Home of Springs, Trengwaington: At the Poly

Written By Joshua Copus-Oxland |

Barbara Santi presenting the companion book to her film | Photography by Joshua Copus-Oxland

Home of Springs,  Trengwaington is a long-running project by Barbara Santi, an established documentary filmmaker currently based in West Cornwall, whose themes often revolve around Cornish heritage, rurality and agriculture. This project in particular is about the Trengwaington gardens in Penzance: it takes place across multiple mediums from the feature film, to the companion book, exhibitions and even a few workshops. The director worked on this alongside volunteers for three years, and her depth of research shows in the way she talks about her process:

“We had worked with lots of different communities. The idea of writing a book collectively with volunteers obviously takes a lot of time, so there were a lot of things that happened during those three years and regular research group meeting, research outings and working with schools and young people. There were different artists that worked with me and also the volunteers were the key parts of the project along with me.”

Super 8 archival film shot | Film still copyright by Barbara Santi

As for the film itself, it has a very soothing quality to it. Some of the shots of the garden, particularly the macro, slow-mo and aerial shots are gorgeous, and that – along with the score – really adds to the sense of beauty the film wants you to feel about the garden. It makes a great case for why Trengwaington gardens is worth visiting. The camaraderie of the volunteer as well as how the film looks at their roles in the garden contribute to a positive message about working to preserve history for young and old generations, even if that history seems small.

Seeing the day-to-day experiences these volunteers go through, such as finding a baby owl in one of the trees, making tiny labels for the plants, or attaching bungee cords to Magnolia tree branches to stop them from growing wider, adds a lot of insight into what goes on behind the scenes while not being strictly educational.

Head gardener Phil Griffiths | Film still copyright by Barbara Santi

While the callbacks to the history of the garden are interesting, the ties and sequencing of events aren’t strong enough to build the film narrative on its own. Since the film is edited in a way that tries to stitch many different types of media together, such as archival film, photos and various filming techniques, it’s more about the overall experience of the film, with its visuals, its slice of life experiences of the garden’s volunteers, and the different jobs that go into holding the garden together, rather than building a traditionally structured story. As a whole, it’s indecisive on whether it wants to talk about the history, focus on the volunteers, or look at the workshops, and because of that, it falls short of serving as a complete movie experience.

For what it does, however, Home of Springs is an intriguing look into a part of Cornwall most would only take a cursory glance at, as well as having a calming atmosphere not a lot of other works of this type could achieve.

Super 8 archival film shot | Film still copyright by Barbara Santi

This was screened at the Poly, as part of a tour across ten different venues in the Devon/Cornwall area, along with exhibitions and Q&As. The director has found the experience enriching, as audience participation as well as the setting of the screening helps to add input to her work.

“Those first few screenings really are a fantastic way to gauge when things are working and when they’re not working. Sometimes, I’ll go back to the edit suite and tweak things. When looking at the big screen, it has a different dimension, so that’s a really helpful process for me.”

Visit Barbara Santi’s website here.

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