In 1982 a young exchange student David Jazay came to Ireland from Germany and, after beginning his time here on a photography project, embarked upon a 10-year odyssey of annual visits photographing and filming a Dublin that has long-since passed, One of his projects was to film the Liffey Quays, capturing the buildings in the area and the characters who lived therein.
The result was Jazay’s 1988 film, co-directed with Judith Klinger, Bargaintown, a poetic record of life along the Quays in the late 1980s. This weekend, the IFI will screen a new digital restoration of Jazay’s original 16mm print as part of the IFI Documentary Festival.
Grace Corry spoke to David Jazay ahead of the film’s Dublin premiere.
Out of curiosity, why Bargaintown – the name?
Well it has nothing to do with the shop. It’s not even featured in the film. It’s just a cool title! We just nicked the name! Much later I found out that Alan Prendergast, the owner of the Bargaintown, loved the film. He badgered the IFI for a VHS copy of the work, which was the only thing that could have been seen; it was just an archival copy – and he’s probably the only person in Dublin who knows the film. But the film has nothing to do with shop.
What was it that drew you to the Dublin Quays?
I was drawn to the liveliness of it. A lot of people in Dublin seem to remember the Quays as being derelict, unsafe and quite dodgy. But I really enjoyed the antique shops and the small businesses and also, despite the heavy traffic, there was always life on the street, different characters roaming the streets. I have also always had a love of Irish craftsmanship that the buildings displayed, the traditional family business signage and the wonderful colour schemes of certain buildings. And although many of the buildings on the Quays were derelict, they had a certain beauty about them that I was drawn to.
It was a time of rapid changes, how apparent were those changes to you during your time in Ireland from 1982 – 1992?
Well, they were apparent. There was an urgency making the film. When I got started on the photography project I kind of slipped into it. It wasn’t like at the age of 16 I had a masterplan to do the whole project. I didn’t know I would still be at it 10 years later! But it did of course become apparent in 1987 when I started to go to film school and I started to go about planning the project. It was quite apparent and really urgent as well. Also in that era in Germany at that time my generation were all about preservation and squatting movements – what you have now as anti-globalisation and reclaim the street movements – at that time it was all about preserving old neighbourhoods. So for a German person, it was very much a theme that people could relate to. So when I arrived here it was interesting. I expected to see more groups fighting for the buildings. I know there were some student movements in Harcourt Street, slightly before my time, but on the Quays there was nothing. I thought it was interesting to have that as a foreigner, to have that idea of the Quays as the lifeline of the visual façade to the city that was totally underused and not appreciated enough – and was now crumbling.
In the interviews conducted there seems to be a real sense of pathos among the locals about their lost community and their homes and the buildings they grew up in. You were somewhat objective – you saw beauty in the city centre in the buildings that were crumbling. Was it difficult to strike a balance of representation between the structure of the aesthetics you wanted to achieve for the film and for the social actors and their environment and giving them a voice in the film.
With the buildings, what I wanted to achieve was a sense of faded glamour and beauty because they were all like fine Georgian buildings. Had the area been restored at that point as it could have been, it would have been immensely more beautiful than what it is now. The stuff they put up was really tacky. It was a wasted opportunity.
With the locals, we were quite straight forward – we just asked people how they felt about the Quays. That’s the focal point for all the interviews – to ask them what their vision would be for the future of the Quays. I think that was something that was never asked of them, not by the city council, not by other journalists. So it was just to actually go there and ask actual people who lived there what they thought of it and how they would like to see it develop.
How do you see the value of Bargaintown now – is it purely nostalgic or can we learn from it?
I’m surprised at the reaction I’m getting to photographs on the website. When you read the comments – thejournal.ie did a piece and some people seem to have this almost hateful attitude towards Dublin’s past. I think when you look at the film it’s not a bleak depressing film about urban decay as some have described it – it’s more about loveable and lively people talking about their city and their neighbourhoods.
Talking about the value that the film might hold – I get a lot of mail, particularly from younger people, who are interested in things like the signage and the craft traditions we feature in the film. A lot of them are gone and if you want any sort of resurrection of that you need the archival material. Nobody else has it. There’s not exactly a wealth of moving or still images of this area and that time.
Bargaintown screens at 17.00 on Sunday, 27th September as part of the IFI Documentary Festival (23 – 27 September 2015)
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director David Jazay hosted by Frank McDonald