The Irish Pub takes a look at traditional Irish publicans. Eileen Leahy pulled up a barstool to have a chat with director Alex Fegan about his feature documentary
What were the main aims for the film?
Well we just wanted to hold a mirror to this institution and see what came out of that. The other aim was to try to tell the story about a country by using this institution that reaches out to a broad section of people. It encompasses all of the facets of Irish culture that are interesting and loved, the songs, the characters, the literature, the religion. I suppose when I started I didn’t really know what would happen, I was doing it in my own time.
How long were you shooting it then?
It took the good part of a year. I might have done it in a month but I was just going to a couple of pubs a week in my spare time.
How did you choose the pubs?
I was looking for pubs that had been in the same family for a few generations, ones where the owners were behind the bar. I only interviewed the owners and I wanted them to know the history of their pub. The other criteria was they had to have an aesthetic quality. I didn’t want to be filming pubs that could be anywhere in the world, Irish pubs have a particular look and feel and atmosphere. But what it really came down to was the people and the characters.
Did you find it difficult to find a lot of pubs to meet your criteria?
No actually. I found a lot more than what we filmed. I know the general perception is that these institutions are dying but there is a surprising amount of these great pubs sprinkled all over Ireland. Every little village in Ireland has a gem.
Who did you see as being the audience for the film?
I was just really making it for myself so I don’t know. It’s very rare that you get to see a movie where you see some people and then the next day you can go to these places and the environment will most likely be exactly the same. I like to think it has a broad audience, anyone interested in this side of Irish culture. But it wasn’t something I thought about as I made it.
I was surprised that the film didn’t go too much into the changes that are happening to pubs in Ireland; it felt more nostalgic.
Well I suppose the idea was to hold up a mirror, and when we brought these issues up with a lot of the publicans they were like, well we’re staying where we are. So if it didn’t come out then it’s because they didn’t feel like it is the end of it. So it’s a hopeful film in a way. I also didn’t want to dwell in truisms, like these changes and things like the cigarette ban, there was no point in retracing those steps.
Was there nonetheless a feeling of wanting to capture this before it’s gone?
Maybe, subconsciously, there was. Definitely in the beginning a motivating factor was, ok there could be this starbucksiasation of these pubs where all there is behind it is this highly trained smile and not much soul, and I wanted to capture these pubs before they were gone. I hope that maybe a film like this could act as a wake-up call, not that I was on any kind of social crusade or anything like that.
With Guinness having one of the biggest pub franchises, did you think about approaching them with ideas for funding?
I did think about it but I didn’t want this to become one big ad, and also it was never about the alcohol for me. Many of the pubs I went into people were drinking tea and coffee and what they’re interested in is the chat, it was all about the people.
Where would you like to take it from here?
The hope would be that we find someone over in America to distribute it. We’ve actually had a lot of emails from people over in the States who love the film and I can understand that. I lived abroad for three months and even after that I was completely home sick, you just miss the accents and the sense of humour.