David Knight - 20th Nov 2020

Sye Allen's poignant short film The Empty Chair is about the big stuff - loss, grief, reflections upon the life of a loved one. The beauty lies in how he handles this subject matter - it's direct and intimate, and all the more powerful, humane and uplifting as a result. 

The form of the film is simple and straightforward: the words of a fulsome eulogy to a departed loved one, read by actress Kate Dickie, accompany images of absence, of his regular haunts: the football stand, the church pews, the cinema stalls and pub stool - and his favourite armchair at home.

Allen also wrote and produced this labour of love - ably assisted by a small platoon of music video-making veterans, and his production company Burning Reel - and he succeeds in achieving a balance of emotion and believability without spilling too far into sentimentality. There is also a lovely original soundtrack by Nico Casal, accompanying Dickie's performance.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic was a big influence on the making of the film - as Sye Allen explains below. But it's message, about the conduct of our lives and how we are remembered, is relevant every year.


"I was speaking to Sam Care (cinematographer) about creating something to bring us out of the first lockdown. We were bouncing a few ideas around, when unfortunately later that week I helped a friend with a house clearance following the untimely loss of his mother to coronavirus. It was really tough for a number of reasons, and after clearing the living room, one exposed chair was left, which immediately grabbed my attention. It was a truly powerful, heartbreaking image, and the seed for the film was sown.

The film had to convey a positive message, but also pay homage to the grief so many people are feeling.

"I knew the film had to convey a positive message, but it also had to pay homage to the grief that so many people are feeling at the moment. I decided to write from a single perspective about the loss of a loved one, and how they resolve to face the world in the future.

"What's interesting is that throughout the process, the film also became distinctly about the loss of intimate collective experiences, and I was personally reminded of how much I'd lost as a result of the pandemic.

"That's one of the things I love most about film. Its ongoing ability to reveal things even to the makers, reminding us of the magic of medium. 2020 doesn't have a monopoly on loss but now seems like as good a time as ever to calmly reflect upon it."

PRO Credits


DirectorSye Allen
ProducerSye Allen
Production CompanyBurning Reel
Executive ProducerJoe Elliott
Production ManagerWinston Milton
Director of PhotographySam Care
Focus PullerDave Agha-Rafei
EditorChris Roebuck
ColouristJax Harney
WriterSye Allen
Lead actorKate Dickie
Sound designAaron Taffel
Other creditsPerformed By Kate Dickie Original Music: Nico Casal Production Manager: Winston Milton Gaffer: Ryan Delahunty Sparks: Jurijs Subotins, Luke Maund Loaders: Joshua Dadson, Josh Hughes Runner: Sion Roe Script Editor: Ryan Baxter Music Supervisor: Hamish Duff Locations To Thank: The George Tavern, Commercial Rd; St. Mark's Rise Church, Dalston; Walthamstow Football Club, Wadham Lodge; Rio Cinema, Dalston; Protein Studios, Shoreditch; Bottle & Blade, Hackney; Harmony Hall, Walthamstow

David Knight - 20th Nov 2020

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