With Ballymun Lullaby screening on RTE 1 on Tuesday, 6th March at 10:15pm, Film Ireland‘s Derek McDonnell talks to its director Frank Berry. This article originally appeared in Film Ireland 140 Spring 2012.
Ron Cooney, the inspirational music teacher at the centre of the documentary Ballymun Lullaby, is the driving force behind the Ballymun Music Programme, which has been providing musical education for the youth in the area for nearly ten years.
In the film, director Frank Berry focuses on Cooney’s students and their participation in a unique collaboration with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra over the course of a year. It is director Frank Berry’s first full-length documentary, having previously cut his teeth on local community-based projects and worked on television programmes such as the acclaimed series Teenage Cics for TG4 and a short documentary entitled Into the Light: The Making of an Opera for RTÉ.
The genesis of the project began way back in February of 2009 when Berry was asked to film the opening of the Ballymun Music Programme’s Music Room, which was attended by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and then-President Mary Mc Aleese – an event which brought home the impact of Ron Cooney’s work in the community to the director. ‘That was the initial moment that I thought something extraordinary is happening here. The work he’s doing is having such an impact and it’s snowballing and so I thought that, seeing as this is a brand new facility, maybe we’ll do a film about the first year in the life of the Music Room. And Ron said, “well, funny you should say that… we are working with a composer and starting to get some ideas together about a collection of music.” That sounded interesting; so we began following that. And that’s really where it started.’
The composer in question was Daragh O’Toole, fomerly known under his stagename ‘Dara’, and a musical arranger for the likes of U2, Damien Dempsey, Jack L, and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. O’Toole had written an original piece entitled ‘Ballymun Lullaby’ for the students to learn and perform under the guidance of RTÉ’s principal conductor David Brophy.
Three of the students involved in the choir – Wayne, Tara and Darren – are also at the heart of the film throughout and Berry shows us the day-to-day life of these emerging talents as they attempt to overcome the harsh, often prejudiced view of Ballymun, which has built up over the years. The idea, Berry says, was to ‘put them in Ballymun throughout the film; show Ballymun and all of that, and then take the background out. And the idea of the final scene is for people to think – well, they are young kids just like anywhere else.’
This desire to present a more balanced perspective to the preconceived and often negative notions of Ballymun drove the director forward. ‘That is all people talk about when they talk about Ballymun. They think underprivileged and they think of the ways that the area has been portrayed over the past 40 years even though there is another story, and Ron was showing that. Ron was bringing that out. So I thought that what was happening here needs to be told.’
A two-year labour of love for the director, the film was finally unveiled for the first time this year when it debuted at the 2011 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, where it received great acclaim. To Berry’s surprise his film has also been making an impact further afield. ‘It won the Directors Finders Series last year. We went to LA with it and showed it to theHollywood industry in September, which was fantastic.
Ballymun Lullaby is not only a moving and uplifting tribute to the power of music but to the strong sense of community, which is rare in the current fractured, fearful and recessionary climate. ‘I think in Ballymun the boom didn’t really do a huge amount. I don’t think the attitudes of people in Ballymun really changed in the boom. There was a lot of change going on but I think that the community spirit derives from surviving the adversity over 40 years and the prejudice. Something has come out of that and I hope that comes across in the film.’
This article originally appeared in Film Ireland 140 Spring 2012