Review: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

DIR: Simon Kinberg • WRI:John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Simon Kinberg DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Lee Smith • PRO: Todd Hallowell, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez

It never bodes well when a film gets a press screening the day before it is to be unleashed on the public, being optimistic I thought maybe it’s some kind of bluff. Then I saw the rest of my press-screening invite telling me that all comments and reviews were embargoed until 7am on the day of the film’s unleashing. A double bluff, I optimistically thought.  No such luck I’m afraid.

Dark Phoenix arrives with less than a whimper; the much delayed and rumoured-to-be-a troubled production, fails on nearly all fronts as a piece of glossy summer entertainment. With the best of goodwill from the most ardent fan it might work but for everyone else it is going to be a proverbial damp squib.

The plot concerns itself with the justly famous Dark Phoenix saga presented in the pages of X-Men back in the seventies, courtesy of comic legends Chris Claremont and John Byrne in the days before Watchmen came along and inadvertently turned things upside down. The only similarity between this film and its source material is Jean Gray’s struggle with a newfound omnipotent power and rival aliens fighting for said power.  All the original space-opera glory of the comic book only gets a brief nod when the X-Men go into space (not outer jut the bit outside the ozone layer), to save some astronauts from the space anomaly that is going to be the source of Jean’s and everyone else’s woes.

Set in 1992 to no good effect whatsoever, Charles Xavier’s X-people are media darlings and on the presidential hotline and yes, it does involve a bat phone type scenario, albeit without the humour; humour is very thin on the ground and when attempted falls squarely on its arse. Charles Xavier is seen to be losing the run of himself, a man verging on the pompous and thinking he knows better than everyone else using his protégés as his propaganda machine to maintain the love for mutant kind. The emotional heart of the story concerns Xavier doing what he thinks is best for Jean without concern for his right to do so when he suppresses a bad memory or two.  One anomaly later and Jean is all powerful and losing the run of herself, meanwhile aliens have come to earth to gain the said power – you get the picture.

The bulk of the story sits on Jean’s shoulders relegating everyone else to perfunctory supporting roles and character development that would be shameful in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The whole thing is remnant of a seventies television show that knows it has a good formula that doesn’t need changing; that is until it does. The set pieces offer very little excitement or originality, except for the first scene in space, elsewhere it is a strong feeling of déjà vu featuring telepathic battles, upturned cars, an attack on a train and my favourite, trying to cross the road… not a word of a lie.

So many lost opportunities are apparent watching the hamster-wheel mentality unfold. The cinema sins on show are so obvious it seems surprising that no one saw any of the issues with the story at a much earlier stage. At the helm of this trainwreck – that also features a trainwreck – is writer, director Simon Kinberg,  a man who has been part of the franchises lesser works including co-writer on X-Men: Last Stand, the original attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline, the mind boggles.

Paul Farren

113 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is released 5th June 2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix – Official Website

 

 

 

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‘Misty Button’ New York City Premiere

Misty Button will be making its New York City premiere at the Soho International Film Festival later this month. This is fresh off taking home an award for “Best Feature Film” at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in California last March.

 

The screening is on Saturday, June 22nd at 6:30 p.m at the Village East Cinemas on Second Avenue.

 

Misty Button was written and directed by Kerryman, Seanie Sugrue. A native of Tralee who currently resides in Los Angeles. The film was also produced by another Traleeman, Bertie Brosnan.

 

It stars Corkmen, Cillian O’Sullivan (Vikings, Taken Down) and Shaun Kennedy (American Ripper, Monsters Inside Me) and also stars John Keating (Boardwalk Empire, Ray Donovan) from Tipperary.

 

The film also co-stars Irish-Americans, Kevin Breznahan (Billions, Superbad), Gerard McNamee (The Following, The Get Down) and Julia Nightingale who can now be seen on Broadway’s The Ferryman, directed by Sam Mendes. Bret Lada, fresh off the set of Orange is the New Black also stars in the film.

 

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Screening Ireland in Rome: The Irish Film Festa, Twelfth Edition

Áine O’Healy reports from the Twelfth Edition of The Irish Film Festa in Rome, which ran from March 27th to 31st 2019.

In late March a cohort of Irish actors, directors and producers arrived in Rome as guests of the Irish Film Festa, which ran from March 27 to March 31.  Now in its twelfth iteration, the festival has expanded to a five-day programme of screenings, workshops, panels, and other events. Taking place annually at the prestigious Casa del Cinema—a stone’s throw from the Via Veneto and the resonances of the dolce vita that this location evokes—it showcases the best of recent filmmaking from both sides of Ireland’s north-south divide. Under the creative direction of Susanna Pellis since its inception, it has found increasing popularity with Roman filmgoers, drawing full houses over the entire course of the festival. The audience is for the most part Italian (the films are subtitled and all other events are facilitated through interpreters) with a sprinkling of Irish and other English-speaking expats also in attendance.

Although festivals of Irish cinema are beginning to proliferate across the planet—some of the invited guests at the Rome event had just attended the recently established Moscow Irish film festival—Rome’s Festa has distinctive characteristics that set it apart from the others thanks to the vision and acumen of Susanna Pellis, whose specialized knowledge, passion and dedication have shaped its unique profile since 2007. It remains a relatively intimate and remarkably dynamic event that offers multiple opportunities for Irish filmmakers (both well-established and up-and-coming) to interact with each other and with local audiences.

The programming is thus never simply an assortment of new releases from Ireland. Rather, it reveals Pellis’ keen awareness of ongoing developments in Irish filmmaking—not only with respect to mainstream releases, but also making room for more quirky, independent features, documentaries, shorts, and experimental productions. More importantly, it is shaped by her capacity to facilitate reflection on the larger implications of these developments through many opportunities for conversation and interaction. The screenings are accompanied by a stimulating range of presentations, interviews, workshops, and question and answer sessions, involving directors, actors and other industry professionals.

Short Film Winners Paul Horan & Mia Mullarkey 

Since 2010, the Festa has included a competition of short films. Sixteen of the films submitted this year were selected as finalists and screened at the 2019 festival, with the two winners announced and then re-screened on the closing night. With its incisive exposé of the events surrounding the discovery of the remains of almost 800 children in a sewer adjacent to the former Bon Secours Home in Tuam in 2017, Mia Mullarkey’s Mother & Baby won the documentary award. It includes archival material as well as interviews with several aging former residents of the notorious Mother and Baby Homes and with the self-trained historian, Catherine Corless, who spent years uncovering evidence of the horrific neglect and undocumented deaths of an astonishing number of children at the nearby convent. This is an impressive work that pays particular attention to the effects of traumatic memory and to the courage of the extraordinarily modest woman who singlehandedly unveiled the scandal and now quietly dedicates her life to supporting the survivors’ ongoing quest for justice.  

The film that won the Best Drama Short award, Paul Horan’s Bless me Father, also broaches the issue of the excessive power of the Catholic Church in Ireland. A two-hander set entirely within the confines of a confessional, the film dramatizes the revenge of a terminally ill man against a priest who had psychologically tyrannized his parishioners with a demoralizing rhetoric of fear and guilt. Like Mother & Baby, it portrays Irish society as an insular world paralyzed by secrets and shame, where Catholic clergy and other religious figures occupy a far too dominant role. Although the power of religious institutions is clearly on the wane in Irish society at present, filmmakers may be exercising a cathartic role in bringing to light the lingering effects of still unspoken wounds.

The festival’s opening feature this year was Nick Kelly’s well-received The Drummer and a Keeper, which reprises the well-worn trope of unlikely friendship between mismatched individuals. From the initial, explosive encounter between an institutionalized autistic teenager and a gifted, though temperamental drummer in his twenties who suffers psychotic episodes, it traces the ups and downs of a relationship that is fraught with pain and defensive cruelty. For the most part, the film is infused with psychological drama and suspense, yet it achieves a heart-warming resolution that seems as improbable as it is unexpected. Despite the upbeat ending, a sense of worry may linger for the viewer long after the film’s conclusion, as the storyline has so vividly exposed the fragility of human connections based on the recognition of mutual of pain and isolation. Yet Kelly’s film is more than just another iteration of the “odd couple” movie. Rather, it seems to be part of a growing trend in Irish filmmaking that broaches the pressing question of mental health in contemporary Irish society.

Moe Dunford & Frank Berry discuss Michael Inside  

Frank Berry’s Michael Inside also looks at a difficult social issue, in this case the limited prospects and ever-present risks for young people growing up in depressed urban areas, many of whom are almost inevitably destined for incarceration. The film is a prison drama that transcends the genre at many levels. Although the action unfolds for the large part “inside”, the violence it depicts is principally psychological. Dafhyd Flynn plays the vulnerable 18-year old Michael, who lives with his grandfather on a rough housing estate in Dublin. The old man hopes his grandson will escape the vicious circle of repeated convictions and incarcerations to which many youths in the neighborhood have succumbed, and Michael, too, seems intent on avoiding the routine drug dealing practiced by his circle of acquaintances. Pressured by a friend to hide a stash of drugs in his grandfather’s home, he ends up in prison. Though neither a buyer nor a dealer, he is too intimidated to reveal the source of the stash he was forced to hide. Little by little, Michael is acculturated to hierarchies of prison life and to the moral compromises that prisoners adopt to cope with the conditions of incarceration. The power plays in which he becomes entangled while in prison pursue him even after his release, so he ends up back inside, just like his father. Berry’s direction is assured, drawing fine performances from the cast, which include both professionals, such as Moe Dunford and Lalor Roddy, and non-professionals. Several minor roles are performed by former prisoners with real-life experience of the narrative context. The result is a splendid film of consistent psychological tension tempered by a persistent melancholy. The screening was followed by a panel discussion and question and answer session with Berry and Dunford, which helped to cast light on Berry’s creative process, careful research, and his history of creative collaboration with former prisoners and residents of the blighted social environments that the film evokes.

Every year the Festa includes the screening of at least one “classic” film of Irish cinema. This year’s selection was Colin Gregg’s Lamb (1985), featuring Liam Neeson as Michael Lamb, a novice on the staff of an industrial school run by a religious order, and Hugh O’Conor as Owen, the epileptic ten-year-old he takes under his wing and eventually whisks off to England in an attempt to spare the boy the everyday cruelties of the institution. Foreshadowing a critique that emerged with greater force in several subsequent Irish films, Lamb hints at the troubling underpinnings of the religious institutions that had shaped Irish identity since the creation of the state. As an oppositional figure, Michael seems at first sympathetic, even heroic, in his desire to save the boy from institutional brutality. Yet in the long run he reveals himself to be tragically immature and self-deluding. Neeson’s powerful performance gives coherence and credibility to a role that may have been a great deal less convincing in less capable hands.  

Hugh O’Conor in conversation

Following the screening of Lamb, Hugh O’Conor was invited to share his memories of working on the film with Neeson at the age of ten. A multi-talented artist, O’Conor is one of those rare individuals to have made a successful transition from child performer to adult actor (his most widely seen childhood role was as the young Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot in 1989).  This year O’Conor came to the Festa principally as a director. His debut feature—a particularly popular film with the Rome audience—was Metal Heart.  This upbeat coming of age comedy (the only film in the festival with a female lead) hinges on the rivalry between a pair of 17-year old twin sisters with contrasting interests and personalities. With their parents away on a long overseas holiday, tensions and conflicts flare up between the mismatched pair. Unfolding in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the Leaving Cert results, the story conveys the excitement, uncertainty and worry felt by a substantial cohort of Irish teenagers at a crucial moment of transition. Though the film favours the perspective of Emma, the “goth” sister (Jordanne Jones), over her more conventional and supposedly prettier twin, Chantal (Leah McNamara), both characters are drawn with sympathy and affection, making their eventual reconciliation less than a surprise. Playing Emma’s creative partner, Seán Doyle pulls off a strong performance as teenage musician struggling to withstand parental pressures to conform to middle-class expectations. Meanwhile, Moe Dunford exerts his seductive charm as the wayward son of an aging neighbor, who partly but not fully succeeds in breaking the protagonist’s heart. Despite the specificity of some of its social and cultural references and the limitations of its production budget, Metal Heart is obviously intended to speak to audiences not only in Ireland but also abroad, and the festival viewers responded with genuine enthusiasm to its appeal, as became evident in the discussion and subsequent question and answer session.

Dara Devaney, well known to Irish audiences for his early, recurring presence in the Irish language soap Ros na Rún and for many subsequent film roles, was one of the guests of the Festa this year. A native speaker of Irish, he is the star of the Irish-language docudrama, Murdair Mhám Trasna, which he presented at the Festa. Devaney plays the tragic figure of Myles Joyce (also known as Maolra Seoighe) who was hanged in a miscarriage of justice at Galway Gaol in 1882 for a crime he did not commit. This brilliantly executed film directed by Colm Bairéad and produced by ROSG for TG4 provides a dramatic reconstruction of the brutal murder of an extended family in remote Connemara, followed by the arrest, trial and execution of the suspects. The film underlines the fact that several of the accused, most notably the entirely innocent Myles Joyce, spoke Irish only, but the trial was conducted in Dublin entirely in English. Dramatic recreations of these well-documented historical events are interspersed with commentary by various contemporary personalities, including historian Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh of NUIG and President Michael D. Higgins, who granted Joyce a posthumous pardon around the time of the film’s release. Issues of colonial abuse and the silencing of subaltern subjects are vividly dramatized in this film, which, despite its remote historical context, has clear lessons for our neoliberal and neocolonial times.

