Red Herring | Kit Vincent on his documentary: “I try not to attach too much emotion to the word terminal”

red herring kit vincent
Share this Article:

We talk to filmmaker Kit Vincent, whose deeply moving documentary Red Herring explores his life with a terminal brain tumour. 

At 24, my biggest concern was to graduate university and to survive another shift at a rowdy football pub just off of Baker Street Station. For Kit Vincent, it was to come to terms with a life changing diagnosis. 

Kit was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 2018 and given between four and eight years to live. A few months after his diagnosis, he picked up a camera and began recording his life, exploring his relationships with those around him through the lens. 

The result is Red Herring, a warm and thoughtful documentary about Kit’s life. The project started life as a film about Kit’s father, Lawrence, coming to terms with his son’s illness, but quickly developed into something more. 

The film sees him point a camera at his family and himself while undergoing scans, endless phone calls with doctors and asking his loved ones the questions no one is comfortable talking about. Yet Red Herring isn’t a film about death, but one that celebrates life and family. 

Here we chat to Kit about making the film and what prompted him explore such a difficult subject. 

Congratulations on the film. Can we start with just the very basic question of how did it all begin? How did it go from like an idea to an actual project?

It was very intuitive and natural. I was working at a production company when I was diagnosed. We had a camera in the house and I had to have surgery and go home and recover at my dad’s house and I thought ‘Oh, God, I’m going to be so bored’. It wasn’t really an idea, it was just like, maybe this is something worth filming. This is the craziest thing that has happened to me and I was in a state of my life where I wanted to make a film, so maybe this is worth filming. Who knows? I took the camera with me and then, when I was at home, I just started filming stuff, conversations, my dad. 

When I showed some of the footage to Dea (Gjinovci), one of the co-producers and one of my very good, old friends, she was like [your dad] is perfect. So I would cut together like a little, two, three minute teaser with the help of Hattie (Brooks-Ward) who became the editor for the whole thing, she’d also never made a feature before. We just went from there, it was very natural. The responses to my dad are really what initiated the project, that was the genesis of the project. People were like I want to see more footage of your dad being him.

red herring kit vincent family
Credit: Bulldog Film Distribution

You point your camera at your family, and you do talk about some really difficult things. Like you say we don’t really talk about death which is ridiculous, because it’s coming for all of us. What was their first reaction of being filmed and talking about all these difficult things that we don’t want to talk about?

Initially, I was only filming with my dad, I only wanted to make a film with my dad’s just because I didn’t want to go there with my mum. I knew it would be more difficult. [The film] was a distraction at the beginning for me, just like a lot of things that my dad was doing at a time were distraction for him. 

Of course, he didn’t want to talk about it. I don’t know if you can tell from the film, but I’m quite a tenacious person. I don’t really give up easily and also, me and my dad’s relationship is such that I can say what I want to him, and he’s not gonna get offended, upset or angry. He’ll just take it and if he does get angry or offended, he’ll be fine five minutes later.

And also, they are your family. They can’t really say no, either.

That’s what the joy of this film was and this is the problem I’m having with making my next film. I made [Red Herring] with my family, they couldn’t say no but other people can say no to me! I don’t know how to deal with that. 

What was the timeframe like from you getting diagnosed, to making the film, to now?

I was diagnosed in 2018, in May, then I had surgery in October, which is roughly when I started making the film. The film premiered in March last year and… we’re at now, it’s going into cinemas! 

Read more: Red Herring review | A thoughtful, devastating documentary

I was such a child at 24 years old, so the whole idea of someone telling you that you have a terminal illness… What does the word terminal even mean to you at that point?

Oh, it still doesn’t really mean anything to me, right now. Terminal is such a… It’s like if something doesn’t kill you first, this will kill you. I think that sounds ominous for people but for me, I take a kind of confidence in that. [The doctors] have no idea how long it’s going to be, they can keep an eye on [the tumour] and see whether it’s growing or not growing. 

At the time when I first got diagnosed, when they’d done one scan and they weren’t sure how close it was to a very sensitive part of my brain, they said if we can’t operate, you might have under two years to live. And I think that’s what gave my dad the heart attack, what keeled him over because obviously that would… But now it’s more vague, it kind of varies. I try not to attach too much emotion to the word terminal. I let it wash over me. 

red herring documentary film
Credit: Bulldog Film Distribution

When you get a diagnosis like that and a prognosis like that, do you start counting or keeping track of how many years or months you have left?

No. Your relationship to everything changes. Your relationship to time changes so dramatically, your understanding of time. Your relationship to your relationships changes and what’s important changes and all the things that you used to think are central in your life suddenly start fading away. You realise that the simple things in your life become so much more important, like maintaining good relationships with the people that you love and not stressing about really mundane stuff.

I think we could all do with a bit more of that in all fairness. You have seizures as well, don’t you? How do they present? 

At the beginning, I had grand mal seizures for the first year or so and after my surgery. Then the medication helped but I was still having them quite regularly, like leading up to scans, they’d get worse. Then after radiotherapy, they got a bit better. It still just depends on factors like tiredness and stress and anxiety, those kinds of things. I still have them but now they’re more local seizures, absence seizures. Like if I was in a conversation, I wasn’t the centre of attention, which is quite rare, but if that was the case, people wouldn’t know that I was having one. I could just be doing my own thing and you wouldn’t necessarily know what’s going on.

I only found out recently that what I’ve been having for years are actually seizures and like you said, there are so many elements that affect the frequency. When I do have one, people tend to freak out around me. I find that frustrating because, even though I’ve now got medication, it’s not going to go away. 

Yeah, that doesn’t change. [When] my dad sees me having a seizure, it’s like the worst thing possible for him. There’s a [scene] in the film where I’m like, I have these all the time, it’s fine, I can cope with them. I think for him, if you see your child going through any kind of pain or dealing with anything like this, it must be heartbreaking. Also, seizures are just a very visceral thing that people don’t understand and they’re so individual that I think it’s quite hard to comprehend.

The scenes with your mum were particularly affecting. When you do point a camera at your family, do you think it changed anything? Does the presence of the camera somehow alter the conversation?

Massively. I think the camera is such a fascinating tool. It allows people to open up in a way that they would never be able to without a camera. It gives people so much space to interrogate their own emotions because they have a reason to. We’re not given the space a lot of the time to go into those places without prompt. When there’s a camera and somebody’s asking you these questions, there’s a real reason to do it. You think of it in the kind of, ‘okay, we are doing this, we’re talking about this’ way and that has a huge impact on the outcome of those conversations and the way those conversations happen. 

With my mum, I found it really useful. I would never have had those conversations with her if I wasn’t using a camera to do it. And for me as a filmmaker, it gives me something to kind of hide behind, something that I can use as an excuse to ask those questions. 

But at the same time, rather than making a fictional film where you can do 30 takes of a scene, here you don’t really get another take. So when you are there and you’re having those conversations, do you go in with a need to get something specific out of them?

No. With my mum, I knew what I wanted to talk about with her and with my dad as well. I knew what I wanted the general topic of the conversation to be but I never wanted to guide them or to get them to say things. I never did what some documentary filmmakers do where they ask, ‘can you just say it like this’.

It also became way more apparent to me throughout the process that the filmmaking process was a part of the film, like a character in the film and I wanted to include it in the film. It became super helpful having my editor watching all of the footage as we were going, because she would tell me like ‘oh, this is a really interesting journey that we’re going on with your dad, maybe you could ask him some more about this’.

I assume your family has seen the film by now?

My dad has seen it in almost every screening, all around the world. Like two weeks ago, he went to a film festival in Zürich without me because I couldn’t go and he was there instead of me.

He’s the star of the film!

He loves it. He did say to me though, he’s kind of done now. I was like, ‘I was done with it a year ago and you’re still watching it”, like it’s normal to not want to keep watching the same film over and over again, especially when you’re in it.

Red Herring father
Credit: Bulldog Film Distribution

What was the first time like when you watched it with them? You said in your director statement that you wanted it to be a light experience, there’s a lot of laughter [in the film] and it’s not a depressing film in any way but it must have been quite hard for them still.

I gave a copy to my dad, him and my stepmom watched it. Then my mom and her partner watched it. I let them tell me what they thought, had some feedback from them and I listened. The opening scene is because of my stepmom! We were really struggling with what to do with the opening scene and it wasn’t the same in the version I sent. Then she gave us a great idea and we were like, ‘wow, that might really work’. We tried it and we were like, ‘this is perfect’ and it ended up being the opening scene. I think it was much harder for my mom. 

We did a screening for my mom, my dad and my whole family, my sisters. I actually didn’t go to that one. I was a real coward. I was like I can’t be in the room whilst all of them watch it together, so I didn’t go. In hindsight, I should have been there. Before [the screening], I was happy to have discussions about it but after that, I was like this is the version that the world is gonna see, I don’t want to answer questions. If you don’t like it, sorry! You have to be like that at a certain point. 

You just let it go and you let it have its own life. Have you done a lot of interviews like this about the film? Do people like me treat you differently at all during them, considering the film’s subject matter? 

I don’t think so. That’s really interesting because that was such a big fear of mine. I’m now going to do this process where I’m trying to separate myself from myself as the guy with brain cancer. I’m trying to become myself again and it’s a super difficult process, because I’ve made a film entirely about that. It’s embalmed in time, audiences see that and that’s what they think of me as so it’s quite difficult for me to pull myself apart from that. 

Obviously, I know when I do these interviews, the only experience that person has of me is from that film. It’s hard because I’m instantly pulled back into that reality when I’m trying to go on my own journey now, trying to figure out who I am, that isn’t that person.

Red Herring is in select cinemas and on demand from the 3rd May 2024.

Share this Article:

Related Stories

More like this