DIR: Alex Fegan • PRO: Colm Walsh • DOP: Gary Nicell • MUS: Denis Clohessy
Older than Ireland won best feature length documentary at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2015 against some formidable opposition. Directed by Alex Fegan, Older than Ireland has a signature style which is reminiscent of Alex Fegan’s previous feature length doc The Irish Pub.
Like many of the subjects featured, the film is unhurried in pace but remains very engaging throughout. Older than Ireland is also reminiscent of the tone and structure of Ken Wardrop’s His and Hers.
The film follows a sequence of interviews with a range of Irish centenarians. Indeed, quite a number of those featured were significantly older than the 100 years old minimum age requirement.
The title derives from the fact that having been born over 100 years ago prior to the foundation of the state, all of those featured are effectively older than the state and indeed their births pre-dated the 1916 Rising.
In common with The Irish Pub, the subjects are a very diverse group who hail from all four corners of the country, urban and rural. They vary also in terms of class and outlook. But they are a universally interesting bunch.
Kathleen Snavely (113) emigrated to the US from Clare in 1921. Her story is in many ways a typical emigrants story which would resonate with contemporary emigrants. She was lonely initially. But she succeeded in eking out a much better life for herself than would have been the case had she remained.
Jack Powell (102) from Tipperary was Ireland’s longest serving Veterinary Surgeon and only retired a couple of years ago. He specialised in horses and clearly has an enduring passion for his job as a Vet. His story also included wartime service with the RAF. He clearly still has and very sharp mind and strong views on a range of subjects. Jack also has a passion for the Volkswagon Beetle and was still driving at the time the film was made.
There is inevitably a poignant tone to the film as the subjects reflect back on their lives. Many of their erstwhile friends, partners and contemporaries have gone. But many had also succeeded in re-inventing themselves in different ways. There are many unexpected light and humorous moments throughout the film.
They are the last men and women standing of a bygone era and provide a glimpse into the values and culture of the era. They reflect on their public and private lives with a level of insight which might not always have been present when those events were happening. Several have some fascinating recollections of events in the War of Independence and the Civil War.
The interviews are complemented by some wonderful photographs from a long gone era and the tone is complemented wonderfully by the music composed by Denis Clohessy.
There is a sense at times that these people are fully aware they are in the departure lounge. Sadly, many of them are no longer with us. But this is ultimately a positive life-affirming film.
Many of the subjects seemed surprised that they had endured for so long. I suspect that word of mouth may ensure Older than Ireland also endures in the cinema for longer than might be expected. It is a little gem of a movie and establishes the reputation of Alex Fegan as a director to watch.
Brian O Tiomain
PG (See IFCO for details)
Older Than Ireland is released 25th September 2015