One of the revelations of this year’s Festa was the increasingly creative and often hybrid use of the documentary form by Irish filmmakers. Apart from Murdair Mhám Trasna, three other powerful feature-length explorations of specific historical and contemporary realities of Irish life appeared on the programme. Feargal Ward’s The Lonely Passion of Thomas Reid offers a quirky combination of standard documentary approaches and dramatic reconstruction. The film tells the powerful story of one man’s battle against the forces of global neoliberalism. Reid, the man in question, is an independent-minded Co. Kildare farmer who refused to relinquish his ancestral land in the face of the IDA’s strong-arm efforts to force him to sell it with the aim of enabling the occupant of the adjacent property, the multinational corporation Intel, to expand its premises and, supposedly, create hundreds of new jobs. Reid’s story is a parable of the ongoing struggle between those lingering elements in Irish society that cling to values and traditions of the past and the indomitable advance of corporate modernity. The stakes of this struggle are beautifully captured by Ward’s patient, painstaking exposé.

Seán Murray

The Festa also offered two excellent documentaries from Northern Ireland, each of them focused in distinctive ways on the Troubles. The first was Seán Murray’s Unquiet Graves, detailing the collaboration between the RUC and the Ulster Defence Regiment in the murder of over 120 civilians in a campaign conducted across a broad swath of Co. Armagh and Co. Tyrone from July 1972 to the end of 1978, but also encompassing the bombings in Monaghan and Dublin in May 1974. Using archival material, reconstructions, and contemporary interviews—including a riveting conversation with whistleblower John Weir, a former member of the RUC and a convicted murderer–the film is a stunning indictment of state organized violence and startling abuses of power that are still unacknowledged at the official level.

Unquiet Graves was followed by Brendan Byrne’s Hear my Voice, which is structured as an audio-visual engagement with painter Colin Davidson’s large-scale portraits of eighteen victims and survivors of the Troubles. The film alternates between images of Davidson’s mute but haunting portraits (collectively titled ‘Silent Testimony’) and interviews with survivors and relatives of those killed in various attacks over a period of several years. Though sectarian issues are not mentioned in these testimonies, it becomes clear that Byrne’s interlocutors are living with the effects of atrocities committed by both Republican and Loyalist factions. With its quiet, poetic force, the film provides a searing reminder of the traumatic legacies of a violent conflict years after its purported conclusion.

Isle of Docs panel

In recognition of the recent flourishing of the documentary form among Irish filmmakers, a panel titled ‘Isle of Docs’ followed the screening of these films, featuring Frank Berry and Seán Murray in discussion with Susanna Pellis. Berry has made an award-winning documentary (Ballymun Lullaby) in addition to two feature films, all of which are grounded in social realities of the economically deprived communities around Dublin with which he is familiar. Murray, a self-described activist filmmaker, is based by contrast in Belfast. He has focused on making documentaries and shorts dedicated to issues specific to the people of Northern Ireland—particularly with regard to the legacy of the Troubles, and he sees his films as having the power to disturb and challenge the status quo. Since they each work in different jurisdictions and different production environments, some of the discussion concentrated precisely on the differences in funding opportunities and institutional support for documentary filmmaking north and south of the Border. The fact that both Berry and Murray have produced work of such conceptual rigour and professionalism augurs well for the future of the documentary on the island of Ireland.        

John Lynch Interview

The festival frequently offers masterclasses run by notable Irish actors. This year it was the turn of veteran actor John Lynch, guest of honour at the Festa, to take on the role of workshop leader. Lynch was in fact already a well-known face to audiences of the IFF, which over the years has screened several films in which he has played a prominent role. Pellis conducted a substantial, wide-ranging interview with Lynch on the day following the workshop, exploring the full arc of his acting career and his ancestral ties to Italy, or more specifically to his mother’s birthplace in the region of Molise. He discussed his early involvement in Irish language theatre while in school in Northern Ireland, his move to England and development in professional theatre, the many film roles he was offered that centred on the Troubles of Northern Ireland, and his more recent work in serial television. Although inevitably associated with Northern Ireland, Lynch is a truly transnational figure, as he now lives in southern France, has learned to speak French, and has even performed in French. He also discussed his development as a writer—a pursuit adopted in mid-life—and announced that he has completed his third novel. Following the interview, the festival audience had the opportunity to watch one of Lynch’s characteristically intense performances in the Australian feature Angel Baby (Michael Rymer, 1995), in which he plays a psychiatrically disturbed young man teetering on the edge of self-destruction.

The Dig‘s Lorcan Cranitch, RyanTohill and Moe Dunford with Susanna Pellis

A few years ago, the IFF screened Patrick’s Day (Terry McMahon, 2014), a film that introduced the festival audience to the considerable talent of Moe Dunford, then a rising star of Irish cinema and now an established presence. Dunford was one of the guests of this year’s Festa and appeared in no less than four of the films on the programme. Cast in supporting roles in Michael Inside, Metal Heart, and Black ’47, he plays the lead in The Dig, the first feature film directed by Ryan and Andy Tohill. Here Dunford gives an astonishing performance as Calahan, whom we first encounter as he arrives home to his boarded-up cottage in Co. Antrim after completing a fifteen-year sentence for killing his girlfriend. Since the body had never been found and Calahan has no recollection of the crime—admitting to state of drunken oblivion at the time of the murder—his conviction was based entirely on DNA evidence. Yet he does not claim to be innocent. Discovering that his neighbour, the girl’s father (Lorcan Cranitch), has been digging up the vast bogland on Calahan’s property for years in a still futile attempt to unearth the body, he tries to get the intruder off his land. When he fails to achieve this, Calahan begins to dig alongside the man who understandably hates him, while both of them are carefully observed by a threatening local policeman who dominates everyone and everything in the area as though he were the law itself.  With little dialogue, most of the film is shot outdoors in the eerie winter light, as both men struggle with the hard labor of digging and with the ups and downs of their psychological tug-of-war. The scenes set in this stark, elemental landscape are mostly without dialogue, with the actors relying on movement and facial expression to communicate acute pain, anger, and frustration. Eventually, however, the men’s relationship becomes more complex and complicit. This psychological drama is overlaid by resonances of the western, which mark the story as a familiar, intensely masculine contest played out between and among men—the returned convict, the farmer seeking justice or revenge, and the man of the law. Although the farmer’s surviving daughter has a more important role in the narrative resolution than we might have expected, the film’s conclusion affirms that the story belongs fundamentally to the men, as is true of the classic western. Despite a hurried, disappointingly underwritten third act, the powerful effects of the cinematography and performances remain with the viewer long after The Dig comes to an end. Clearly a film that struck the festival audience with particular force, it was followed by a lively discussion with co-director Ryan Tohill, Dunford, and Cranitch and elicited one of the most engaged question and answer sessions over the course of the Festa.

Black ’47 (Lance Daly, 2018) is the only feature film produced to date to take on the subject of the Great Famine. This is not, however, a conventional period drama. Instead, the filmmaker has given us a revenge thriller with strong influences of the western. These elements make for engrossing viewing, despite the predominant use of the Irish language (subtitled in English and, for the Festa, in Italian), the bleak colour palette, and the vision of a frozen Connemara landscape inhabited by a starving population. This desolate spectacle of famine and injustice is witnessed through the eyes of Connemara native, Martin Feeney (James Frecheville), upon his return from the war in Afghanistan where he had fought for the Crown as a member of the Connaught Rangers. Finding that his closest family members are either dead or homeless, Feeney realizes that he is witnessing a social order as depraved as that of any colonial outpost, and begins to seek revenge. What the film makes clear is that the Great Famine was no natural disaster. Though the potato crop has failed, food is not lacking even in remote Connemara. The local landlord (Jim Broadbent) is in possession of huge store of grain that he refuses to concede to the starving locals, and thus becomes one of the targets of Feeney’s avenging mission. The dramatic tension intensifies when Hannah, an IRC officer with whom Feeney had served in Afghanistan, is sent by Dublin Castle to track down and eliminate the avenging Irishman. What the authorities do not know is that Hannah owes Feeney a debt of honour, and the Englishman makes good that debt first by urging Feeney to escape with his life, and when he refuses, by aiding him in his final act of vengeance. Although the ultimate narrative resolution has elements of the formulaic, the film functions as a kind of popular history lesson. It certainly had this effect in Rome, where few of the viewers seemed aware of the events of that fatal year remembered in the collective consciousness of Irish people as ‘black ’47’.

Pellis generously includes in the Festa elements rarely seen at film festivals—usually literary and musical events—that connect filmmaking with other related art forms. In this way, she invites Italians to appreciate many dimensions of Ireland’s rich cultural output. This year we were treated to twenty brilliant photographic portraits of Irish artists captured beautifully by the Irish actor and director Hugh O’Conor.

Karl Geary with Simona Pellis

The literary spotlight of this year’s Festa was on Karl Geary’s novel, Montpelier Parade, recently translated into Italian. Geary—also an actor—was at the festival specifically to discuss his work as a fiction writer. Simona Pellis presented the novel to the assembled audience and conducted a thoughtful interview with the author. Predominantly a coming of age story, the novel is narrated in the second person, a detail that intrigued several of those who participated in the lively question and answer session that followed the interview. Geary expressed gratitude that so many of those present had read his work with close attention. Prior to writing the novel, Geary had been for the most part involved in screenwriting and performance, and some audience members may well have remembered his work in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall.  

Prof. Aine O’Healy with Dara Devaney

In addition to a literary event, almost every edition of the IFF has included at least one live musical performance. This year the musical spotlight fell on actor Dara Devaney, who performed two plaintive songs in the sean nós tradition as a prelude to the screening Black ’47. One of these, the mysteriously worded ‘Johnny Seoighe’, is the only known Irish song that refers explicitly to the Great Famine.

The Irish Film Festa thus underscores the multiplicity of talents that characterize many of those who are active in the Irish filmmaking community and it offers Italian audiences a general sense of the high level of contemporary cultural production in Ireland.  As an annual festival dedicated to Irish cinema, it is unparalleled in its scope and vision, providing much more than simply a selection of recent films that happen to be made in Ireland.

 

Áine O’Healy teaches film and Italian studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is author of Migrant Anxieties: Italian Cinema in a Transnational Frame (Indiana University Press, 2019).

 

Visit www.irishfilmfesta.org

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Shooting the Mafia

Sarah Cullen takes a look at Kim Longinotto’s powerful documentary which strips back the glamorous image of the Sicilian Mafia, showing the harsh reality of life, death and business at the hands of those who wield it.

After being bowled over last year by Sicilian Ghost Story, Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s haunting fictional rendering of the real-life mafia kidnapping and murder of Giuseppe di Matteo, the son of a mafia informant, my interest was piqued when I heard about the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival’s showing of Shooting the Mafia. Kim Longinotto’s documentary examines the work of photographer Letizia Battaglia who has spent decades capturing the crimes of the Sicilian mafia. Guiseppe’s unimaginable ordeal is not mentioned, which says far more about the bloody history of the notorious crime syndicate than it does about the documentary: as demonstrated by Battaglia’s haunting photography, there have been countless Giuseppes since she began recording their violence since the 1970s.

The first female photographer to be employed by an Italian newspaper as well as the first Italian photojournalist to document the mafia’s violence, Battaglia’s life and work are both explored throughout. At the age of only sixteen she entered into a constricting marriage to escape from her controlling father. After her divorce she took up photojournalism. Using her camera she took over 600,000 photos recording the death and destruction wrought across Sicily by mob violence. Shooting the mafia, in Battaglia’s case, frequently meant recording the aftermath of their actions: inert bodies in their own blood, funerals, the destruction of vehicles. Inevitably, her life is part of the wider fabric of Sicily: she became a target of threats from the mafia and relates her own grief at the deaths of other resistors against the regime. Through it all the photographs she never took, she observes, are the ones that haunt her the most.

Longinotto’s ambitions to push at the boundaries of the documentary form are highlighted early on: as she highlighted in the Q&A afterwards, alongside photography and other archived recordings, Battaglia’s life is illustrated with footage from early Italian cinema. Drawing comparison between the men who attempted to prevent Battaglia’s creative freedom as a young woman and the mafia which circumscribed the freedoms of Sicily, Longinotto draws a line between the importance of personal creativity and the self-determination of an entire community. In its many uses of multimedia, Shooting the Mafia explores the possibilities of art as a tool for challenging violence.

Coming out of Shooting the Mafia, I felt like I had more questions than answers. In a certain sense, it’s difficult to know for sure what the focus of Longinotto’s chronicle is: Battaglia’s life, her photography, or the struggles of Sicily. But then again, this may be appropriate considering the multiple meanings of focus in a filmed recording of a rumination on the possibilities of photography. Like Battaglia’s own photography, which approaches its subject matter in an oblique manner, Shooting the Mafia approaches Battaglia in an oblique manner, through her romantic relationships, her photography, and her political career. One suspects there is much that Battaglia is keeping from the viewer: moreover, one suspects that is the intention of an individual who approaches the world from behind the camera.

 

Shooting the Mafia screened on 2nd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

DIR: Michael Dougherty • WRI Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Roger Barton, Bob Ducsay, Richard Pearson • PRO: Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Lexi Rabe, Sally Hawkins

Warner brothers Monsterverse franchise is back in full swing with their third entry and second Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Things are heating up for the big bout expected next year: Godzilla Versus Kong.

Picking up from the end of Godzilla, in an oddly similar vein to Justice League, we find Monarch scientists (that secret group that have been monster-watching all this time), Emma, Mark and their daughter Madison searching the rubble of San Francisco for their lost son, Andrew, as Godzilla prepares for his final encounter with the rival monsters from that film.

Five years later,  daughter and mother are in Brazil where Emma is continuing her work with Monarch. Mark has retired, after finding it hard to work for an organisation that has involvement with the large creature that inadvertently killed his son. Emma is on the cusp of a breakthrough in communicating with the creatures thanks to a device known as Orca and, would you believe it, only one of these devices exists.

