DIR: Aoife Kelleher • WRI: Rachel Lysaght
It’s been a very good year for Irish documentaries. 2016 has already given us Atlantic – an eye-opening account of corruption within the fishing industry, Mom & Me – a touching ode to mother-son relationships and 66 Days – a film detailing Bobby Sands’ hunger strike. Adding to this impressive list is director Aoife Kelleher’s new movie Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village. Taking its title from headline in a British newspaper, the documentary examines the reported sightings of the Virgin Mary in Knock in 1879 and the effect they still have upon the community.
It’s an impressive work in the sense that it tackles very weighty and complex issues such as faith, the commercialisation of religion, the child-sex abuse scandals, abortion and homophobia while still retaining a certain lightness. The various talking heads within the documentary (all of different opinion in regards to religion) are for the most part engaging and warm presences. On top of this, Kelleher adds a gentle humour to the film, allowing it to breathe, while never sacrificing its serious exploration of issues. As a result, Strange Occurrences is a documentary which feels light while never making light of its subject matter.
The documentary’s complete lack of archival footage is to be commended. Every scene from the spectacle that is a New York St. Patrick’s Day parade to the gorgeous aerial drone footage of Knock has been shot specifically for the film. This not only creates a sense of authenticity, but also gives Strange Occurrences a cinematic touch that not many documentaries have, making it a pleasure to watch.
Kelleher has stated that the documentary is not pro or anti-Catholicism. Instead, its goal was to portray a community completely reliant upon a religion, both morally and financially, accurately. She accomplished her task with gusto creating one of the most engrossing documentaries of the year thus far.
PG (See IFCO for details)
Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village is released 26th August 2016