to reading). What's remarkable about it is that it's a fan-film, produced on a non-profit basis and distributed for free on the internet. The total budget was £25,000, which, in movie-making terms, is almost literally nothing, and it's been spent on making an exceptionally good looking 60-minute film.
It's true that it's a little humourless, but then so is much of Tolkein. It's also true that it sometimes looks as if it's been shot in an open-air museum rather than a real village, but no more so than Farrow & Ball TV costume dramas like Cranford and The Devil's Whore, and at least Born of Hope has the excuse that it was shot in an open-air museum (the replica Saxon village at West Stow.) And while I thought it a pity that the producers stuck so closely to the visual style of the Peter Jackson movies (because they're clearly clever people and I would have liked to see their own take on Middle Earth) the tattered dark cloaks of the Rangers look magnificent as they stride through the autumnal woods; the battles are vivid and violent; there are some hissable orcs, a good troll, and hardly any elves.
There are some good performances, too. I particularly liked Christopher Dane as Arathorn, father of the more famous Aragorn, a tough-yet-tender-hearted Ranger trying to protect his scattered people from orc raiders in the years before The Lord of the Rings begins, and at one point making a long and expensive-looking journey into some splendid snow-bound mountains. But he's also a bit of a nana, because he falls for a mimsy lady refugee and completely fails to notice that his fellow ranger Elgarain is cooler, prettier, much better-dressed and clearly in love with him.
She is played by Kate Madison, who conceived and directed the film, and who apparently funded it with her life savings, along with donations from fellow enthusiasts. She has a kind of earnest beauty, and when she is on screen the whole movie seems to come a little more alive, as if even the camera can tell that she is the creative force holding the whole thing together. Her final scene is a cliche, but she plays it so well that it becomes both believable and moving. I hope she'll go on to make and act in many more movies, and that in future she won't have to pay for them herself.
You can find out more, and watch the film, at www.bornofhope.com