Enter Captain Jonah, an  eco-terrorist psychopath and his motley crew, just as Emma is putting the Orca device to good use on Mothra who has just emerged from her cocoon. One carnage of Monarch personnel, kidnapping and trip to yet another Monarch base in Antarctica and things are looking bad for humankind. The eco-terrorists plan is to awaken Titans (posh scientific term for monsters) all over the world in the name of saving the planet, give or take a few billion people I’m guessing. Things get out of hand, I kid you not, the idea of setting Titans loose wasn’t a bad idea to the perpetrators until Ghidorah, three-headed rival to the big G is let loose as part of this well thought-out master plan. It turns out Ghidorah ain’t from around here and has titanic plans of his own.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters has one of the most bonkers premises I’ve seen in a while. The slaughter-filled plan to save the planet is up there with the most abominable plans of past dictators give or take a titan or two. But because of this bonkers premise rather than despite it, the film flies along with its sincere bonkerness in the best possible way.

The actors do their best despite getting landed with the most God(zilla)-awful dialogue and spending most of the time having terrible ensemble chats, jammed to the cloisters with exposition and on-the-money plot information. At least some of them seem to know they are in a monster movie, which adds to the fun. Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe reprise their roles from the first film as well-meaning Monarch scientists. Ken fares the best of the two and finally gets to be up close and personal with Godzilla. Poor Sally does not fare as well. Hero duties fall mostly to Kyle Chandler who many will remember from Peter Jackson’s King Kong – pure coincidence I’m sure that he is back fighting monsters and looks to be around when Kong returns next year. Millie Bobby Brown fares well as Madison, the conflicted daughter of Emma and Mark. Underused and coming out the best of all is Charles Dance as Captain Jonah Alan, who  gets to be the real beast of the film; when not slaughtering innocents he pontificates about what terrible creatures humans are.

Despite the bonkers premise and stilted human moments, Godzilla is a blast. If like me you love a good old monster-bashing, city-trashing piece of action, then your in for a treat. The film does not let up once the action starts, the filmmakers have certainly taken the time to understand the kaiju gold mine they are excavating. It feels like a genuine nod to sixties and seventies Godzilla and is filled with easter eggs for die hard fans … I’m sure there must be others out there. But of course this is not going to get in the way of those who are just discovering kaiju in the last five years. The only possible danger with all these extra monsters is that it seems like too much of a good thing. Where can they go with the upcoming Godzilla, Kong bout when there are all these other titans vying for our attention…

Godzilla vs Jurassic Park anyone?

Paul Farren

131 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is released 31st May 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters– Official Website

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Review: Booksmart

DIR: Olivia Wilde • WRI Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman • DOP: Jason McCormick • ED: Jamie Gross • PRO: Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfeld, Jessica Elbaum, Megan Ellison Katie Silberman • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Dan Nakamura • CAST: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis

What can one hope for from a female coming-of-age comedy 2019? I for one went into Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart hoping that it would be this year’s Blockers (which was, in turn, the previous year’s Bad Neighbours 2). And reader, it did not disappoint.

Following the fortunes of two model students on their final day of high school, Amy (Kaitlyn Deever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have avoided parties and general tomfoolery in favour of study and intellectual rigour throughout their school careers to ensure success later in life. This backfires when they discover that the rest of their graduating class has also been accepted to Harvard and Yale. Looking to make up for lost time, the two girls set off on an odyssey of graduation parties. Yes, it is in many ways the female version of Superbad. And while in one way it’s sad that we have had to wait over a decade for such a film to appear, it’s perhaps also a very good thing that no one attempted a female version of Superbad ten years ago.

While it’s undeniably satisfying to see new films flipping the script on the assumptions Hollywood has made about American high school since the ’80s, the film does occasionally overplay its hand. Almost every character turns out to be something they’re not, which at times can be exhausting, particularly for characters that had barely any screen time in the first place. However, this isn’t to take away from the impressive supporting cast and the good intentions behind it all: it’s nice to see a diverse array of high school characters wherein everyone is treated as an individual, and long may the dismantling of the Hollywood hierarchy continue.

And for many reasons, Booksmart feels worth the wait, bringing together as it does two fantastic leads who have deserved more screen time for quite a while now: Kaitlyn Deever managed to be a kick-ass kid in television’s adult-focused Justified while Beanie Feldstein was the infinitely likeable best friend in Lady Bird (and should have been the focus of the movie, in this reviewer’s humble opinion). Together they bring a wonderful combined energy to the film, with lots of the comedy coming from their offbeat exchanges. Despite seeing each other daily, they take plenty of time to send each other constant encouragement, which is as sweet as it is bizarre. As a spiritual sequel to Blockers it also follows in that film’s progressive steps: Amy is out and, aside from her Christian parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) who are stepping over themselves to demonstrate their acceptance of their daughter, her sexuality doesn’t raise any eyebrows.  And indeed, if Molly fails to understand the nuances of her best friend’s sexuality at times, it’s her own misunderstanding of female sexuality that is the butt of the joke. “I have a secret for you.” she tells Amy: “I once tried to masturbate with an electric toothbrush, but I got a horrible UTI.”

Hopefully we will see more directing from Wilde and her all-female writing team, as they have succeeded in creating a laugh-out-loud comedy which explores the nuances of female friendship and permits its characters to make mistakes. Booksmart graduates with top marks (but doesn’t forget to have fun along the way).

Sarah Cullen

102 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Booksmart is released 27th May 2019

Booksmart – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: The Miami Showband Massacre

June Butler checks out the Netflix doc The Miami Showband Massacre directed by Stuart Sender recounting a horrific attack on 31st July 1975 by the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Early one July morning in 1975, a group of musicians calling themselves The Miami Showband were returning to Dublin from a gig in Northern Ireland. In the distance, they could see the torches of soldiers flagging them down in what appeared to be an official forces checkpoint prior to crossing the border into Southern Ireland. Preoccupied by their earlier success and unaware of any danger, the driver pulled into a lay-by and the band members exited the van. They later recalled how the soldiers joked and bantered as their identification was verified. One member of the band murmured that they would be ‘away quickly’ because it was the British Army (Ulster Defence Regiment) who were conducting the check. Stephen Travers, the bass player with the Miami Showband, heard the van door slide open. Seconds later, a bomb exploded killing two of the soldiers. Travers was thrown into the adjoining field by the force of the blast. He and another surviving member, Des Lee, later recalled how the bantering soldiers turned on them and started firing indiscriminately into the thicket where both parties lay wounded. In the distance, Travers could hear Fran O’Toole, the lead singer with the band, begging for his life. Seconds later a shot rang out and O’Toole lay dead. When Des Lee, who was the only person still standing after the blast, returned to the roadside, all he could see was a river of blood and body parts strewn on the tarmac. Lee managed to raise the alarm and Travers was brought to hospital where he recovered physically but mental scars remained.  

In 2015, on the fortieth anniversary of the murders, and in the lead-up prior to this, Stephen Travers started investigating the events of that fateful night. Travers maintained that he owed it to the memory of his friends to properly examine the true nature of the affair. It transpired that the men who flagged them down were members of the Ulster Volunteer Force wearing uniforms representing the Ulster Defence Regiment. Two of the dead ‘soldiers’ from the bogus checkpoint were later confirmed as members of the illegal organisation. Both Travers and Lee have persistently argued that there was collusion between the armed forces and groups such as the UVF. Travers has always maintained that he heard a British accent from the commander of the checkpoint. Further investigation shows British Army personnel who agreed with Travers line of thinking and who also raised concerns with their commanding officers regarding complicity between the UVF and the British Army. It is clear that Stephen Travers is not a man to be thwarted and as he says himself, it takes a while for him to turn but when he does, he will not be deflected.

Stephen Travers is the central figure in this journey – Des Lee also plays a pivotal role but it is essentially Travers who relentlessly pursues the veracity of what really occurred. And while Travers is a haunted man, his passage to actuality has banished the darkness and allowed a life not authentically lived to bloom and flourish. The documentary is a must-see. It is horrific to hear the accounts of what happened but Travers accepts he is on a critical path – one that must not be diverted from regardless of what answers might come.

 

https://www.netflix.com/ie/title/80191046

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Screen Ireland Funding for First Quarter of 2019

Screen Ireland has announced the successful applicants for funding for the first quarter of 2019 for fiction, animation, and documentary. Projects are given funding at development, production and distribution stages.

1st Quarter

Development

Project Development

Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
Starlight Alan Brennan Alan Brennan Marcie Films/Cowtown Pictures €24,800
Bi Bi Baby John Butler John Butler Treasure Entertainment €37,000
L.O.L.A Andrew Legge Angeli MacFarlane, Andrew Legge Cowtown Pictures €17,500
Four Mothers Darren Thornton Darren Thornton, Colin Thornton Port Pictures Ltd. €35,950
Heron Island Carmel Winters Carmel Winters World 2000 €27,800
The Wurzburg Effect Alex Fegan Alex Fegan Kennedy Films €26,900
Famine Gerard Barrett Gerard Barrett Blank Page Productions €24,670
Young Skins Gavin Scott Whitfield Eugene O’Brien Blinder Films €23,800
The Sparrow Michael Kinirons Michael Kinirons Tiger Darling Films €23,600
The Smaller I Am Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer Shane Crowley Sixty Six Pictures €20,100
The Cancer Bus Kelly Warburton Savage Productions €19,300
In/Visible Fran Harris Vico Films €18,300
Monto David Turpin Tailored Films €15,300
Crooked Steve Kenny Steve Kenny Forty Foot Pictures €8,100

Animation Development

Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
Ghost Town Alan Foley Alan Foley Dear Will €20,000
Piece Alan Holly Alan Holly And Maps and Plans €25,000

Documentary Development

Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
The Blue Hole Laura McGann Motive Films €15,000

Screenplay Development

Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
Lambs Mike Cockayne Mike Cockayne, Vince Cleghorne Hardy Films €16,000
Haul Rebecca Daly Rebecca Daly €12,000
A High Place Rebecca Daly Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery €16,000
My Refugee Leticia Agudo Leticia Agudo Whackala €12,000

New Writing Development

Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award

International Development

Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award

International Television Drama Development

Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
Caherduin Gary Duggan 925 Productions €27,400
The Year of the Beast Brian Kirk Matt Charman Parallel Films €50,000
Spartacus Rising Mary Kate O’Flanagan, Gavin Ryan Treasure Entertainment €38,000
Darkened Room Tamara Maloney, Maeve McQuillan Blinder Films €27,900
ZOM-B Robin Hill Fantastic Films €23,652

Distribution

  • Direct Distribution

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
    Cellar Door Viko Nikci Samson Films €12,500
    An Engineer Imagines Marcus Robinson Igloo Productions €12,500
    The Man Who Wanted to Fly Frank Shouldice Loosehorse Ltd. €15,000
    Don’t Go David Gleeson Wide Eye Films Ltd. €12,500
  • Distribution Support

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
    The Hole in the Ground Lee Cronin Wildcard Distribution €75,000

Production

  • Fiction Irish Production

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
    Herself Phyllida Lloyd Clare Dunne, Malcolm Campbell Element Pictures €750,000
    L.O.L.A Andrew Legge Angeli MacFarlane, Andrew Legge Cowtown Pictures €Unquantified Offer of Support
    The Restoration of Grayson Manor Glenn McQuaid Glenn McQuaid Fantastic Films €Unquantified Offer of Support
    The Night I got Shot by Santa Michael Lennox Ronan Blaney Calico Pictures €Unquantified Offer of Support
    TWIG Marian Quinn Marian Quinn Metropolitan Films International Ltd. €Unquantified Offer of Support
    Boys from County Hell Chris Baugh Chris Baugh Blinder Films €550,000
  • Fiction Creative Co-Production

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
    I Never Cry Piotrek Domalewski Piotrek Domalewski Mk1 Productions €125,000
    Kensuke’s Kingdom Kirk Hendry, Neil Boyle Frank Cottrell Boyce, Michael Morpurgo, Michael Morpurgo Brennus Film Productions €250,000
  • Animation Television Production

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
    Freddy Buttons Graham Holbrook Shane Perez, Fiona Dillon, Alan Keane Treehouse Republic €Unquantified Offer of Support
    Ollie Anton Setola Ink And Light €175,000
  • Documentary Production

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
    Stokely Kim Bartley Kim Bartley Underground Films Limited €Unquantified Offer of Support
    Screamers Ciaran Cassidy Ciaran Cassidy Cowtown Pictures €Unquantified Offer of Support
  • Completion

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
  • Fiction: Live Action International Production

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
  • Additional Production

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
  • Cine4

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
  • POV: Production & Training Scheme for Female Talent

    Project Director Writer Production Company Funding Award
Source: https://www.screenireland.ie/funding/funding-decisions
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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 35 – Drop Kick a Puppy

 

Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm address the nation and share their latest jibber jabber on some new films that people have made for you to see, including dream-chasing and drug-taking in Wild Rose,  spotting Dublin streets in Greta, and high-school yarns in 8th Grade and Book Smart.

Sarah takes a look at three Netflix films with women drinking in Wine Country, a lack of murders in Who Would you Take to a Desert Island, and alive ghosts in Suzzanna: Buried Alive.

Richard takes his seat at the High Table and discusses the endless shoot-outs of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, nonsense in the cinema at Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, and the pointlessness of Vox Lux.

And finally there’s the glass cliff of Avengers: Endgame (were they tears Richard?)

Listen…

Film Ireland Podcasts

 

 

 

 

 

Land Without God screened on 28th February 2019 as part of theDublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Land Without God

David Deignan takes a look at Land Without God,  an intimate portrait of a family coming to terms with decades of institutional abuse and the impact it has had and is still having on their lives.


Land Without God is a raw, emotional and unflinching investigation into the effect that decades of repeated institutional abuse has had, and continues to have, on Gerard Mannix Flynn and his family. Flynn, who co-directs alongside Maedhbh McMahon and Lotta Petronella, bravely steps in front of the camera to act as our guide through his own harrowing story.

