Louise Mac Sweeney’s short film The Brotherhood screened privately last month at The Generator Hostel in Smithfield Square in Dublin. Ruth Hurl dropped in to take a look.
Creativity and ingenuity is alive in independent short filmmaking and never more evident then in The Brotherhood private screening in Smithfield’s Generator hostel. The film by Louise Mac Sweeney and Cainneach ‘Kenji’ McKeon started life as a small piece of dialogue between an old bedbound biker and his struggling protégé. With this they were required to create a simple flashback for an American pilot. . However, sensing that the dialogue contained enough emotional content to inspire an “interesting back story” she decided to deconstruct the scene and create a short film around the segment. It tells the story of the bedbound biker, Raghnall’s teenage life in a 1970’s Irish orphanage, his encounter with Sean the leader of a local bike gang and the turning point which brought him to America.
A great deal of skill and talent was required in order to successfully fit the scene into this new story. But Mac Sweeney and her co-producer and DOP, Kenji Mac Eoin, have created a film that transcends a simple flashback, taking the audience “on a journey with [the biker] through his memory” instead. This reflective quality is enhanced by the presence of relatable themes like loneliness, belonging and loyalty, which are imbued with a private, intimate, tone. This helps to justify the content of the short, implying that “for the first time this biker [is telling] his story and it’s a privilege”, for the young protégé and consequently the audience to witness. Surrogate father figures and a strong theme of bonding evident in the hospital scene are mirrored by the relationship between young Rags (Adam Darby) and his mentor Sean (Don Mac Eoin). Indeed, it is this relationship which forms the heart of the film. They have great chemistry and deliver accomplished and endearing performances. Mac Eoin is particularly good and utterly believable as the bike gang’s respected leader. Their story is visually complemented by some beautiful shots of Wicklow and an effective use of light which creates a distinction between the biker’s warm family environment and the cold, cruel orphanage. This imagery was skilfully aged during post-production giving the short period authenticity while avoiding the need for expensive vintage settings and props. Mac Sweeney believes that this “transforms the film” but admitted that it took “a lot of hard work to dirty [it] up to look like 16mm, which they did with colourist John Talbot’s grade, creating the impression of a faded memory.. This nostalgic sentiment is perfectly complemented by Ken Tuohy’s evocative score, inspired by Arlo Guthrie and American folk.
These elements not only work together to create a moving short, but also belie the fact that the film was made on a non-existent budget in just two weeks. The director credits their ability to work under these conditions with being highly organised. Scenes were “well planned out…so they knew exactly where and how to shoot” before they began production. They also made sure to comply with every legal requirement preventing any restrictions during the filming period. However, it was the support of groups like, Old Skool Motorcycles in Bray who provided bikes and cast members, which was of real benefit to the filmmakers. The director commented on “the fraternity they had with the bikers” and the “enormous goodwill” that existed on set, which not only helped Mac Sweeney and Kenji during the production period but inspired a “sense of duty to [complete the film] for the people who worked so hard to finish it” A feat greatly appreciated by the gang of bikers, cast and crew members who attended the premiere screening. The pair hope to attract an even wider audience by entering their short in festivals around Ireland and America and consequently creating a platform on which to make further work.
The film does more than simply highlight the importance of collaboration and imagination in independent film. The Brotherhood is essentially a testament to Mac Sweeney’s and Kenji’s talent as filmmakers