JDIFF: 'Tim Robinson: Connemara' Review

Tim Robinson


Wednesday, 23rd February

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Tim Robinson: Connemara, a Reel Art documentary directed by Pat Collins, was eagerly anticipated and played to a packed auditorium as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. In simple terms, the film is about mapmaker Tim Robinson, the books he wrote about mapping Connemara, and Connemara itself.

Robinson is a powerful presence in the film – readings from his books act as a voiceover and his rhythmic, reverent pacing as he walks the landscape forms much of what we see. And yet, in the Q&A after the film, it became clear that Robinson is anything but fond of the limelight; it was only after a concerted effort that Collins was able to convince Robinson to participate at all. There was perhaps some recognition of a kindred spirit, as Collins seems as self-effacing as his reluctant subject and actually, this self-effacement seems to add to the film’s greatness. There are shots that are unusual and that must have presented technical challenges. Yet throughout there is the sense that Collins acknowledges his camera as a tiny aperture gazing upon a vast beauty. He also acknowledges that half of the impact of the film is due to the penetrating soundscape that immerses the viewer. Sue Stenger composed music for the film by using the contours of Connemara to create the sound. There is generous space given for this sound to submerge the viewer and for the viewer to respond to both image and sound.

I had wondered if, conceptually, there would be elements of Brian Friel’s Translations. And, indeed, in a single phrase Robinson communicates the kernel of that extraordinary play. An Irish place name, translated into English, dries out and dies, like a branch snapped off a tree. An image that is poetic but communicates a real truth, that is informative but also powerful and emotive. Throughout the film, the simplicity of Collins’ approach adds to Robinsons’ already potent prose.

Here is a work that could only exist as a film, that speaks its loudest in a darkened cinema space filled with people. It is a response to a book, an interaction with a place and a skilled depiction of a human being who does exactly what we wish all our artists could have the time, space and capacity to do – bring us to an extraordinary place and allow us to really see. See it at all costs.

Niamh Creely


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