He is our narrator, speaking to the audience in voice-over monologues, and our protagonist. While the film is framed around his family’s experiences (he conducts a host of raw, visceral interviews a host of them on camera – apparently the first time that they’ve truly opened up to each other about their shared childhood experiences), this is Flynn’s story first and foremost. We learn in great detail of the injustices inflicted upon him as he revisits the decaying sites of the reformatory schools and juvenile detention centres where he suffered in his youth. He remains staunch as he recounts his visceral stories for us, but there is a fierce emotion – a mix of sorrow, frustration and sheer anger – which underpins his every bitter word.

The documentary is broken into chapters, each one detailing a different, difficult period of Flynn’s upbringing and, through his and his family’s stories, it accounts to a shocking exposition of the extent to which Irish children have been grossly mistreated in institutions throughout the years.

The atmosphere at the film’s Dublin International Film Festival was noticeably charged, with many of Flynn’s family in attendance, which really highlighted the film’s nuanced balance of tone. It’s understandably heavy going for the most part, but it injects humour at smart intervals to break the tension.

Land Without God is no-frills, and pulls no punches. Flynn and his extended family have been torn about, both individually and collectively by cruelty, but they come across as intensely steadfast – and acutely aware that they’re far from the only ones to have been mistreated in similar circumstances. Their admissions are intensely moving, and their sheer honesty must be admired. They display such fragility onscreen, and deserve immense credit for their bravery.

The film isn’t without its issues, mind At 65 minutes it’s relatively short but the pacing is still uneven while it can be repetitive, especially at points during Flynn’s long monologues. But these are small complaints. This is powerful cinema, which tells a story which needs to be heard and deserves to find an audience.

The message at the centre is that, for the abused, justice has proved to be little more than a word in a dictionary. It would be foolish to think that forms of institutional abuse are consigned to Ireland’s history and in this sense, with an eye on contemporary prisons, care homes and the addiction and homeless sectors, Land Without God is an important attack on past injustices which still feel tragically and painfully present.

 

Land Without God screened on 28th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Jon Hozier-Byrne

In this podcast, Natasha Waugh talks to Jon Hozier-Byrne, a filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland. John has a BA and an MA in Film Studies from University College Dublin, where he taught film until 2014, when he founded Stoneface Films. Since then, he’s had his directorial work featured in the Cannes Film Festival, and created music videos for the likes of We Cut Corners, Hozier, Mick Flannery, and Hometown.

 

 

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Eilish Kent: Tips for Writing Short Films

Over her career, producer, script editor and story consultant Eilish Kent has commissioned (for RTÉ & BBC) over 100 live action and animated short films. She also ran clinics for Filmbase on short films and has sat on many selection panels for County Councils around the country. Eilish teaches screenwriting in the National Film School and assesses Film for the Arts Council. She can be hired as a story consultant and script editor through her website.

Eilish will hold a writing workshop to write/rewrite or polish your short film on Saturday, 15th June in Dublin.

Here Eilish gives her top tips for how to write a short film:

Small stories that turn on a single event work best.

Know what makes your central character interesting on screen, work out how to show this.

Change needs to happen but it can be very small.

Spend as little screen time as possible setting up the story.

Identify a key visual image that encapsulates the tone and feel of the world of the story.

Make sure you have a proper ending – this is the last impression you make on audience.

Consider sound and how it can carry story.

Know what makes your film stand apart from other short films.

Write the film without dialogue first.

Consider the location of each scene and how the choice of location tells the story. Try to vary the location from interior to exterior, etc. (if set in a single location look for distinctive areas within the location to create different atmospheres: intimate, anonymous, etc.)

Consider who, or what, should be in each scene to put the central character under pressure.

Don’t repeat a beat, every scene must move the story forward and/or reveal character.

When you have the story working without dialogue, write the dialogue to create conflict and reveal attitude/character.

Use themes as subject-matter of dialogue.

 

Join Eilish on a writing workshop to write/rewrite or polish your short film Saturday, 15th June, Dublin city centre.

https://www.eilishkent.com/events/write-a-short-film

 

 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/eilish-kent-producer/

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Review: High Life

DIR: Claire Denis WRI: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox PRO: Laurence Clerc, Oliver Dungey, Christoph Friedel, D.J. Gugenheim, Andrew Lauren, Klaudia Smieja, Claudia Steffen, Olivier Thery Lapiney• DOP: Yorick La Seux, Tomasz Naumiuk   Ed: Guy Lecorne CAST: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek.

 

Monte (Pattinson) is the lone passenger, along with his infant daughter, aboard a spaceship headed towards a black hole. Through flashbacks we see what brought this about: how he and a group of other death-row convicts were put on this suicide mission, dressed up as a shot at redemption. We find out what became of his former colleagues aboard the ship including the authoritative Dibs (Binoche), a fellow death-row convict, who also happened to be a doctor and who was intent on carrying out various sexual experiments on those on board.

The inimitable Claire Denis returns to our screens with this, her English-language debut. Any fears that a bigger budget and name cast would see Denis attempt something more mainstream are quickly dispelled in this elliptical, hypnotic and provocative picture. This being a seriously minded, contemplative science fiction film by an auteur director, it is inevitable that there will be some comparisons drawn to 2001, Solaris and Stalker. Some of the film’s body-horror elements also vaguely call to mind Cronenberg. However, while there are some nods to those, particularly some visual homages to the latter Tarkovsky film, this is a highly distinctive piece with a singular, pungent ambience and one that doesn’t play by anybody else’s rules. The structure of the film is often quite radical, the form deeply tactile.

In terms of Denis’ other films, the one it most resembles is Trouble Every Day. While this is Denis doing a sci-fi film, that was her riff on horror and the vampire sub-genre specifically. Similar to that film, Denis here doesn’t shy away from explicit depictions of sex and violence. Denis has no sense of middle-brow prudishness about her, a large reason why Trouble Every Day and her insidious, disturbing 2013 film Bastards got such hostile reviews from many critics. The often visceral imagery on show here, to go along with a plethora of bodily fluids, works in stark contrast to the tenderness depicted between Monte and his daughter, while also forcing us to confront humans animalistic nature and how this contrasts with our great accomplishments in the advancement of technology, not in a tasteful manner, but with blunt clarity.

This is a film that is rich in theme and texture, where contrasts and contradictions abound. The film lends itself to a vast array of interpretations, with the picture working as a series of snapshots from which the viewer can piece together their interpretation. At times the film seems like it’s a vicious, filthy satire of societal norms, other times it suggests it may be a Christian allegory. One can also just simply submerge themselves in the utterly tangible world of the film. Denis utilises Le Saux’s cinematography, Lecornu’s editing, and her regular collaborator Stuart A. Staple’s terrific score to create a trance-inducing spectacle. The film flits between the long corridors aboard the evocatively simple spaceship to darkly nostalgic 16mm flashbacks of her characters’ pre-space, past to extraordinarily odd and original scenes of eroticism, to scenes of harrowing brutality, to scenes of serene beauty. All the while, Denis exhibits a mastery of tone amidst a vast swathe of ideas, both formal and thematic.

The cast are all uniformly excellent. Goth carries on her recent string of strong supporting turns, while Benjamin brings a low-key warmth to his character. Binoche exhibits her typical charisma, throwing in a splash of dangerous malevolence for good measure. However, the standout out here is, of course, the reliably excellent Pattinson who spends much of the film on-screen on his own or acting opposite his character’s infant daughter. It’s a subtle, magnetic performance – the type that has become his trademark.

This is a wholly uncompromising, deeply evocative and highly intelligent piece of work.

David Prendeville

 

112 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
High Life is released 10th May 2019

 

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Cormac Fox, Ireland’s EFP’s Producer on the Move at Cannes 2019

This month at the Cannes Film Festival, 20 up and coming producers from 20 different countries from throughout Europe participate in ‘Producers on the Move’. The initiative is aimed at connecting young, enterprising European producers with potential co-production partners, strengthening their industry networks and, at the same time, providing a solid and visible platform for this next generation of European filmmakers. They take part in project pitching, 1:1 meetings and case studies, social events and an extensive press campaign, which includes online presentation and profiles in the international trades.

This year Cormac Fox of Vico Films  was selected as Ireland’s EFP Producer on the Move for 2019.

Cormac has produced several feature films for Vico Films, including Fiona Tan’s History’s Future, which premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2015, Peter Foott’s 2016 local breakout hit The Young Offenders, and Sophie Hyde’s Animals which had its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and comes to Irish cinemas later this year. He is currently producing a TV series, Cold Courage, for Viaplay.

Gemma Creagh met Cormac to talk about his career to date as a producer and what to expect in Cannes.

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

 

 

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Watch Irish Short Film: Jelly Baby

Megan Bramble & Charleigh Bailey in Jelly Baby

In Jelly Baby, the hidden desperation of an outwardly tough single mother is revealed when she is forced to find the balance between her maternal duties and her own desires.

Writer / Director Naomi Fagan tells Film Ireland about making her short film.

Jelly Baby was my graduation film, produced during my final year at The National Film School at IADT in 2017.

The film is a naturalistic, social realist piece that gives a voice to those who often go unheard. The narrative interrogates the notion that mothers should either be demonised or idolised. The film explores the middle ground, the nuances of the grey area between what’s conventionally considered right or wrong.

My mam had me when she was a teenager, so I was drawn to discussing the complexities of what it entails to effectively be a child yourself, while being responsible for another. I wanted to look at the concept of maternal expectation, and what happens when a mother just wants to be a person too.

The film was shot in Tallaght; the area I grew up in. Location was incredibly important to me, I wanted to paint a realistic portrait of where I’m from without cliché or sentimentality, to simply reflect Tallaght and its inhabitants as they are.

Cast & Crew

Laura Horgan was our director of photography and we worked closely to develop a visual style that was both raw and poetic. Laura is incredibly talented and intuitive so her style really lent itself to the story.

Isabelle Blanche and I co-produced the film. Isabelle is a director too so she understood the importance of having a strong cast. I wanted the cast to be as authentic as possible with no pseudo working class accents, so it was a lengthy process. We did an open casting for the role of Lauren and were so lucky to find Megan Bramble. She’d never acted professionally before but had an amazing attitude and was a trained dancer, we completely struck gold with her. The first time we had Megan and Charleigh in a room together for rehearsal was magic. Charleigh is an absolute master of her craft so it was a great balance between her and Megan.

The script was essentially used as a blueprint from there, and was brought alive through workshops with the key players. An unpredictability and rawness became infused within the work because of this, and the project began to transform into more than just a fictional narrative.

We were super lucky to have our premiere at The Galway Film Fleadh in 2017. It was amazing to screen the film at such a renowned festival and get instant feedback. It’s been lovely to meet people along the way who’ve said the film resonated with them, it’s always nice to feel like you’re making something legitimate.

 

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Carmel Winters, Writer/Director of ‘Float Like A Butterfly’

Float Like a Butterfly is a powerful and timely story of a girl’s fight for freedom and belonging.  Some people say it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose.  But for Frances losing is not an option – at stake is her own freedom, her mother’s honour and her father’s faith.  

In this podcast, Paul Farren talks to Carmel Winters about her film and the art and craft of filmmaking. 

Float Like A Butterfly is opening in the following sites from today:

  • Cinemax Bantry
  • Eye Galway
  • Gate Cork
  • IFI
  • IMC Dun Laoghaire
  • IMC Galway
  • IMC Savoy
  • Light House
  • Movies @ Dundrum
  • Odeon Coolock
  • Odeon Stillorgan
  • Stella Devlin
  • The Park Clonakilty
  • W Cinema Westport
  • And QFT confirmed for 17 May – the film will be touring the country afterwards

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Irish Film Review: Float Like a Butterfly 

DIR/WRI: Carmel Winters • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Julian Ulrichs • PRO: David Collins, Martina Niland • CAST: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins

Frances is a girl with aspirations larger than her family, and a temper hotter than the fires that they warm themselves around in the evenings, entertaining each other by singing haunting renditions of traditional Irish songs. Her universe is small, contained, and safe, until one fateful afternoon when local law enforcement delivers a sharp uppercut to her childhood, shaking Frances’ life to the core.

Written and directed by Carmel Winters (Snap, 2011), Float Like a Butterfly packs a punch with an emotional sting more potent than a killer bee. Set in 1960’s Ireland, Frances is just about the most unlikely protagonist imaginable, being at a societal disadvantage as a woman, let alone a young traveller woman. Gender roles are entirely inflexible, and the worst insult given to young men is “Don’t be acting like a girl”, forcing them to fight their way through life, as well as to recognise women as the inferior sex, therefore breeding toxic masculinity into the fibers of their community.

Struggling to establish her domain in this world that already has pre-established domesticated plans for her, Frances finds a kindred spirit in the stories of Mohammed Ali, as her father Michael would wax lyrical about him before his incarceration.  Emulating Ali, she knows that she’s the greatest, even before she actually is. Unfortunately, her father returns home from prison a changed man. He no longer shows her how to box, and teaches her little brother that it’s not tolerable for women to hit, but instead acceptable for them to be on the receiving end of a punch. But Frances has an indomitable spirit in comparison to the layabouts that live in the village and the drunks in her family, one that only a beating from a husband will tame. And with this reason in mind, Michael takes her and her younger brother, Patrick, on the road, but as their travels progress and she leaves the relative safety of her extended family behind, her world becomes desaturated, a shadow of its former vibrancy.

Hazel Doupe shines in her performance as Frances. Her steely blue gaze, laden with emotional narrative is accompanied by Dara Devaney’s portrayal of Michael Joyce. With a brash charm that wears thinner with the correlation of whiskey sunk down the hatch; he’s conflicted between admiration for Frances, and the inverse positions of authority established in his absence between his children, one which he often chooses to resolve with a quick hand and a sharp word. The music and score are evocative, joyful, and empowering; female dominated in both presence and lyrics, and the haunting lilt of the tin instruments is synonymous with both Ireland and its travelling community.

