"When Paul Webster joined Film Four, it went on hold," says Kotting, talking at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. "Film Four was in flux as he took over from David Aukin, and I think he read it and thought 'What the fuck is this all about?', and was thinking how he could fit this in with what he was trying to do at Film Four. A couple of years later, when Robin Gutch took over the Film Lab, we were called in and told that provided we could do it very low budget, they would be interested. We suddenly found that This Filthy Earth was up and running again, and it was very much down to Ben Woolford, my producer. I'd basically given up and thought about turning it into a piece of performance theatre and shooting it in the Pyrenees very low budget on DV myself. He wouldn't let go - he believed in the film and just kept pushing. "
The reason Woolford believed so fervently in the project becomes obvious to anyone who has met Andrew Kotting. When discussing his work, Kotting speaks with true passion and eloquence. Each project that he takes on is not just the way to another paycheck, but something he feels driven to tackle.
"I read La Terre and had spent a lot of time in a rural landscape, particularly in the French Pyrenees and I was initially excited about adapting such a wonderful piece of work. However, it become obvious round about the second chapter that all I could do was use it as a springboard, an inspiration to make my own piece of work.
"Zola novels are definitely difficult to adapt, but maybe no more so than Thomas Hardys. They're slightly grimmer, more confrontational and in your face. What I loved about La Terre is that it really tightened my trousers when I started reading it. In the first four pages, there's a cum shot - this is exciting! Within the first four minutes of This Filthy Earth, there's a cum shot. In La Terre, there's a character called Jesus Christ that farts into other people's pints of beer in the local bar. In our film, he fist fucks a fish - it's very much in the spirit of the original. All I did was take out the spunk from the novel to create something which I think is contemporary."
As a film, This Filthy Earth is different from anything previously seen before on a cinema screen. Yet, the fact that his films are almost dangerously original is not something that worries Kotting. "When Gallivant came out, it didn't fit anywhere. With This Filthy Earth, there's a narrative, there's a story, it's quite dense, it's very multi-layered in the same way that Gallivant is. I guess I've delivered what people perhaps imagined it could have been. They might have been hoping because there's a story that perhaps that would keep me on track - but there's this kind of schizophrenic voice that always comes out and tells me to do stuff which doesn't seem to fit and that's very much what my filmmaking's about - slightly berserk. Do you ever get voices in your head? I respond to them.
"A film takes on its own language, and can become out of control, and I don't mind that too much. It feels primal - it feels like that thing that somebody might dig up ten years later and think 'What is this? Where does it come from?' It's like an archaeological dig where you find these reels of film and think 'Where does this belong?' It feels dirty, sodden , bleak and grim. It's a celebration of the landscape."
This Filthy Earth specifically does not present the rural landscape as a quaint, old fashioned place, but as he sees and experiences it. "In the film we paint the countryside as incredibly beautiful, elegiac, inspiring and contemplative - a space that is not costume drama, serene and beautiful all the time, but that over the course of the film slowly begins to degenerate. As it starts raining, the film goes into freefall. It becomes visceral and very, very dense, rain sodden - it becomes filthy. If you've been out in a landscape for 24 hours and you haven't got your umbrella and your warm jacket and you're ploughing a field, it becomes fucking grim. We wanted to show that as best as could, and the carcasses we used in the film - they're real, they're dead, they're not made out of prosthetics. The offal that's around stinks, the rain machines aren't warmed up, the mud isn't tested for bacteria so I can have my cast lying face down in it, the fights are real . Everything that you see in it is real. It's hardcore, and the landscape is hardcore.