Sounding Off: ‘The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage’ Mark O’Connor Issue 142 Autumn 2012

‘The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage’

There is a new face in Irish cinema. The makeup is finally coming off.  The conventional and generic Irish films of the past are being replaced by what could be referred to as ‘The Irish New Wave’ or ‘Tonn Nua’. I believe that we are finally finding our voice.


The new wave has being rising for a few years now with pioneers like Ivan Kavanagh leading the way but not until recently has there been an emergence of a whole movement in Irish cinema. We have for too long focused on perfecting the script when in fact some of the finest work in this country, such as ‘Tin Can Man’ and ‘Pavee Lackeen’, came about through a uniquely personal way of working. These films show that the logic of film can work in a very different way than a rigidly plotted out story on paper.


This is not to dismiss the work of such early pioneers as Joe Comerford or Bob Quinn, or the two most respected film makers in this country, Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan who have shown how the traditional approach can lead to works of real genius.


However there is a new movement in Irish cinema emerging which has an emotional truth and it is more exciting than anything that came before. Simon Perry could be seen as the grandfather of this new wave because of the amount of kids he produced. He was the first to encourage personal film making by supporting first time writer-directors that he believed in. Now that the fruit of Perry’s tree is beginning to ripen we are seeing an emergence of a new kind of cinema, driven by what I like to refer to as ‘Fís’ (vision) men such as Brendan Muldowney, Ian Power, Ciaran Foy, Colin Downey, Lance Daly, Ken Wardrop and ‘Fís’ women like Carmel Winters and Juanita Wilson.


Unlike the ‘Auteur’ or ‘Shreiber’ theories favouring either the director or the writer as the true author of a film, the ‘Fís’ Theory holds that a true singular voice can only be attained when the director is also the writer. If the director does not write it then they must rewrite it and reinterpret it into their own vision.


Whether you loved it or hated it, it is clear that Terry McMahon’s ‘Charlie Casanova’ is an astonishingly powerful cinematic voice and yet it was rejected by the critics. It seems sadly familiar to the years leading up to the French New Wave and Alexandre Astruc’s 1948 essay ‘The birth of a new Avant Garde: La camera-Stylo’ how the critics have once again over looked ground breaking films like Charlie Casanova. Is the point of art not to disrupt familiarity? It is not a perfect film by any means but it didn’t need to be. Its very conception was avant-garde and it’s a testament to its power how it has divided audiences, receiving international festival selections and IFTA nominations on the one hand and verbal assaults and one star reviews on the other. It seems ‘Charlie’ was a tough pill to swallow for certain audiences used to sucking on Hollywood infant formula.


As a direct result of ‘Charlie’ a new form of Irish cinema has begun.


The ‘Protest Film’ genre of which ‘Charlie Casanova’ (#1) and now ‘Stalker (#2) belong to, are direct reactions to what has happened in this country. They reflect the changes in the Irish psyche and the socio-economic and moral conditions of our time. The protest film is not conceived for the market. They are emotionally reactive, born out of necessity and a political and social consciousness.


With the development of high quality formats and crowd funding opportunities now accessible to all of us the tools are finally in our hands to go out and make films like ‘Charlie’ and ‘Stalker’ without having to wait for permission. While the funding bodies have been massively supportive to many of us and will remain so in the future, I believe there is also ‘ROOM FOR THE REJECTS’, the films considered culturally shameful, the films that go to the core and do not fit in with the standard, the ‘scannáin bagairt’ that are refused a voice.


These films ‘RAGE AGAINST THE SILENCE’ by expressing the inner most feelings about the society we live in. Their stance which is outside the system enhances the pure vision which is not answerable to a committee of opinions or restricted by time and money.


There are new techniques at play in our new wave, such as how music is being used, over lapping in editing and bringing actors more into the creative process, a technique being utilized by the very positive new Actor’s Studio in ‘The Factory’. The language of cinema is evolving and audiences are now capable of cognitively solving the mysteries of crossing the ‘180° axis’ or ‘jump cutting’ which has removed all remaining limitations in film making.


This article is written with the intention of bringing recognition to the wave. We need to build our indigenous film industry by making it about ourselves instead of trying to replicate the foreign model. For this movement to reach its full potential we need to promote Irish cinema as an important part of our culture and bring this new wave more into the mindset of Irish audiences. We need better models for the distribution of Irish film and we need our television stations to show more support for the industry. We should not be looking to work within a hierarchy but in a collaborative environment.


I would like to issue a call to arms that if there are any up and coming ‘Fís’ men or women reading this then you don’t need to wait for permission anymore. As Terry McMahon believes ‘The art is in the completion, begin’. Pick up a camera, create your spiritual treasure and reveal your feelings in all their unique beauty and our new wave will turn into a cinematic revolution.



Mark O’Connor


If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email


5 Replies to “Sounding Off: ‘The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage’ Mark O’Connor Issue 142 Autumn 2012”

  1. Hi Mark,

    i enjoyed your article in Film Ireland.
    I agree its very important to have our own film culture, rather than slavishly following
    other countries way of making movies. Movies that reflect our culture and what’s happening in the country can have a huge impact like Writer / Director Oliver Stone’s Platoon, which was based on his time as a soldier in Vietnam.