Float Like a Butterfly has a rare fervour, whereby it emotes both gut-wrenching sadness and a fighting spirit in one fell swoop. She’s about to choose the path not taken, but “there’s no wrong way when you’re on the right road.” Even if Frances wins this round, the fight is still far from over. Her boxing ring is one of sand, and pride is the prize.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Float Like a Butterfly is released 10th May 2019

 

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Another Look at ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’

Tom Crowley takes an alternative look at Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

 

The true-crime genre has exploded into the public conscious. Its ascension is almost directly parallel to the phenomenon that is Netflix. The more people click on these programmes, the more will be produced and usually with quantity, quality takes a hit. Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger has made a career out of true crime. His masterpiece being 1996’s chilling Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which he directed with long-time collaborator Bruce Sinofsky, now deceased. The style of that documentary formed the basis for the wildly popular Making a Murder (2015), produced by Netflix for the masses hungry to binge watch injustices. Berlinger himself has made a true crime documentary for Netflix, the four-part Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019), which is one of the better entries into the already saturated true-crime canon.

Berlinger’s latest narrative film has the same psychopathic subject at its centre, Ted Bundy, who, before his death by electric chair, confessed to over 30 murders, including that of a 12-year-old girl. In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a title about as glib as the film’s subject, Bundy, played by Zac Efron, gets close-ups to a groovy 1970’s soundtrack. Promotions for the film purport it as being told from the perspective of his long-time girlfriend Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) and that its adapted from her book ‘The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy’.  In fact Liz Kendall gets very little character development, resigned to being goo-eyed when Bundy is wooing her and crying, drinking and neglecting her daughter when Bundy is standing trial. Outside of this we don’t get to know who Kendall is, this is clearly Bundy’s film. He, even above Efron, is the star.

Before readers get disillusioned with the bashing of what has now become a beloved genre, there has been some fabulous and intriguing films about serial killers, from John Naughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), to David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), to more recently Marc Meyers’s My Friend Dahmer (2017) and Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built (2018). Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is just not one of them. The film treats Bundy like a rock star, its structure more akin to a music biopic, and a bad one at that. Berlinger’s film achieves nothing beyond his own Netflix documentary. He strangely leaves out what could have been fictionalised and decides to reconstruct already documented video tapes with Zac Efron. How did Bundy survive on his own for days in the Colorado Mountains? What were the intricacies of his second prison escape? Berlinger is happy to walk over trodden ground. There is an actual interview with Bundy, which acts as a type of epilogue for the film. It ruins Efron’s performance. It is a good embodiment from Efron, in his first real stab at serious acting, he is full of charm, which is said to be one of Bundy’s key tools in his murderous arsenal. However, his eyes are too soft, he never captured the complete mania which exuded from the man.

The title card at the beginning of the film reads ‘Few people have the imagination for reality’.  Berlinger is one of those people, it is fiction he has the problem with.

 

Reda Andrew Carroll’s take here:

Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

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Competition: Win Tickets to Trish McAdam In conversation at the IFI

 

As part of a season dedicated to the work of acclaimed Irish filmmaker Trish McAdam at the IFI (May 7th to 25th), McAdam will be joined by filmmaker Dean Kavanagh on Tuesday, 7th May at 18.30 for a free-flowing conversation about her career in film, her exploration of new visual modes of storytelling and film artistry. The interview will include screenings of McAdam’s recent works. Further details here

Thanks to our friends at the IFI we have a pair of tickets to give away.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply email filmireland@gmail.com with Trish McAdam in the subject line.  The winner will be notified by email on Monday, 6th May at 2pm.

Details of the full season here.

Tickets for the Trish McAdam season are now available from www.ifi.ie/trish-mcadam and from the IFI Box Office on 01-6793477.

The season opens with her newest film Confinement, which recently premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival, and will continue with a comprehensive programme of McAdam’s engaging and varied body of work.

Since production of her early shorts in the 1980s, Trish McAdam has embraced a range of forms and subjects, retaining a distinct, independent voice. McAdam became interested in filmmaking after working in New York with photographer Nan Goldin and Super 8 filmmaker Vivienne Dick, before going on to co-found the hugely influential Ha’penny Film Club. Her 1997 debut feature, Snakes and Ladders, was one of the first Irish films directed by a woman about contemporary women’s lives.

Commenting on the programme, IFI Head of Irish Film Programming Sunniva O’Flynn said, ‘This catalogue of work, made over 30 years, is presented in energetic programmes where short, formally-experimental pieces complement more traditional feature works. McAdam is passionate about her subjects and she serves them with intelligence, humour and meticulous craft.’

Speaking about her collected body of work, Trish McAdam said, ‘I was inspired to become a filmmaker on a long visit to New York in 1979-1980, where I witnessed the energy of the artists in the East Village, making work about themselves for themselves, exhibiting in their own flats, bars and clubs. I found that a very empowering concept, art as a kind of local dialect. My first work was a slide show about New York, which I showed in bars and clubs in Dublin. Ever since, I have been drawn to share the experiences of people I come across, dead or alive, real or imagined, with inner passion, with doubt, and with curious and questioning minds, about how they deal with events, circumstances that are of their own place and time.’

The season opens on Tuesday 7th with screenings of McAdam’s latest works Confinement and Strangers to Kindness. Using motion graphics, live footage and charcoal drawings of patients from rarely-seen 19th century photographs from the National Archives, Confinement explores changes in social control, mental asylums and rehabilitation, from Henrietta Street to Grangegorman, narrated by the imagined words of late artist Tony Rudenko (voiced by Aidan Gillen); the film includes music composed by Roger Doyle.

Strangers to Kindness is a playful re-imagining of a 1980s trip McAdam took to the US. Featuring actress Meghan Healy and music by Vyvienne Long, this timely film focuses on a young woman who accepts a lift from a stranger to a party that does not exist. The event on Tuesday 7th will also include a conversation between McAdam and filmmaker Dean Kavanagh.

Thursday 9th brings a second double-bill with screenings of McAdam’s intimate hour-long 2008 documentary What Am I Doing Here? Centring on actor, writer and political activist Donal O’Kelly as he took his new play Vive La on the road, his initial enthusiasm wanes as the show attracts small audiences following lacklustre reviews. The film will screen with Berlin, an essay piece looking at the German capital in the months following the fall of the Wall as the country headed into reunification.

Hoodwinked, screening on Saturday 11th, sees McAdam reclaim Irish women from generations of obscurity through a prism of notable events including the War of Independence, the Mother and Child Scheme, Northern Ireland and the battle for civil rights, and the invasion of the Forty Foot; the film features contributions from over 30 notable figures including Garry Hynes, Sinéad O’Connor, Leland Bardwell, Catríona Crowe and Mary O’Rourke. Hoodwinked will screen alongside two short films created to raise awareness of the plight of the late Chinese writer and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia.

The season’s final double-bill on Tuesday 21st will feature Flirting with the Light, McAdam’s 2002 documentary following musician Leo O’Kelly as he embarks on recording his first solo album in 25 years, Glare. The film documents the inevitable tensions that arise among creatives and captures the moments of genuine elation when visions are shared. The film will screen alongsideThe Drip, a comical short starring and co-written by Jack Lynch about the catastrophic effects of a night’s drinking.

The season will close on Saturday 25th with a 35mm screening of McAdam’s 1997 debut feature Snakes and Ladders starring Pom Boyd, Gina Moxley, Rosaleen Linehan and the late Sean Hughes. The city of Dublin provides the stage for street performers Jean (Boyd) and Kate (Moxley), while the vibrant music scene of 1990s Dublin and a rousing score by Pierce Turner provide the soundtrack; McAdam has aptly described the film as a ‘funny drama and a serious comedy’.

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Early Irish Cinema: Searching for “Screen Fein” in January 1919 and January 2019

Denis Condon’s blog Early Irish Cinema looks back at the early development of cinema in Ireland on the anniversaries of those developments and offers information on what cinemagoers could have seen in Irish cinemas a century ago. Here Denis explores how cinema responded to or participated in the electoral triumph of Sinn Féin 100 years ago.

Reproduced from the British Newspaper Archive.

In late November 1918, the editorial writer of the British trade journal Bioscope made reference to Sinn Féin, Ireland’s radical independence party, while warning cinema proprietors against involvement in the upcoming “khaki” election – so named because mass demobilization of military personnel had only begun and many voters remained in uniform. “Confound Their Politics!” the article’s main title read – meaning the policies of all political parties – while the subtitle suggested that the trade should remain focused on a result favourable to “Screen Fein: For the Cinema Alone.” The article noted the inevitability that “the moving picture, whose power as an agency for propaganda has been amply demonstrated in the war, would quickly be wooed as a new electioneering instrument by the existing party organisations.” But the writer argued that these parties should be treated warily by the trade: cinema should be politically unaligned.


An Illustrated London News photograph of the first meeting of Dáil Éireann; reproduced from Century Ireland.

Nevertheless, the writer chose to make a bilingual punning reference to Sinn Féin, albeit s/he did feel it necessary to remind his/her reader of how to translate it. The writer didn’t mention Irish politics any more explicitly in the course of the article: Irish politics was both familiar enough to serve as the basis of a pun and fraught enough to be beyond further consideration. Nevertheless, Screen Fein is too suggestive a term not to be reappropriated from this context in which it received little attention. Among its many more contemporary resonances is the recent rebranding of the Irish Film Board as Screen Ireland, which in the longstanding naming practice of Irish public institutions are known by the bilingual titles Bord Scannán na hÉireann/Irish Film Board and now Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland. But it might be more appropriate to repurpose Screen Fein for the intensely political Irish context of late 1918 and early 1919 that saw the electoral triumph of Sinn Féin. Did an Irish screen culture exist that responded to or participated in these events? That is, of course, one of the questions that this blog as a whole attempts to address, and it would consequently answer “yes” and add “but it’s complicated.” An illustration of both the yes and some of its complications can be seen if we focus on cinema’s role in one important historical moment that has received considerable attention a century later: the founding in Dublin on 21 January 1919 of Dáil Éireann, the independent parliament of an Irish republic.

President Michael D Higgins arrives at Dublin’s Mansion House to deliver a keynote address to both house of the Oireachtas on the occasion of the centenary of the first Dáil. Image: president.ie.

In a televised event on 21 January 2019, President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, led speeches to a joint session of the Oireachtas at Dublin’s Mansion House to mark the centenary of the first sitting of Dáil Éireann. Film cameras had also captured the proceedings at the Mansion House a century earlier, when 27 of the members of the Sinn Féin party who had been elected in the December 1918 general election fulfilled their electoral promise by not going to the British parliament in Westminster and instead constituting the parliament of the Irish Republic that had been declared at Easter 1916.

Screenshot of the British Universities Film and Video Council’s record of Topical Budget’s issue on 27 January 1919, featuring Sinn Fein Parliamentas item #3.

One of the five items on Topical Budget’s newsreel released on the Monday following events at the Mansion House was the Sinn Fein Parliament, “the first newsreel to report the establishment of the Dáil” (Chambers 89). Topical Budget may have been the first of the British newsreel companies to show these events, but the Irish Events newsreel appeared on the same day as Topical Budget and gave them far greater prominence. As one film among five, this Topical Budget’s item would have run about a minute in the middle of four other one-minute items. By contrast, for Norman Whitten, proprietor of the Dublin-based General Film Supply company that produced Irish Events, the developments at the Mansion House were not only the most important events of the week but so important that he devoted the full issue of Irish Events to them. Unfortunately, despite its acute historical interest, the film of the first Dáil – in either its Topical Budget or Irish Events form – does not survive to illuminate that historical moment. Nevertheless, in 1919, many people from all over Ireland unable to attend the Mansion House watched the Irish Events version of what had occurred. While they would already have been well informed by the extensive newspaper accounts, in watching the film, they became the kind of mediated eyewitnesses to events that only moving pictures could have facilitated.

The cover of the May 1918 issue of Irish Limelight carried an ad for Irish Events that listed some of its subscribers around the country. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

The Irish Events newsreel of the first Dáil was shown as the weekly edition of Irish Events beginning on Monday, 27 January. It would have been seen by patrons at the cinemas all over Ireland that subscribed to this newsreel. How many cinemas exactly this was in January 1919 is not clear; an ad in the December 1917 issue of the Irish Limelight had put the number of subscribed exhibitors at 50, and a May 1918 ad in the same publication had named 35 premises in 27 Irish cities and towns that offered it. “I would be almost safe in saying,” the Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy speculated in September 1918, “that there is hardly a theatre left in Ireland which does not show it.” This was an exaggeration, but it is likely true that the number of subscribers had at least remained at a high proportion of Irish cinema from when Paddy had made that remark, in the week that the 60th weekly edition of Irish Events (IE 60) had just been released to the release of the first Dáil film as Irish Events no. 81 (IE 81).

This ad for IE 57 is unusual in the detail it provides about the content of this newsreel focused on one of the country’s biggest horse races, the Galway Plate. Dublin Evening Mail 16 Aug. 1918: 2.

Although Irish Events had become an expected part of many cinema’s offerings, its content was rarely mentioned after its first few weeks of novelty in July-August 1917. This is because like the British newsreels Gaumont Graphic, Topical Budget and Pathé Gazette that were also regularly shown in Irish cinemas, it was a five-minute digest of five one-minute social and political news stories that formed part of a two-hour programme headed by a fiction feature. Nevertheless, Irish Events was distinguished from the British newsreels in that its contents were at least occasionally mentioned in ads and notices. On Saturday, 29 June 1918, for example, Dublin’s evening papers named two of the items that were to appear in the following Monday’s edition of Irish Events (IE 51): the Irish Derby and the annual republican pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave at Bodenstown. A month and a half later, many newspaper ads revealed that IE 57 consisted of just one item: a film of the Galway Plate horse race. “It clearly depicts the entire race through from start to finish,” an ad for Dublin’s Dorset Picture Hall reported, “including the wonderful escapes from death of the various jockeys whose mounts came to grief.”

Ad for Dublin’s Rotunda with the Irish Events special Sinn Fein ConventionDublin Evening Mail 26 Oct. 1918: 2.

IE 57 was unusual in focusing on one story, but it appeared as the regular edition of Irish Events that week. Other special films were issued in addition to the numbered weekly edition, and these had to be advertised to alert exhibitors and audiences to their existence. Whitten had a reputation that predated Irish Events for the “hustle” with which he could shoot, process and print a film in time for exhibition just hours after an event had occurred, and he continued this practice after the introduction of Irish Events. “There was a stop-press edition of ‘Irish Events’ issued last Thursday,” the Irish Limelight commented in November 1917. “The Sinn Fein Convention was filmed at 10.30 a.m. on that day, and screened at a Dublin cinema on the same evening. Some hustle!” (“Stop Press”). Instead of holding over the film of the Sinn Féin convention for IE 16, which would be issued on Monday, 29 October 1917, Whitten rushed the film out on the night of 25 October.

Several Dublin cinemas advertised the Irish Events film of the sinking of the Leinster, Dublin Evening Mail 14 Oct. 1918: 2.

It seem anomalous, then, that Whitten had not rushed out the Dáil special on the evening of 21 January 1919 but had instead held it over for almost a  week and issued it as Irish Events’ regular Monday release on 27 January. To a degree this may be explained as an increasing practice of Irish Events over the course of 1918. The Irish Events film of the aftermath of the sinking of the Irish mail boat RMS Leinster appeared as IE 66 on Monday, 14 October 1918, several days after the ship had been torpedoed by a U-boat on 10 October. However, the quite detailed press ads also show that the film remained newsworthy on the Monday of its release because it included footage of the weekend funerals of some of the victims.

Ad for Bohemian Picture Theatre programme featuring the Irish Events newsreel of the first meeting of Dáil Éireann; Dublin Evening Mail 27 Jan. 1919: 2.

This does not seem to have been the case with the film of the Dáil, which looks like it would previously have been seen as a good opportunity for a “stop-press” issue. Much of the information that survives about the film comes from an ad and a brief review of its screenings at the Bohemian Picture Theatre in the Dublin suburb of Phibsboro. The ad reveals that it was indeed an Irish Event special and that it consisted of scenes at the Mansion House, including a group shot of the Sinn Féin members of the Dáil. The review in the Irish Times reported that it was “a special Irish events topical ‘Dail Eireann,’ depicting the principal scenes at the Mansion House on the occasion of the Sinn Fein Assembly” (“Bohemian Picture Theatre”). Little other surviving notice appears to have been taken of the film during the week in which it was on release as IE 81.

Ad offering the film of the sinking of the Leinsterto exhibitors who were not Irish Events’ subscribers; Irish Independent 14 October 1918: 2.

Nevertheless, this was unlikely to have been the end of the screening life of this film or of the others Irish Events films mentioned here. As well as releasing his films on the circuit of subscribed cinemas, Whitten also offered then for individual sale, as he did when on 16 October 1918, he placed ads in the Irish Independent for the film of the sinking of the Leinster. Whitten advertised his newsreel specials long after their original newsworthiness had vanished, boasting on one memorable occasion that that his specials “will attract a larger audience than a six-reel exclusive.”

“Behind the Screen” item on “A National Film Library”; Irish Limelight Oct. 1917: 6. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Beyond these commercial afterlives, the newsreels were seen by some commentators as historically important documents. “The successful launching of the Irish News Film ‘Irish Events,’” observed the Irish Limelight’s “Behind the Screen” columnist in October 1917,

has given a fillip to an interesting suggestion made some time back involving the establishment in this country of a Department of Record whose duty it would be to see that nothing of importance happens in any field without being filmed. (“National Film Library.”)

The writer saw the main advantages of such records in writing and learning history but concluded with the intriguing notion that “the establishment of a department such as suggested would secure for future generations the ability to live, as it were, with those who preceded them.”

“Behind the Scenes” item on first anniversary of Irish Events; Irish Limelight Jul. 1918: 4.

At a more mundane level, the notion of Irish Events as a repository of Ireland’s history persisted and re-emerged on the occasion of the newsreel’s first birthday in July 1918. “Always a lusty infant,” the “Behind the Screen” writer noted, “it has – during its first year of life – succeeded in accumulating a veritable film library of happenings of intense national importance, the preservation of which were alone well worth while” (“Irish Events”). It is certainly true that Irish Events accumulated a vast amount of newsreel footage on Ireland during what is now being commemorated as the Decade of Centenaries.

However, despite the ability of some contemporary observers to see its importance as historical document, no real vision or infrastructure for preservation existed in the 1910s, nor would they co-exist in Ireland until the founding of the Irish Film Archive (IFA) as part of the Irish Film Centre, now Irish Film Institute (IFI), in 1992. As a result, no more than a few fragments of Irish Events still exists, the vast bulk of which is more than likely lost forever. None of the material so far mentioned in this blog survives – or is known to survive – beyond 30 seconds of the Sinn Fein Convention that remains in the IFA’s Sean Lewis Collection. Working from a roughly calculation that each weekly episode of Irish Events lasted 5 minutes, the newsreel had by the time of the appearance of the special on the first Dáil for IE 81 released 6 hours and 45 minutes of edited footage, and this does not count the stop-press issues that appeared in addition to the regular weekly issues or the two further years of material that appeared after IE 81.

Among this lost material is an important document of Irish feminism, which is mentioned in the January issue of the suffragist Irish Citizen. The paper recorded that in the December 1918 election, the first election after women had won the franchise, “veteran Irish suffragist leader” Anna Haslam

recorded her vote in the midst of an admiring feminine throng to cheer her, was presented with a bouquet in suffrage colours for the occasion, and was snapped by an enterprising film company as one of the “Irish Events” of the Election.” (“Activities.”)

Like the Dáil film, this key moment of Irish social and political history captured in moving pictures exists now only in brief written records.

Introductory page to the Irish Independence Film Collection on the IFI Player.

Despite such great losses, it is heartening to be able to finish this blog by acknowledging that all is not lost, and that 2018 saw the arrival of two particularly useful online resources for Irish cinema history: the IFI’s Irish Independence Film Collection (IIFC) and the British Library’s digitization of the Bioscope. One of the 13 collections of Irish films that are available on the online viewing platform and app IFI Player, IIFC provides access to 139 British Pathé and Topical Budget newsreels items on Ireland from the period 1900-30. Access to these films is not geoblocked; they are readily and freely available through the IFI’s website and app.

A comparison of the quality of the available copies of this 1913 British Pathé film of Jim Larkin shows the undoubtedly better quality of the IIFC copy(right) than the version available on Pathé’s YouTube channel (left).

Some of Pathé’s surviving Irish material has been available on the company’s website and YouTube channel, but IIFC is not just a case of the IFI hosting existing material on its player. For a start, the quality of the new IIFC copies is far better than the material previously available, the result of rescanning the film elements to produce high-definition copies. This increased quality has already revealed and will continue to reveal previously indiscernible details. Although taking the Irish material from Pathé’s website decontextualizes it from that production milieu, historians Lar Joyce and Ciara Chambers provide it with an Irish perspective that is quite different from the British one the newsreels themselves espouse. In the process, they frequently correct misidentifications of people, places and incidents, as well as improper cataloguing for these and other reasons. As the scholar who has done most to analyze the surviving British newsreels’ representation of Ireland through her 2012 book Ireland in the Newsreels and the 2017 television series Éire na Nuachtscannán, Chambers offers particularly incisive commentary on how British newsreels presented a view of events in Ireland favourable to the British establishment.

Comparison of images taken from the newly digitized Bioscope and its microfilmed predecessor; 7 Dec. 1916: 1031.

The different kind of coverage provided by Irish Events during much of the Irish revolutionary decade is not mentioned in IIFC, but it can be glimpsed through the pages of such trade journals as the Bioscope. The most important of British trades for the 1910s, the Bioscope offered significant coverage of Ireland, and it has now been digitized. This has implications not only for searching but also for images, which are barely visible on microfilm but are readily useable from the high-quality scans.

While this is a great improvement on the existing situation, it is not of the standard set by the Media History Digital Library (MHDL), Eric Hoyt’s University of Wisconsin project to digitize media trade journals and fan magazines. While MHDL is a free resource, the digitized Bisocope is only available with a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive (BNA), a digitization partnership between the British Library and the genealogy company findmypast. But by paying the subscription, you do not gain access to a better technology. As well as being free, MDHL allows greater interaction – searching, navigating and downloading – with the scanned volumes than does BNA. For those with a BNA subscription, the two projects can be compared directly because MHDL has digitized a few early 1930s’ volumes of the Bioscope that are also part of BNA. Nevertheless, Irish subscribers to BNA also have access to many Irish newspapers, both national and local, that have been and continue to be digitized as part of the project.

Despite some reservations, all of these resources are helping to reveal aspects of Screen Fein, Ireland’s own cinema of a century ago.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Bohemian Picture Theatre.” Irish Times 29 Jan. 1919: 2.

British Newspaper Archive. Find My Past/British Library. www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Chambers, Ciara. Ireland in the Newsreels. Irish Academic Press, 2012.

“Confound Their Politics! The Trade’s Election Prospects: ‘Screen Fein’: For the Cinema Alone.” Bioscope 28 Nov. 1918: 4.

“‘Irish Events.’—Many Happy Returns.” Irish Limelight Jul. 1918: 4.

Irish Independence Film Collection. Irish Film Institute, ifiplayer.ie/independencefilms.

“A National Film Library.” Irish Limelight Oct. 1917: 6.

Paddy. “Irish Notes: The General Opinion.” Bioscope 5 Sep. 1918: 91.

“Stop Press.” Irish Limelight Nov. 1917: 13.

Tracy, Tony. “Goodbye Irish Film Board, Hello Screen Ireland.” RTÉ, 23 Nov. 2018, rte.ie/eile/brainstorm/2018/1122/1012662-goodbye-irish-film-board-hello-screen-ireland.

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Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

DIR: Joe Berlinger • WRI: Michael Werwie • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Josh Schaeffer • PRO: Joe Berlinger, Nicolas Chartier, Michael Costigan, Ara Keshishian, Michael Simkin • DES: Brandon Tonner-Connolly • MUS: Marco Beltrami, Dennis Smith • CAST: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan

 

The ability to kill someone is something that should not be easy or even enjoyable and yet serial killers are subjects of intense obsession for many. David Fincher’s masterpiece Zodiac ran with the tagline “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer” and a dozen years later it seems Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is the inheritor to this phrase. The new phase of the serial killer film is here; one in which filmmakers examine the impact on the victims rather than the violent actions that often don’t bare repeating.

In 1969 Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins) meets Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) in a Seattle bar. They settle into a relationship over the next several years as Ted studies law in Utah while visiting Liz and her daughter on weekends. All the while Ted has been brutally murdering and raping women in the states of Washington, Utah, Colorado and Florida. As Liz begins to suspect that all is not right, Ted’s crimes catch up with him in Utah and Colorado but after two daring escapes he is finally caught in Florida and put on trial.

Much controversy has been made about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Films like Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer have given horror films an unnecessary outlet. The simple fact is that their crimes don’t need to be painstakingly replicated either through fiction or documentary. A verbal description is enough which is what Berlinger does here. Another point of contention was Efron’s casting as a handsome, charming murderer with a killer set of baby blues. Which is exactly what Ted Bundy was.

Efron is magnetic in the title role. The film orbits around him more by necessity than by choice. Throughout Efron rarely allows the façade to slip just as Bundy did. Only in a chilling final scene the day before Bundy’s execution are we given a glimpse of this man’s cold, monstrous nature. It’s an incredible exercise in restraint on both Berlinger and Efron’s part. It makes that final reveal – amplified by Collins’ wounded shock – all the more chilling. It wouldn’t mean much if Collins and Efron didn’t play so well off each other though.

The start of the movie is a haphazard back and forth between three time periods. When Ted meets Liz, Ted’s first arrest in Utah and his execution in Florida. Eventually the film – much like Berlinger’s companion Netflix series Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes – settles and the true effect of Bundy’s crimes are revealed. It’s here we see Liz descend into a kind of walking catatonia. She obsessively watches the Florida trial, drinks heavily and neglects her personal and professional lives. Berlinger’s focus may be on Ted Bundy for most of the film but his sympathy and respect lies with the victims.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is shot with a kind of intimacy uncommon to serial killer films. Cinematographer Brandon Trost’s use of close-ups in intimate moments shared by Bundy and his girlfriends are either very affecting or emblematic of how manipulative Bundy was.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile does two things extraordinarily well. First, it eviscerates the myth that the crimes of serial killers need to be shown in all their gratuity. Secondly it establishes Zac Efron as a dramatic force worth considering. Most of all Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile shows a great deal of empathy to those that never really received it: the victims. As the names of Bundy’s known victims appear in the final shot Berlinger makes clear that Bundy was not the sun around which the universe of this film revolved. He was in fact a cavernous, unfathomable black hole sucking even light itself into its crushing depths.

Andrew Carroll

110 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil is released 3rd May 2019

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Review: Woman at War

DIR: Benedikt Erlingsson • WRI: Benedikt Erlingsson, Ólafur Egill Egilsson •  PRO: Benedikt Erlingsson, Carine Leblanc, Marianne Slot • DOP: Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson •  ED: Davíð Alexander Corno •  Music: Davíð Þór Jónsson • CAST: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Magnús Trygvason, Eliasen, Ómar Guðjónsson

The title of the film Woman at War perfectly captures the essence of this film – one woman on a relentless crusade for justice. However, the battle in question is a universal one rather than a personal one; global warming is the issue this woman is fighting for. Benedikt Erlingsson’s film is set in his native Iceland and includes a powerful central performance from Icelandic actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir. The film begins by showing the sparse and striking Icelandic landscape; the protagonist, Halla, a clandestine eco-terrorist cuts off the electricity supply affecting the surrounding industrial factories which Iceland are economically dependent on. Woman at War calls into question our own inability as a society to effectively deal with the overarching problem of our times – global warming – while also revealing the consequences of taking matters into your own hands.

While climate change is a global issue, this film focuses instead on one woman’s response to tackling global warming and the effect this has on her personal life and livelihood. When introduced to Halla it is clear that this woman has a functioning place in society and involves very few associates in her eco-conscious attacks. However, the character’s lifestyle choices are called into question when the possibility arises for her to adopt a child. As Halla’s actions are drawing more and more attention, the choice becomes clear: continue fighting for the life of generations to come or save the life of one child in the here and now.

To a certain extent this film highlights the effects that global warming is having on our society, looking beyond the realities of pollution and extreme weather it examines global warming as a point of moral conflict. This film explores the morality of our generation – while her extreme actions may be illegal, Halla views them as essential for the greater good. It is clear that the society Halla exists within can only focus on its everyday realities – fears of pay cuts and a lack of industry investment. Global warming in the context of this film reflects the individual’s own sense of morality.

Another focal point in this film includes the idea of man versus machine, with an emphasis on traceability. With the hope of adoption on the way it becomes increasingly important that Halla can ensure her criminal record remains clean. However, Halla is not ready to give up her environmental struggle in an instant for motherhood. Enraged by the havoc her country’s economy is wreaking on the planet, Halla must battle this out by herself and in doing so we see the conflict of man versus machine. Even in the wilds of Icelandic mountain land, drones and helicopters circulate the area, yet with her bow and arrow and the comical inclusion of a Nelson Mandela mask, there are moments when man defeats machine, giving us hope that Halla can succeed on her mission. In a data-driven world one of the most fascinating parts of the film are the lengths Halla must go to in order to prevent getting caught – phones in freezers, stealing typewriters and costume changes to name a few. While imaginative, this also reveals just how monitored the world has become.

While Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir perfectly encapsulates the defiant and risk-taking Halla, her performance as Halla’s identical sister, Asa, is also equally engaging. Neither of these sisters fit into particularly conventional roles within society and together they represent a sort of yin and yang combination. Both fight for peace – Halla on a global level and Asa on an inner level through yoga and meditation. Halla’s sister believes that through finding peace within ourselves this will have positive ripple effect onto others and therefore the planet. However, Halla believes in taking action and doesn’t see the benefit of looking inwardly to find solutions. Asa can be viewed as a contrast to Halla to highlight Halla’s extremism, bravery and willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good. While Halla’s sister may not be as active as Halla in her actions both sisters demonstrate a strong sense of resolution and selflessness – qualities that do not appear to be evident in their government, police force and society.

While this film can be seen as realist in that it focuses on current topics and displays less conventional members of society, there are certain aspects to this film that require an extension of belief. Throughout the film there is a brass band that serves to express the protagonists inner emotions; while the music is excellently timed and adds a touch of humour, it alters the serious tone of the film somewhat. While Halla clearly knows how to remain inconspicuous, there are a couple of moments within the film that have an air of Deus-Ex-Machina about them.

Ultimately this is a gripping and intelligent film which tackles the biggest problem of our time with flair. It was interesting to see global warming represented from both a moral and a personal angle – not typically how global warming is presented on screen. While the film reveals the urgency of climate change it is also an ode to nature,  with shots of striking Icelandic mountains, hot springs and lakes, revealing nature as both restorative and a refuge. Woman at War is an excellent representation of human will and the need to do what is right even if this goes against the structure of society.   

 Irene Falvey

100 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Woman at War is released 3rd May 2019

 

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Call For: Director of Writers Guild of Ireland

The Writers Guild of Ireland wishes to appoint a Director to replace David Kavanagh, who is taking a post in Europe.

The Guild are seeking a dynamic and driven person, who can manage and develop their existing goals and policies and, building on their ambitions for the Guild, lead the organisation in its next stage. The ideal candidate should have excellent negotiation skills, some experience in policy development and execution, and be passionate about the arts in Ireland, and writers and their requirements in particular.

The Director will represent the organisation nationally and internationally.

The successful candidate will have knowledge or experience of negotiation, familiarity with principles of copyright contracts and a good understanding of the film, television and theatre industries in Ireland. The guild is in receipt of state funding and a knowledge of application processes and procedures would be an advantage. The full-time post is for a minimum of three years, based on a six-month probation period and an annual salary review.  Annual salary €40,000.

Additional information and a description of the application and appointment procedure can be received on request from:   info[at]script.ie

Applications including c.v. should be emailed to:   info[at]script.ie by COB Friday, May 24th 2019.

Initial interviews will take place on Thursday 6th or Friday 7th June 2019.

The successful candidate is expected to start work on or about the 2nd September 2019.

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Review: Avengers: Endgame

DIR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo • WRI: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt • PRO: Kevin Feige • DES: John Plas, Charles Wood • MUS: Alan Silvestri • CAST: Brie Larson, Robert Downey Jr., Karen Gillan

Hard to believe that in eleven years Marvel have produced twenty two films all set in the one shared world whilst hovering around in the background has been an eleven-year threat of a menacing villain called Thanos, who has taken longer to arrive on the scene than the dragons in Game of Thrones.  My but aren’t superhero movies fans a patient lot.

Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of all that waiting and world building and Infinity stone learning (if you were actually paying attention what started with Iron Man and has built steadily ever since to create the phenomenon we know today). Taking its cue from the Marvel comics shared universe Marvel studios has built a similar world, where every film counts for its connection to the others in its shared universe.

Avengers: Endgame is a film so critic-proof that if every one of them gave this film a bad review it will still be the phenomenal success it is surely going to be. A milestone was already created with Infinity Wars record box office, the first half of this Avengers tale; and with a bummer of an ending too. Half of the universe wiped out with the click of Thanos’ fingers and his Infinity stone laden gauntlet, more importantly half the heroes in the Marvel universe, they killed Spider-man for Christ’ sakes.

That film, a tragic space opera if you will, was always going to be a hard act to follow. Of course no one will be walking into this film thinking they are all dead forever. The question is how would they save everyone? And there lies the rub for some, (critics mostly).

The main plot thrust offered is a good old fashioned time-travel yarn complete with references to every other time-travel film they could think of just to point out how ridiculous time travel is and set up their own rules. Trust me, when you see it you will be amused. What makes all of this work are the emotional stakes of the story and the rumour mill letting us know enough to suspect the loss of some heroes along the way; as Marvel movies go this is at least ten hankies worth of tears for the average fan.

Endgame is an unadulterated crowd pleaser, not so much a film as an event. The Russo brothers now on their fourth Marvel movie handle everything with storytelling skill of their comic book forebears as opposed to the likes of Chekov and understand quite well the old axiom of giving the public what the public want. All the necessary heroes get the right amount of screen time and for every laugh there are other things happening to balance it all out.

This one is critic-proof, it was made with love for the fans, the true believers and no amount of critical thinking can really understand what it all means to the ones that really care; no matter how they might deconstruct or criticize the proceedings, that have brought eleven years of storytelling to some shocking conclusions and created new horizons for the fans to continue their worship of all things Marvel.

Paul Farren

180 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Avengers: Endgame is released 26th April 2019

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Review: Donbass

DIR/WRI: Sergei Loznitsa •  DOP: Oleg Mutu • ED: Danielius Kokanauskis • PRO: Heino Deckert • DES: Kirill Shuvalov • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Valeriu Andriuta, Nina Antonova, Valeriy Antonyuk

The complexity and atrocity of war can be difficult to encapsulate within the running time of a film.  Sergei Loznitsa’s film Donbass rejects a linear recounting of the events leading up to the tensions in eastern Ukraine – instead the film is composed of a series of vignettes. These scenes portray a bizarre yet illuminating insight into the division in Ukraine between civilians that are Pro-Russian separatists and those that sympathise with Europe and the West. While the film is often farcical and dramatic it never fails to reveal the tyranny that the affected civilians must suffer.   

This film successfully manages to show the harsh realities of a conflicted war-zone with the addition of a heavy note of sarcasm and exaggeration. Much like the unexpected nature of war, the film jumps from one vignette to the next; the viewers never know which snippet of the war will be revealed next.

Direct conflict and battle scenes rarely feature; instead we witness how war has seeped into different aspects of culture/society and the civilian’s way of thinking and being. The film has many windows which provide a glimpse into the civil unrest – the scenes are high energy and have a sense of theatricality. For example, one of the first short vignettes includes a boisterous, feisty woman who has been slandered in the newspaper pour a bucket of what can be presumed is excrement over the head of a government figure. Her brash actions are a consequence of media manipulation and deception of the public- just one aspect of corruption at large in Ukraine.

While many of the stories in this film are similar in tone to the above, others bring us back to the reality of war, depicting the lives of civilians who have no power to stop its effects. The footage of a bomb shelter dwelling for those that have been left homeless due to the conflict quickly reminds the viewer that war can’t always be glazed over with humour. Inside, one of the residents guides the viewer through the shelter; his positive attitude clashing starkly with the grim interior he describes – dark, dingy, over-crowded and lacking in sanitation and supplies. Notably some residents turn their face away as the camera draws closer – they don’t want others to know what they have been reduced to. Stripped of comedy, it is this scene in the film that most effectively depicts the real everyday consequences of war.

Donbass doesn’t shy away from the gruesome nature of war. In particular this is illustrated through the somewhat medieval tactic of tying a soldier to a post in the middle of a public place to let passers-by do as they wish to punish him. The reactions reveal a comical, barbaric mob mentality (a tomato is genuinely shoved in his face) yet the aggression he receives also unveils a deep-seated sense of hatred and despair amongst the civilians. The film walks the line between satire and the reality of war – this scene perfectly combines them both.   

While peppered with many dark laughs, ultimately Donbass depicts the grim political landscape of the tensions in Ukraine. It provides a resounding impression of the conflict, the division and the denial of human rights in this border region.

Irene Falvey

110 minutes

Donbass is released 26th April 2019


 

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Jobs in Film

Check out our list of jobs and opportunities in the Irish film industry. If you have a vacancy you’d like us to share, email filmireland@gmail.com

 

Head of Film & Television at the Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) Deadline is Friday 14th June 2019.

Associate Producer Xpose. Virgin Media Television Deadline is June 14th, 2019
Full Time Shooter and Editor One Productions Deadline is June 14th 2019. Email: production @ oneproductions.com

Production Assistant.  Brown Bag Films. Deadline is 31st May 2019.

The Arts Council is seeking a Project Lead for the implementation of its Equality, Human Right and Diversity policy. Deadline is 1pm Wednesday 29 May 2019.

Screen Skills Ireland Marketing, Communications and Policy Co-Ordinator. Deadline is May 27th.

The Writers Guild of Ireland wishes to appoint a Director. Deadline is COB Friday, 24th May 2019.

Festival Programmer Vacancy at Kerry International Film Festival. Deadline is Friday, 24th May 2019.

Glasseye seek a Camera Operator / Video Editor.  Email: talent @ glasseye.ie  Deadline is May 24th, 2019

Screen Scene require Runners. Deadline is 22nd May 2019. Apply Now / Email: info@screenscene.ie

Lecturer/Lecturer below the bar in Video/Film and Visual Communication.  Deadline is 20th May 2019.

Regional Film Co-Ordinator. Deadline is 12.00pm Friday, 17th May 2019.

Production Manager. Cartoon Saloon. Deadline is 16th May 2019.

Film Artist in Residence (Screenwriter) University College Cork. Deadline is 2nd May 2019.

Screen Ireland Inward Production Coordinator. Deadline is 2nd May 2019.

 

Submissions & Funding Deadlines

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Irish Film Review: The Dig

DIR: Andy Tohill, Ryan Tohill • WRI: Stuart Drennan • DOP: Angus Mitchell • ED: Helen Sheridan • PRO: Brian J. Falconer • DES: Ashleigh Jeffers • MUS: James Everett • CAST: Francis Magee, Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Emily Taaffe

Northern Irish directors, Ryan and Andy Tohill, invite us to delve deep into the mire that is The Dig, as a small community is ravaged by an unresolved murder, a family is torn apart, and the truth is attempting to climb out of its water logged grave.

Ronan Callaghan (Moe Dunford), a stain on the local community has come home, and judging from the dilapidated house that he returns to, coupled with James Everett’s effectively somber score, his homecoming is not a joyous one. We learn early on that he has recently been released from jail for the murder of a local girl, Niamh, a night that he was too black out drunk to remember. Despite having served his time, Ronan’s sentence is far from over, as Niamh’s father, Séan (Lorcan Cranitch), and sister, Roberta (Emily Taaffe), are mining for the truth on the bog that his family owns. Persecuted from every angle, he attempts to solve the mystery of the holes in his memory, as well as the guilt that filters through him like silt, and so he picks up the spade to help Séan and begins to dig deeper.

With more shades of grey than an E.L. James novel, but with actual depth, The Dig avoids straightforward character development like a pothole in the road. The narrative is gradually excavated as the film progresses, moving from almost pure visual storytelling, into unveiling strategies such as solely using the protagonist’s surname in an attempt to dehumanise him, evolving into the ponderous enigma that is the night in question. Stuart Drennan’s writing elegantly weaves Irish mythology into this murder mystery, as well as ties in a reference to the Old Croghan Man, a remarkably well-preserved Iron Age bog body found in Offaly in 2003. The use of earth tones and natural light mirror the land in which it is set, contrasting with the abnormality of the murderous act itself, as Angus Mitchell’s cinematography employs sparse, wide shots of the landscape, allowing us to bear witness to the magnitude of the job that Séan and Ronan have ahead of them.

Metaphor is integral to the plot, insisting that the viewer recognise clues and personality traits through the use of analogies and colour. Ronan is clearly the house to which he returns to, abandoned, decimated by locals, and previously coming apart at the seams with alcohol. The bog in which they search for Niamh’s body is peppered with holes, marked with red and blue flags, which cleverly hint to the conclusion. Except for the first one that Ronan encounters; a single white flag, a surrender, and an acceptance to whatever fate awaits him as he shovels his own war trench.

Although The Dig may not fulfil the plot-heavy murder mystery category that some people may hope for, the premise is both novel and consuming, as a murderer helps a grieving father search for that which he took from him. There is substance to be found in the pursuit as the Tohill’s have purposely devised a bleak visceral experience. Yet perhaps they should have stayed more in the realms of Seamus Heaney than Agatha Christie, as when they veer more towards the latter the plot becomes increasingly conventional and more shallow than their earlier narrative. Nevertheless, what they have created is a striated and near tangible experience rather than an affected whodunit.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com 

97 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Dig is released 26th April 2019

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Review: Wild Rose

DIR: Tom Harper • WRI: Nicole Taylor • DOP: George Steel • ED: Mark Eckersley • PRO: Faye Ward • DES: Lucy Spink • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Julie Walters, Jessie Buckley, Craig Parkinson |

In search of ‘three chords and the truth’, Jessie Buckley stars as Rose-Lynn Harlan who’s a country singer aspiring to swap her native Glasgow for her spiritual home of Nashville, Tennessee. Rose-Lynn’s journey there is already derailed after a stint in prison and any chance of a country career is hampered by the fact her cowboy boots are that bit more difficult to put on with a home arrest tag encompassing her ankle. Rose-Lynn begins work as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), and upon discovering her love for country music, she encourages Rose-Lynn to pursue this dream. Yet, the dominant drawback to her dreams is her home arrest and the fact that she has two young children who have to be mothered by their grandmother Marion (Julie Walters). Rose-Lynn needs to seek her truth and do what it takes to be the country singer she yearns to become.

Jessie Buckley’s performance is simply exceptional in Wild Rose. She really makes you believe in, and encourage, Rose-Lynn’s aspirations. Yet, Nicole Taylor’s impressive script allows you to be immersed in both Rose-Lynn’s dreams and realities – you root for her character to succeed but you also want to sit Rose-Lynn down and plead with her to prioritise certain aspects in her life before taking Nashville on headfirst. Her motherhood is something she’s ignorant of in pursuit of her music career and her own mother constantly reminds her of this fact.

Marion and Susannah are the two characters representative of this duality within Rose-Lynn’s life. A reliably-strong offering from Julie Walters as Marion focuses on the cold truths of Rose-Lynn’s motherhood and her ignorance of her duties as a mother to her two children. Country stardom must wait, according to Marion, whilst Susannah sees Rose-Lynn as an ingénue who needs the emotional and financial backing to reach the heights Rose-Lynn isn’t afraid of climbing. Susannah is the force driving Rose-Lynn to send footage of herself singing to Whispering Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2; Marion then tries to drive Rose-Lynn in the opposite direction and acknowledge that she’s neglecting her responsibilities as a parent to children who have been sidelined enough.

Wild Rose’s mise-en-scene is reminiscent of the Glasgow in Robert Carlyle’s The Legend of Barney Thomson or I, Daniel Blake’s Newcastle but we expect an upturn in her life, and once she gets to Nashville, cinematographer George Steel suitably introduces warmer tones that captures Rose-Lynn’s fish-out-of-water nervous excitement. The narrative is maintained by Taylor’s script and there are avenues you expect the film to explore but doesn’t. Susannah’s husband Sam, when he finally arrives on screen, could lead to an inevitable falling out with Susannah, but another scenario is chosen. Also, the film initially teases a rivalry with a singer (Craig Parkinson) who replaces Rose-Lynn as the local country bar’s resident singer whilst she’s serving time, but it also opts to avoid this plot point from developing. Overall, there is lots of humour here that balances with the drama and it makes for a well-crafted film that you can easily admire and enjoy.

Thankfully, we are treated to a film with a performance from an actor that was recently nominated in the Rising Star category at the BAFTA Awards and will undoubtedly be contesting main acting categories in the near future. Jessie Buckley makes this film her own and it takes an actor of high calibre to carry a film like Wild Rose. Rose-Lynn’s a showgirl, but she’s also human. Buckley can perform the on-stage and backstage elements of Rose-Lynn, and with the closing musical number akin to Lady Gaga’s in A Star is Born, the emotional arc of the film can be translated on-screen by Buckley’s acting and singing.

Wild Rose could easily descend into parody but it doesn’t. Jessie Buckley plays the three chords that allows Rose-Lynn to find her truth and we’re treated to a very special performance.

Liam Hanlon

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Dig is released 12th April 2019

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Review: What They Had

DIR: Elizabeth Chomko • WRI: Elizabeth Chomko • DOP: Robert Schaefer • ED: Helen Sheridan • PRO: Albert Berger, Bill Holderman, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval • DES: Ed Tom McArdle • CAST:  Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner, Taissa Farmiga

This is not a feel-good movie.  That said, it has depth and many will identify with the content.  The film opens on grainy footage of a man carrying a woman down the street on a sunny day, both parties laughing and hugely enjoying the moment. The context of that moment is movingly revealed much later in the film. The scene is related to the title of the film.

What They Had is essentially about the impact of Dementia on family relationships as the Dementia deteriorates. There are related themes here also such as duty and loyalty within a family. Here, (like most families), duty and loyalty may have different interpretations across the family.

Ruth (Blythe Danner) is being cared for full-time by her elderly husband Burt in their home in Chicago (great performance from Robert Forster). He is struggling in his role as carer though he is loath to accept support from his two adult children Nick (Michael Shannon) and Bridget (Hilary Swank).

Burt is a man with strong moral and religious values which he regularly articulates in word and action. Though he loves his adult children, he is openly and regularly critical of them. He is not a believer in light touch regulation.

Burt is scathing about Nick’s career choice as a bartender and seems reluctant to acknowledge that Nick now has his own Bar. I found Nick instantly dislikeable, though that impression mellowed as the film progressed.

Burt is equally tough on his daughter Bridget  (played by Hilary Swank), who travels from California with her daughter when she realises that her father is struggling and that her brother is making no headway in trying to persuade Burt  that residential care may at this stage be the best option for their mother.

Bridget is herself struggling with her relationship with her teenage daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). Her minimal phone contact with her husband speaks for itself.  While the story is seen primarily through the eyes of Bridget, the film is an ensemble piece with each of the characters having something of a story arc.

This is the debut feature for writer/director Elizabeth Chomko. Ms Chomko has a background in Theatre as both an actor and playwright. She has elicited fine performances from all of her principal cast, all of whom have a depth of character which is a credit to the writing as well as the directing. It is a courageous choice of subject matter.

The influence of her theatre background is evident in this film in both the writing and directing. I felt the film may have had its roots in a stage play and could certainly be adapted to the stage. That is not to say that it doesn’t work as a film. The subject matter lends itself to a confined world.

Hilary Swank has two credits on this film. Apart from being the lead actor, she also has a credit as executive producer, which suggests she has strongly endorsed this project.

There are some very moving sequences in the film, though one or two predictable outcomes also.

What They Had has an authenticity which gives the strong impression of the story coming from personal experience. Despite the gravity and tragedy of the story, there are comic moments throughout.

Brian O’Tiomain

101 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
What They Had is released 1st March 2019

What They Had –  Official Website

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Danny Hiller: Writer/Director of ‘Out of Innocence’

During an investigation into the murder of a baby, local Gardaí put pressure on a young mother and her family. Confused and scared, she confesses to a crime she did not commit and is charged with murder. Based on the Kerry Babies case, Danny Hiller’s timely drama puts 1980s Ireland under the microscope. This film doesn’t shy away from examining the power dynamics within the Irish state bodies; the dismissal of young female voices; the disregard of the Catholic Church for vulnerable parishioners and most importantly, the intense personal struggle of one woman and the lasting effect it had on her family.

Gemma Creagh talks to writer/director Danny Hiller about his film, which screens in Irish cinemas in April.

First of all, can you tell me what drew you to telling this particular narrative?

If anything, it’s something that followed me, to be honest. I come from an Irish family and, as happens with Anglo-Irish families, the Aunts would send over newspapers to my mother – which were a week out of date. I started to become curious about this story. Then you move away from it – but, as an event, it kept turning up for me. Once, when I was flying over home, I opened a double-spread paper – it must have been an early anniversary – and all the information was there again. It wasn’t a case of me thinking it would be a smart idea to explore this material. In some way, it came after me.

 

When you contemplate the reality of this story, it’s actually ridiculous, yet in some ways not surprising in the context of Ireland in the ‘80s.

The ’80s were a difficult time if you look at the behaviour in both Ireland and the UK. I was split growing up between the two and I think that era was uniquely difficult, both in terms of the jurisdiction of the law and the general kind of mania and behaviour towards women. If you look at that evidence now it would just be laughed out.

I wasn’t interested in the ‘whodunit’ element, and didn’t want to elicit any kind of thrill out of it. What interested me was how human beings survive all that. In most of the work I’ve done – in theatre as well as I was actually a theatre director for years before I moved into film – I’m always drawn to characters where their life is in a crisis, without being grand about it. That was just a fascination. That’s probably because of my own working-class background. I came in trying to understand how you would deal with it, survive it, and move on from it. By the time I’d finished researching, it almost wasn’t the story that it was, it was the story it became.

 

Can you tell me about the process of this film getting made – from script through funding to screen. How long did that take?

All films take a long time. Sometimes it can be embarrassing to say how long it takes! But it took years to get it to this position. It started out with my exec producer, John Davey, and to give you a measure of the commitment, I remember John saying to me one day ‘this is such an important story. Even if we don’t make any money out of it, we should make this film.’ This was never a film that was made for personal gain or profit. We just both felt that it needed to be made.

After this, I started the whole journey of research. I’ve spoken to so many people and done so much research in archives. The very first person I spoke to outside of my own immediate group and my family was the car park attendant at the Brandon hotel, which is where some of the people stayed during the hearing. I just wanted to get a sense of what happened on the ground. From there, I moved away and made it a more abstracted story.

Financially, John and I stood together on it early on. To get it over the line we then paired with  Paul Cummins at Telegael. Then of course we were able to be beneficiaries of the very good Irish film tax break – section 481, which is massively helpful for filmmakers. Without that government support we would never made the it – we didn’t have any other funding at all it was all self-funded.

And also our actors were all sympathetic to the fact that this is not a film with a huge budget. They were all brilliant about making this film work from their point of view too. At every stage, there was great support and, in a way, I had an easy time because people said yes a lot.  

 

You’ve got a plethora of great roles for women in this. It’s a weighty piece for an actor to get their teeth into. There’s a big emotional arc and yet it’s very thoughtfully written. There’s a lot there to attract strong actors, which you could tell because the performances were incredible!

The performances are incredible – thank you. Especially if you look at the family, the performances were a gift really and to work with this company was an honour. We did long days; it’s hard making a low budget film but in terms of the artistic curve of the rehearsal and the shoot, it was thrilling. Everyone understood it politically. It’s a very fine cast. Fiona Shaw is unbelievably brilliant to work with… and then the accompanying Ruth McCabe, Fionnuala Flaherty, Judith Roddy and then the boys as well – the two brothers, Alun Armstrong. People stepped into this and what was interesting for me was that they got the groove of it straight away. Everybody embraced and understood Out of Innocence culturally and that was a great benefit.

 

It means a lot for people to have those stories recognised on screen. We’ve been with living with them in Ireland for a long time as news pieces but it’s important for the healing process to see them represented in this way. There’s a ‘truth’ to this even outside the context of the specific story.

Well that’s exactly it. It needs to have its own truth rather than the literal truth. That’s exactly what I went after. Way way back when I started out, I was very interested in looking at a number of situations in Ireland where young women had been put into a situation that was difficult or challenging or unworthy. I tried at one time to bring a number of these stories together but it felt too episodic and, in a way, the one story that we ended up with was so enormously important politically and socially that I stepped back and just let the story run its course.

 

It looks stunning. It’s shot so well, with great attention to detail in the production design. Plus, it’s so atmospheric and tense at times – yet the emotional arc wasn’t overpowered too much stylistically. What was your prep there?

The prep was the gift of Seamus Deasy, the cinematographer. He is unbelievably gifted. We had a conversation one day and we were talking about the look at the film. He asked me what kind of look I wanted to get and I had to say to him: ‘listen I don’t use a monitor so, if it’s ok, I’m going to share the camera with you.’ He said: ‘well if you’re going to do that, I’m going to operate and we’ll make the film shoulder to shoulder.’

Through those discussions, Seamus then said to me, ‘I’ve got this ambition to do it as if we weren’t there.’ I absolutely went with that. We didn’t get into any of those external decisions filmmakers make. Obviously you have to make certain decisions because it’s part of the grammar of making a film – but we didn’t want to get into that area of focus pulls and those technical interruptions of the emotional truth. We both agreed this was how to do the film. Let’s not have a big generator outside. Let’s go with available lights and let’s shoot it shoulder to shoulder and let’s not intrude. What Seamus did, I think is poetic; to capture the feeling that he did in this film.

 

Out of Innocence was released in Irish cinemas on 12th April 2019.

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