Bobby Coote left school at 13 and spends most of his time in his back shed fixing clocks and making violins, but he has never lost sight of a lifelong dream to fly. He has cut a runway in a neighbour’s field and even built a hangar. And now he’s using his life savings to buy a plane! He gets no encouragement from his brother Ernie – another octogenarian in the Coote household, who thinks the whole thing is mad. But Bobby is determined to get airborne, even if it’s the last thing he does.
Director Frank Shouldice spoke to Film Ireland about his film, which is released in cinemas 29th March.
Dave Perry, the cinematographer, and myself have worked on a number of current affairs related programmes and we were looking for something outside of current affairs as a project of our own. Dave is very much into flying. He lives up near Bailieborough in County Cavan and was out flying one day in his paramotor. When he was flying he noticed this white dot in a couple of places underneath him. Later that same day, at home there was a ring of the doorbell. When he opened it, there was an elderly man with a baseball cap standing there. He saw behind the man was this Suzuki IQ, a white one and he figures that’s the white dot. It turns out this man was Bobby and he said “was that you up there in the sky?” and he said yes and asked why. Bobby said “I want to do that”. That was his answer and that was the introduction to Bobby Coote.
The idea that this man in his late 70s at that point was having harbouring this ambition to do something that most people would deem was too late for him – it was something that got us thinking… could this be the story that we’re looking for. The premise was strong, the pursuit of a dream is always a romance in itself. But what really turned it for me was when I learnt that Bobby lived at home with his older brother, Ernie, and that the two were unmarried lads who lived in the same family house but had completely separate lives and separate front doors. That to me, if Ernie would come aboard and if Bobby was aboard, would open up a much richer vein that would be beyond the story of pursuing the flight, which would come off for not come off. It would open up into a lot of other more profound themes about isolation, ageing, love, family.
It was very much a generosity of spirit on their part that they were open to this and shared so much with us over such a long time. We ended up on a journey that from the first day of filming to the last day of the edit was five and a half years. It was inspiring getting to know these men now in their 80s – they have a full lived life experience. There’s a kind of wisdom and humour in the experience they’ve had of life. I think it is really key to the film that’s what’s there is real. It’s absolutely real. Some things just happened as they happened. When Bobby gets a very devastating phone call that brings home to him that his dream is finished… that literally happened as it happened. There was no rehearsal or preparation. It happened and actually it was quite difficult for myself and Dave to witness and almost not intervene – to throw an arm over shoulder and say don’t worry we’ll find a way around this or something. That was hard. We were literally watching someone’s dreams evaporating in front of their eyes. We had to remind ourselves we were there to make a film and not just simply to be friend.
Five and a half years is a long time and before we showed the final cut to anybody, we showed it to Bobby and Ernie. We were a little bit apprehensive that they’d be comfortable in what they shared. Thankfully they were. They felt it represented them. If it hadn’t it would have been very uncomfortable for us because as true and close to the bone as it was, you’d like them to feel that that it does represent them rather than me exposing themselves emotionally in a way that they wouldn’t be happy with. It’s a credit to them for being so generous and it takes a lot of courage to open up and reveal the things that matter to them.
The film hangs on it being real, being genuine. We’ve just been in festivals so far but people are engaging with us. They feel that they get to know the brothers. From the outset, the ambition for me was that the audience would enter into their world for the next hour and a half. Let’s go into that world and stay in the world at that tempo, their tempo, their pace of life. It means slowing down, things don’t happen in a hurry. I hope that we have achieved this with the film. So far it seems to be happening. People accept the life and the community they see and they go with them and engage with it and support it. Maybe it’s an antidote to what else is on offer. This is the world we actually live in. It’s not a make-believe world. It’s out there… maybe we just didn’t notice it before.
The Man Who Wanted to Fly has a preview screening at the Odeon Cinema in Cavan Town on 26th March and opens in cinemas in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Cavan on the 29th March.