Oscar shorts: ‘Sailcloth’ features a silent John Hurt


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Prolific British actor John Hurt is often recognized for his rich voice, but in the short film “Sailcloth,” Hurt’s character doesn’t speak at all. One of two films starring the actor on the Oscar shortlist for live action shorts, “Sailcloth” is an elegiac piece completely unreliant on dialogue.

“It was actually because of the lack of dialogue that I thought John would be good for the part, because he has such a characteristic face. He has a lot of emotional depth in his physicality alone,” said the film’s director, Elfar Adalsteins.


The British-based filmmaker cast the 71-year-old Hurt after sending the actor’s agent a script and a note about why he thought he was perfect for the role -– “fantasy casting gone right,” Adalsteins called it.

Filmed in the small costal town of St. Mawes in Cornwall, England, “Sailcloth” features Hurt as a man whos runs away from his nursing home and sets sail for a journey out to sea. The actor considers the 17-minute film to be one of “pure cinema.”

“I just wish to God there were more [films with less speaking] because the language of cinema doesn’t require so much dialogue,” Hurt said.

Adalsteins’ inspiration for the character was his grandfather, whom he grew up with on the east coast of Iceland. After his grandather’s death three years ago, the director wrote “Sailcloth” as a tribute to him. A scene where Hurt is smoking in the bathroom of the nursing home was one Adalsteins saw as particularly reminiscent of the character’s inspiration.

“He was quite a mischievous and strong-willed individual. But it’s strange when you write these things. You start with an inspiration and then the characters take on a life of their own,” Adalsteins, 40, said.

Following a successful festival run for “Sailcloth,” Adalsteins is currently working on writing two feature scripts.


“Sailcloth” will continue its festival circuit through April or May this year and will then be released for digital download. A trailer featuring parts of the film’s opening scene is below.


Oscar nod a tall order for short films

Academy names its shortlist of 10 live action shorts

The Oscar race for animated short is down to 10, puddy tat

-- Emily Rome