    The Magdalene Sisters was a real eye opener for me.
    The Commitments reflected what it was like to live in Dublin at that time, i know cause i was living there myself 🙂

    I find i learn a lot about making films from the special features, if the director, writer or actor
    speak about their own experiences. I loved watching the special features on The Sopranos, because
    the creator writer David Chase would talk you through each scene, and how a lot of the characters
    would be coming from his own life and imagination 🙂 Tony Sopranos mother was part based on David Chase’s mother.

    David Chase would always have a writer or co writer on set, and he always did the final edit.
    The other interesting thing about Davids Chase is he believes in giving the subconscious a free run and
    not edit what comes out, and then see what happens.



  2. Yawn, another decade and another ‘New Wave’. Another list of overrated directors and their overhyped films. Mark, the sad fact is that we are too small a country to make much of an impact in cinema. It will never happen. What might occur is a few filmmakers (such as yourself) building up an impressive body of distinct work which gets noticed internationally. But sadly, the only Fis most Irish filmmakers will be involved in is the Family Income Supplement!

  3. Hi Mark

    As a screenwriter (unproduced) I couldn’t disagree more with your contention that “We have for too long focused on perfecting the script”.

    If the script traditionally was the holy grail you suggest it was, there would be a sizeable cadre of full-time screenwriters working in the Irish film industry. There isn’t. The vast majority of scripts that go from page to screen are shot by the people who wrote them – writer/directors.

    “the ‘Fís’ Theory holds that a true singular voice can only be attained when the director is also the writer. If the director does not write it then they must rewrite it and reinterpret it into their own vision.”

    Apart from contradicting your statement that we should all be working in “collaborative.environment” (what could be more hierarchical than one person assuming complete control of every aspect of the film from script to direction), you also seem to be suggesting that the emergence of writer/directors is somehow new and radical and that it will inevitably lead to a change for the better in Irish cinema. This mode of working is already the norm in the Irish film industry.

    Don’t believe me? Well, let’s present a few facts. Here’s a list of films produced in Ireland over the past 5/6 years and who they were written by.

    The Guard – written by director
    One Hundred Mornings – written by director
    Eamon – written by director
    Savage – written by director
    The Runway – written by director
    Snap – written by director
    Between the Canals – written by director
    Kisses – written by director
    Once – written by director
    Wake Wood – written by director
    Citadel – written by director
    Outcast – written by director
    Sensation – written by director
    Charlie Casanova – written by director
    32a – written by director
    In Bruges – written by director
    Swansong – written by director
    The Eclipse – written by director
    Zonad – written by director
    Hunger – co-written by director
    The Other Side of Sleep – co-written by director
    Rewind – co-written by director
    As if I Am Not There – adapted from novel
    Shadow Dancer – adapted from novel
    Kings – co-written by director, adapted from play
    Parked – written by screenwriter (not director)
    Garage – written by screenwriter (not director)
    Grabbers – written by screenwriter (not director)
    Perrier’s Bounty – written by screenwriter (not director)
    A Film with Me In It – written by screenwriter (not director)
    Wind That Shakes The Barley – written by screenwriter (not director)

    While the list is not exhaustive, it is fairly comprehensive. Of the 31 feature films of recent years I’ve listed, 22 were written by the people who also directed the film while a mere 6 were written by standalone, dedicated screenwriters. 3 were adaptations of novels or plays. To sum up, less than a fifth of the screenplays for these films were written by non-directors, while less than a third of the original screenplays were written by non-directors.

    How can the hybrid position of writer/director be feted as an alternative to the current established order when it is already the established order? Furthermore, as practically all Irish films receive State funding to some degree it is, by accident or design, a State-supported orthodoxy.

    You may quite rightly point out that as a dedicated screenwriter I am biased in favour of directors and producers seeking out original scripts by full-time writers. I contend that your elevating of the writer/director to a paramount status is also simply a bias based on the fact it is your own working methodology.

    While the majority of Irish films of recent years have been photographed beautifully, it is my view that, with a few notable exceptions (One Hundred Mornings and Garage leap to mind), they have suffered from undeveloped scripts. Neil Jordan also commented a while back about how surprised he was there was so little dialogue in Irish films. I believe this is because most Irish films are written by the people who directed them, people who by inclination favour a visual approach, people who bought a camera before they ever bought a word processor.

    The stand-alone scriptwriter is a marginal figure in the Irish film landscape, like a poignantly shot silhouette of a lone figure on a distant hilltop horizon at dusk.

    At the end of the day as film-makers all we really have is our opinion. Mine is this: the marginalisation of the scriptwriter is the root of Irish film’s commercial and critical underperformance.

  4. “While the majority of Irish films of recent years have been photographed beautifully”
    True, but what’s impressive about pressing a few buttons on a digital camcorder? The technology is now doing most of that work. If Irish directors want to write their own scripts then let them. The ‘marginalisation of the scriptwriter’ is because of the collapse in film budgets here. Back in the 2000s there were lots of expensive Irish movies made with a separate director and screenwriter but they were mostly terrible. Anyway, the films made here recently with directors writing their own films are not ‘critically underperforming’.

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