To coincide with the release of his documentary The Great Wall, Tadhg O’Sullivan, in conversation with Michael Ryan, will present two of his previous works, Bow Street  and What Remains , together with an excerpt from Terminal, a work in progress. The idea behind the screenings is to show and talk about the work that developed a lot of the styles that O’Sullivan brought to bear on The Great Wall. O’Sullivan explains that “these three films have aspects of different filmmaking approaches that are used in The Great Wall. So there’s a kind of evolutionary arc in it. It’s not that one leads to the other but just different approaches and different styles I have used over the years.”
All the works are very much infused with a sense of people and place. With Bow Street one single street becomes a theatre awash with human lives. O’Sullivan tells me that there were two starting points for the film. “One was the idea of relationship between people and place. The built environment and urban architecture and how people relate to that and how sometimes real people can get lost in the milieu around urban architecture. We tend, in an urban environment, not to see real people and the idea of the film was just to stop and shoot over the course of a month and explore that idea by slowing down and looking and watching and meeting people in a way that explores the relationship between the built environment and the human lives that operate within it.
“The other starting point for the film was for myself. As a filmmaker who hadn’t made many films, I had lots of ideas about exploring these kinds of ideas in exotic places like Palestine and West Africa. Part of me just felt that if I couldn’t make a film on a single street then I was wasting my time. So it was a challenge to me ‐ almost taking Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions and using that idea of giving yourself a set of rules and exploring your own abilities as a filmmaker. The simple rule was shoot everything outside on one street and see if I could make something that is engaging and interesting and human and actually manages to explore those bigger ideas of the relationship between people and place and urban architecture.”
In the film people wander in and out of the narrative rather than ever becoming the focus of the narrative itself, something that reflects O’Sullivan’s interest in how the content of film can explore the ideas behind it. “The idea behind the film is the anonymity of life in an urban context, in a public urban context, and the anonymity of people just passing through and fleetingly meeting each other. That is very much manifest in the film. People come, people go, people are introduced, they leave and they are never seen again. We don’t find out their names. We don’t find out really much about them but we have these kind of exchanges and engagements with them. That’s a way of representing and exploring that aspect of urban life ‐ where it is all about temporary fleeting moments with people. The city remains the same; the people move within it.”
What Remains, co-directed with Pat Collins, uses a selection of IFI archive material from the personal collections of Irish families to create an evocative examination of memory. According to O’Sullivan, the film started “as something Pat wanted to do. We had worked together a lot prior to this film and it touches on many of Pat’s central concerns to do with people and place, and shared cultural memory. I’ve worked a lot with archive over the years and it is something that’s really important to me. There is a magic to working with archive and there’s a particular approach where you are looking for subtle hidden layers and meanings in material that was shot for an entirely different reason. And it’s just the everyday stuff of life, the incidental moments that have a poetry hidden within them. Trawling through the amazing material that is held at the IFI archive you find all these bits of film that were shot as recordings, memories, memories to be held, photographs of family members or holidays. They were shot with one thing in mind. Yet over time they gain other layers which are to do with a kind of melancholy of the passing of time and the idea that people have gone. But also there is an aesthetic and poetic element in them that myself and Pat as filmmakers were very much drawn to. The incidental things within the frames that might not have been apparent to the people who shot them but can be found within them. That is what made What Remains such an interesting film to work on. While I have worked with archive a lot, as I say, this was devoting ourselves to just working with that kind of fragmented poetry of hidden meaning and hidden layers within old material. I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable edits I have ever undertaken for that reason. There is something very free and very beautiful about it and something very human. That’s the most important thing – that the film is a poetic meditation on memory but also on humanity and the persistence of humanity.”
Finally there will be a screening of an excerpt from Terminal, a work in progress that is described as an “experimental film essay about industry, time and the cosmos.” O’Sullivan has been shooting the film for over a year on Whiddy Island, off the coast of West Cork, a place he is particularly fond of. “It’s a beautiful place, but also it’s a very storied place as well. There are all these layers of history written into its landscape ‐ from Napoleonic-era military forts that are entirely overgrown now, through to the history of the oil terminal that was built there in the ’60s and remains there in the same form but plays a very different role now. What really interests me about the place is how you’ve had this long duration of hundreds of years of international historical things happening around the island, on the island, but human life persists and just goes on around that. These big cosmic events come and go but human life goes on regardless. That’s what I’m interested in.
“In Terminal I use material I have shot myself on 16mm in combination with archive material and that is something that I have done before but the approach to filming the 16mm material is based on my archive editing experience. I am almost shooting it in a way thinking what would it be like to shoot material and then approach it with an editor’s eye, as though it had been shot for another film. Using the grammar of archive editing in relation to new material. That is something I am quite interested in and it finds itself into pretty much all my work ‐ using that archival editing style and eye on all material, not just old material.
Tadhg O’Sullivan, in conversation with Michael Ryan, will present Bow Street, What Remains and Terminal (work in progress/8 mins excerpt) on Sunday, 23rd August 2015 at 13.00 at the IFI as part of its Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.
Tickets are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie