The Dublin Feminist Festival: Filmmaker Carmen García & Programme Manager Dr Jennifer O’Meara

In this podcast, Gemma Creagh is joined by Carmen García and Dr Jennifer O’Meara to talk about the Dublin Feminist Film Festival, which runs 22 – 24 August 2019.

Carmen García is a feminist videojournalist, journalist and filmmaker. Her film Tra na mban / Ladies Beach screens at the festival as part of the shorts programme on Thursday, 22nd August.

Dr Jennifer O’Meara is an Assistant Professor in Film Studies at Trinity College Dublin, and a programming manager for the Dublin Feminist Film Festival.

Full programme here
Buy tickets here
Tra na mban / Ladies Beach (2019) Mexico (6.36)
Dir. Carmen Garcia Gonzalez
In the west coast of Ireland, a group of Irish women 40 to 80 years old swim every morning in the Atlantic cold waters come rain or shine. Martell, who hasn’t missed a day in 10 years now, let us know how is it for her and the swimmers to meet at the Ladies Beach in Galway, vent together under the cold water and share a hot coffee and a warm chat afterwards. A tight-knit bunch brought together by their love to the sea.
Instagram: @carmengarxia
Twitter: @carmengarxia

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Never Grow Old

Ruth McNally reviews Ivan Kavanagh’s Western starring John Cusack, Emile Hirsch and Déborah François.

The sold-out closing film of this year’s Film Fleadh was Never Grow Old, a dark and gritty Western, written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh. Kavanagh and some of the Irish cast and crew were in attendance on the night. Kavanagh described the film as the “Western he wanted to make”. He had begun writing it almost ten years previously but noted that it felt like the right time to make the film now as many of the themes feel very relevant to current times. 

The film centres around Irish immigrant Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch), the local undertaker in a small American frontier town. The town is a pious community, a “holy town” effectively run by the Preacher (Danny Webb). Alcohol, gambling and prostitution have been prohibited and judgement is rife should you step out of line with the town’s imposed morals. Patrick Tate and his French wife, Audrey (Déborah François), consider setting off towards California as they struggle both to fit in and make ends meet.

The quiet existence of the town is unreservedly changed upon the arrival of the outlaw Dutch Albert (John Cusack) and his two cronies. Arriving to the town in search of a wanted man, they decide to stick around and set up shop. They forcibly reopen the saloon, recruit some reluctant prostitutes and with that, the Wild West is back. Dutch Albert takes a special interest in Tate, asking him to facilitate a “private burial”. The threat of the gang and the fact that his family are struggling forces Tate to take this opportunity and henceforth they form an uncomfortable business relationship.  

John Cusack is almost unrecognisable in his manner as Dutch Albert – he fills his scenes with a quiet but palpable menace. The character is both erratic and strangely moralistic in his way, appearing to be taking Patrick Tate under his wing as an immigrant – and therefore an outsider – in the community.  The hypocrisy of this “holy” community is referenced throughout the film, particularly as people rejected by the church start desperately turning to Dutch Albert for work. The law does not wield much power in this town – the sheriff is an ineffective character who bends to the will of the preacher. The two extremes of religious purity and hedonism are the forces at odds with each other and the only sources of power in the town.

Patrick Tate is an almost passive character, adapting to situations as they arise and only acting when something forces his hand. He appeases Dutch Albert while holding him in contempt. His fluctuating motivations in the story mean that he is not a clear hero. As he gets more deeply involved in Dutch Albert’s dirty work, the voice of reason comes from his wife Audrey, played by Déborah François. She is a sympathetic and endearing character and while Tate becomes more dubious in his morality, Audrey becomes the character that you root for. One of the more uncomfortable aspects of the film comes from the threat against Audrey from Dutch Albert’s tongueless henchman Dumb-Dumb (Sam Louwyck), who leers at her a cold, quiet, violence throughout. The anticipation created around this violence adds a sense of dread that permeates the story.

The film is visually very impressive. Much of the outdoor scenes were shot in Connemara – an American frontier town was effectively created somewhere near Oughterard, Galway. The attention to detail in the production design, costume and set design means that everything feels authentic in terms of place and time. The Irish weather conditions do make an appearance in the form of the copious amount of mud visible in the film. These conditions are used to the filmmaker’s advantage as everything is built into showing the hardship of life in this town. The grey skies, rain and seas of mud are all part of the struggle of daily life and reflect the characters’ experience. 

Never Grow Old is an immersive film – once you are in, you are in, for better or for worse. It shows frontier life at its most fantastically harsh, with characters that showcase the darker extremes of humanity. At the screening Kavanagh described it as an allusion to how America was “founded in violence”; the result is a convincing Western, with a good dose of grim and grit.

 

Never Grow Old screened 14th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

 

Never Grow Old is released in Irish cinemas 23rd August 2019


2019 | Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France | 100 mins

 

 

 

 

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Early Irish Cinema: “Leaning towards the Spectacular”: The Suppression of the Sinn Fein Review in April 1919

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 highlights the banning and seizure of the Sinn Fein Review, a compilation of Irish Events newsreel (1917 – 1920) items  100 years ago.

Drogheda Advertiser 19 Apr. 1919: 3.

On the evening of Wednesday, 16 April 1919, Head Constable John Orr arrived at the Boyne Cinema in Fair Street, Drogheda, accompanied by a squad made up of all the available Royal Irish Constabulary men in the town’s Westgate and South Quay barracks. As Orr recorded in his official report of events, caretaker Thomas Borden told him that manager Joseph Stanley was not present and initially refused to give the policemen the key to the projection box. However, when Orr threatened to break in the door with a heavy hatchet he had instructed be brought from the barracks, Borden relented and opened the door. Seizing two reels of film that made up parts 1 and 2 of the Sinn Fein Review that had been produced and supplied to the cinema by Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply (GFS), Orr brought them back to Westgate barracks to await further instructions (CSORP).

Poster seen on 29 Mar. 1919 by Inspector Herbert of the Dublin Metropolitan in the window of the General Film Supply offices in Dublin. Courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland.

This dramatic raid was the end point of a process that began two-and-a-half weeks earlier, when a poster in the GFS office window at 17 Brunswick had caught the eye of Inspector Herbert of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) as he had been strolling past between 10 and 11am. Making this his business, Herbert had quizzed an unnamed GFS employee about the poster and had been told that the film showed “a number of incidents in connection with the Rebellion of 1916, its leaders, and the Sinn Fein movement generally which have been shown from time to time have been put into one film in review form” (CSORP).

What happened between these two police actions has been well known in Irish film studies since the late 1980s, thanks to Kevin Rockett’s detailed account in Cinema and Ireland, the first systemic book in the field (Rockett, Gibbons and Hill 34-6). Rockett based his account on a file in the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) that covers the banning of both the Sinn Fein Review in April 1919 and Ireland a Nation in January 1917 (see an account of the latter film here). As such, this file offers the richest detail of any official document of the period on the British authorities’ regulation of Irish cinema in the late 1910s, between the Easter Rising and the War of Independence. Rockett charts how the police and military authorities consulted on what to do, and citing the precedent set by the Ireland a Nation case, the police sent two detectives to view the film. Their report led to the conclusion that it should be banned because it was “Sinn Fein propaganda pure and simple.” When the police arrived at the GFS offices to seize the film, they were told that copies had already been despatched to Drogheda, precipitating the raid on the Boyne Cinema.

Ian Macpherson was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland in January 1919; from Century Ireland.

The details of Irish Events films provided by the detectives and local newspaper accounts of the events in Drogheda deserve more attention than they have had, but it’s worth first saying something about the kind of source this file is. It is part of the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (CSO/RP), the surviving documents held by NAI that went through the Dublin Castle office of the British cabinet minister with responsibility for the administration of Ireland. In April 1919, the post of chief secretary was held by Ian Macpherson, but as the two-year gap between the Ireland a Nation and Sinn Fein Review cases suggests, cinema-related cases only rarely crossed Macpherson’s desk.

The IVA advertises a 1919 funding drive; Freeman’s Journal 21 Jun. 1919: 4.

The day-to-regulation of cinema was done at a different level of government, by local councils under the powers provided by the 1909 Cinematograph Act. That act originally focused on the very real danger of loss of life from cinema fires caused by the bringing together of highly combustible nitrate film and light sources that produced high heat or even used a naked flame. As a result, regulations initially provided for fire-proof projection booths and auditoria with adequate provision for escape in the event of fire. The employees of the council who were given this responsibility typically belonged to the public health or sanitation department, such as Limerick Corporation’s sub-sanitary officer Solomon Frost, who in February 1919 prosecuted the Athenaeum Hall and Coliseum for overcrowding, or Dublin Corporation theatre inspector Walter Butler who in April 1919, brought similar charges against the Sackville Picture House, Pillar Picture House, Mary Street Picture House and Electric Theatre (“Limerick News,” “City Picture Houses,” “Picture House Crowding”). Butler was not just Dublin Corporation’s theatre inspector. His duties increased considerably in June 1916, when in response to the incessant lobbying of by the Catholic-church-based Irish Vigilance Association (IVA), the Corporation appointed him and Councillor Patrick Lennon film censors.

Frank Leah’s caricature of Eugene McGough; Irish LimelightJun. 1918: 1.

When it became clear that Butler and Lennon could watch only a fraction of the films exhibited in Dublin, the IVA again successfully lobbied the Corporation for the appointment as additional censors of IVA members Eugene McGough and AJ Murray, “two gentlemen of education and standing in the City who are willing to devote their spare time to carry out the work, without fee or reward, solely in the interests of the citizens” (Dublin Corporation). In May 1919, the IVA claimed that McGough and Murray had watched over 700 films in the previous year, spending “2,100 hours of their time viewing these films before they were presented to the public, which meant that they were engaged for seven hours a day cutting out of these films whatever was objectionable” (“Worthy of Support”).

The definition of what was objectionable differed between the IVA-enhanced Corporation censors and the British officials at the CSO. In January 1918, McGough had clarified his and the IVA’s view that “pictures dealing with sexual matters should be prohibited by law and the house showing them should be heavily penalised” (“Our Cinema Censors”). This is shockingly clear; moving pictures should not treat sex or sexuality in any way. Historical or newsreel films such as Ireland a Nation and the Sinn Fein Review were beyond this kind of reproach, but they attracted the attention of the Castle authorities for political content that had the potentiality to cause disaffection among the majority nationalist audience. Nevertheless, politically contentious films that required the involvement of the CSO were rare, in part because the authorities used banning as a way of warning off distributors and exhibitors who may have seen a commercial opportunity in screening politically controversial material in times when Irish audiences appeared to be especially receptive to advanced nationalist, anti-British opinions.

Frank Leah’s caricature of Frederick Sparling, who was best known as the proprietor of the Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro, Dublin, but who had hired the larger and more centrally located Rotunda to show Ireland a Nation. Irish LimelightAug. 1917: 1.

In this sense, distributor Frederick Sparling was doing the government’s work for them by keeping the Ireland a Nation case in the public eye. Not that that was his aim: the banning of the film had cost him a considerable sum in securing the distribution rights and in hiring the Rotunda, Dublin’s largest cinema at the time, in which to show it. Understandably, he sought compensation for the banning of a film that the press censor appointed under the Defence of the Realm Act had initially passed for exhibition. But by seeking redress from the War Losses Commission in January 1918 and when this proved unsatisfactory, prompting Irish Parliamentary MP Jeremiah McVeagh to ask a question about it in the House of Commons in February 1919, Ireland a Nation became exemplary of the difficulties over years that distributors could face if they released politically contentious material (“‘Ireland a Nation,’” “Irish Questions”).

Norman Whitten was well aware of these developments, but he had good reason to think that the Sinn Fein Review would not receive such treatment. For a start, the film was a newsreel compilation consisting almost exclusively of short items concerning Sinn Féin that had already been shown as part of Irish Events, and none of these individual items had been banned. The only non-Irish Events items were a couple of films that predated the start of Irish Events in July 1917 and the first film of Sinn Féin president Éamon de Valera since his daring escape from Lincoln Prison on 3 February 1919. Perhaps the de Valera film so prominently featured in advertising was the problem. If the police couldn’t recapture de Valera, they could capture his image. In any case, as the poster spotted by Inspector Herbert indicates, Whitten clearly made no secret that he was compiling the film and intended to offer it for sale. Fingal, the new writer of trade journal Bioscope’s “Irish Notes,” had mentioned it in his/her column of 10 April. “Mr. Whitten’s biggest scoop recently has been the filming of the Sinn Fein ‘President,’ Mr. de Valera, in his hiding place near Dublin after his escape from Lincoln Gaol,” Fingal observed. “This is being included in a film survey of the Sinn Fein movement since the Dublin rebellion in 1916, and is being released under the title ‘Sinn Fein Review’” (“Irish Notes”).

Fingal gave some attention not only to this first Irish newsreel compilation but also to other ambitious film projects that Whitten had in train. These included the feature-length hagiography In the Days of St Patrick, the first scenes of which Fingal had seen and praised as “strikingly picturesque.” But Fingal began the column with the political events that GFS’s Irish Events newsreel covered more generally. “The Irish people have a decided leaning towards the spectacular,” the column began.

Which is a good thing for the makers of topical films.

“Irish Events” is never short of good topical material, and is very popular with audiences in this country. […] At the present moment the most dramatic and picturesque incidents are being provided by the Sinn Feiners.

Fingal probably did not get a chance to see the full Sinn Fein Review, and it does not survive, but Inspectors George Love and Neil McFeely wrote a detailed description of it in their report of a special screening at the GFS offices on the morning of 12 April 1919. “The Film is in two parts and it takes half an hour to show,” they began, before describing the items in each part. Paraphrasing them slightly, these were:

Part I

  1. The annual Republican pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave at Bodenstown, including a scene at the graveside.
  2. The first Sinn Féin electoral victory in the North Roscommon by-election on 5 February 1917, featuring successful candidate Count George Plunkett.
  3. Scenes at the East Clare by-election after the declaration of the poll on 11 July 1917, showing successful candidate de Valera in uniform alongside Plunkett and Sinn Féin leader Arthur Griffith.
  4. The Sinn Féin Convention at Dublin’s Mansion House on 25 October 1917, showing delegates leaving.
  5. Scenes at the East Cavan by-election of June 1918, showing senior Sinn Féin member Father Michael O’Flanagan and crowds outside the White Horse Hotel.
  6. The funeral procession in Dublin on 17 November 1918 for journalist and author Séumas O’Kelly, who had edited the Sinn Féin newspaper Nationality after Griffith’s arrest
  7. The procession from Dublin’s Westland Row railway station and scenes outside Fleming’s Hotel after the arrival of amnestied Easter Rising prisoners on 18 June 1917, and the reception of Countess Constance Markievicz after her release four days later.

Part II

  1. General election events in Dublin in December 1918, including scenes outside the polling booths, the declaration of the poll at Green Street, and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington congratulating Alderman Thomas Kelly.
  2. The anti-conscription meeting at Ballaghadereen on 5 May 1918, showing Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Dillon and de Valera addressing the audience from the same platform.
  3. Irish Women’s Anti-Conscription Procession in Dublin on 9 June 1918.
  4. Crowds outside the Mansion House on the occasion of the first Meeting of Dáil Eireann on 21 January 1919, with a group portrait of key figures.
  5. First film of de Valera after his escape from Lincoln Prison on 3 February.
  6. Markievicz exhibiting a picture she painted in Holloway Prison, entitled “Easter Week”; also the Countess engaged in gardening and painting a picture.
  7. De Valera’s first appearance in Dublin after his escape, showing his arrival at the Mansion House with Cathal Burgess [Brugha], footage of the Lord Mayor and his two daughters, and de Valera leaving the Mansion House.

Both parts were no doubt close to the standard 1,000-foot reel length, running about 15 minutes. As such, each numbered item ran an average of two minutes, but some were likely the one-minute standard of newsreel items while items taken from newsreel specials were probably over two minutes. Apart from the two final films of de Valera (II 5 and 7) and possible the one of Markievicz (II 6), it is probable that all the other films had been shown previously, as Whitten told the two detectives. Certainly some of them are readily identifiable as films discussed here previously, such as the newsreel special of the first Dáil.

While the structure of the film may seem a bit haphazard, it appears to sacrifice a strict commitment to chronology to a progress towards emotionally charged climaxes. Part I begins with a key annual event in the Republican calendar, the pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave in June, but the likely film used here was not the oldest Sinn Féin film but probably the film shot on 29 June 1918. Following it, the film proceeds chronologically through items I 2-6 of the by-elections, convention and Séumas O’Kelly’s public funeral. The final item of the triumphant return of the 1916 rebels from prisons in Britain is most clearly out of chronological order but is placed at the end of the reel because this event had such a strong emotional charge and showed the popularity of figures such as Markievicz.

The chronology of part II is not as disturbed, but it begins with the December 1918 general election, at which Sinn Féin had been so successful, before including events earlier in 1918 and finishing with de Valera’s reception at the Mansion House. The fact that Irish Events had two films of de Valera during his period after his escape from prison suggests a close connection between GFS and Sinn Féin, a convergence of the filmmakers’ leaning toward the spectacular and the politicians’ need for publicity. It is also interesting to note the prominence of Markievicz and other women activists again in this half of the film. “The Film as it stands,” Love and McFeely’s report concluded, “is a glorification of Sinn Fein and wherever exhibited would, no doubt, be good Sinn Fein Propaganda, and might in that way be objectionable to members of an audience holding different political views” (CSORP).

Handbill for the exhibition of the Sinn Fein Review at the Boyne Cinema. Courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland.

It was unlikely that many of the members of the Boyne Cinema’s audience held different political views, or at least were not aware in advance of the kind of film that the Sinn Fein Review was. Whether the GFS poster was used in Drogheda is not clear, but the cinema did issue a handbill that survives in the NLI file on the seizure of the film. The handbill also stresses de Valera’s name among all the Sinn Féin leaders who are connected to the movement’s history since 1916. The cinema itself had substantial 1916 connections, having been established by Joseph Stanley, the proprietor of the radical Gaelic Press in Dublin’s Liffey Street and printer of such key 1916 Rising documents as the Proclamation and the Irish War News. Stanley had been among the activists imprisoned in Britain, and Constable Orr in his report on the raid on the Boyne described him as a “Sinn Fein suspect, now living in Drogheda,” a phrase that may explain the heavy-handedness of the seizure.

The Boyne Cinema’s opening programme; Drogheda Independent 25 Jan. 1919: 1.

Although the Boyne seems largely typical of the many small cinemas of the period, Stanley’s radical politics marked it out in certain ways. When it opened on 27 January 1919, the Drogheda Independent reported that it would be run under “Irish-Ireland management” (“New Picture House”). This was immediately evident in the presentation of the opening programme, which was topped by the “Irish-made screamingly funny comedy” Rafferty’s Rise (Ireland: FCOI, 1917) and featured among its supplementary attractions the dancing of gold-medal Irish dancer Greta Daly. As a man under surveillance, Stanley’s choice of a film poking fun at the foibles of a rural constable may not have wholly accidental. This level of Irish content was not long maintained, however. During the second half of the opening week, the programme was topped by American comedy The Clodhopper (US: Kay Bee/New York, 1917), but perhaps there was more continuity in Charles Ray’s performance of the country bumpkin than initially seems. “People who foolishly imagine that a ‘Clodhopper’ cannot get on in other spheres of life,” the synopsis in the Drogheda papers warned. “should have their minds disabused by a view of th[is] famous comedy film “(“Only a ‘Clodhopper’”).

Drogheda Independent 19 Apr. 1919: 3.

The appearance of the Sinn Fein Review must have been a gift for Stanley, but audience reaction is a little more difficult to judge. Local newspapers carried no ads for the film, but they all reported differently on how waiting patrons reacted to the police raid on the cinema. “At the time of the seizure there was a large crowd outside waiting to gain admission,” the Drogheda Advertiser observed, “but there was little or no display on their part with the exception of cheering” (“Boyne Cinema Raided”). “The seizure was effected quietly, and without any excitement,” the Drogheda Argus reported. “The management, however, carried on to full houses during the evening with other pictures, as if nothing had happened” (“Sinn Fein Review Film Seized”). This impression that the audience was little disturbed by the seizure is contradicted by the Drogheda Independent, which suggested that the audience were hostile to the police actions: “the crowds in waiting accompanied their [the police’s] movements with shouts and jeers, interjecting as well remarks that seemed suited for the occasion” (“Picture Film Seized in Drogheda”). Even if the “excitement called up by the incident was short-lived,” this account suggests that it at least provided an occasion to express disapproval of the police.

While these different accounts would bear some more examination in relation to the editorial persuasion of Drogheda’s newspapers, they show that the Sinn Fein Review had at least brought Irish audiences’ leaning towards the spectacle onto the streets.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Boyne Cinema Raided.” Drogheda Advertiser 19 Apr. 1919: 3.

“City Picture Houses: Alleged Overcrowding.” Dublin Evening Mail 25 Apr. 1919: 3.

CSORP/1919/11025. National Archives of Ireland.

Dublin Corporation, Reports, 1917: 173.

“‘Ireland a Nation’: Why Military Authorities Banned the Film.” Evening Telegraph 29 Jan. 1918: 3.

“Irish Notes.” Bioscope 10 Apr. 1919: 119.

“Irish Questions.” Cork Examiner 28 Feb. 1919: 4.

“Limerick News.” Cork Examiner 1 Feb. 1919: 5.

“New Picture House.” Drogheda Independent 25 Jan. 1919: 2.

“Only a ‘Clodhopper.’” Drogheda Argus 25 Jan. 1919: 1.

“Our Cinema Censors: The Difficulties They Have to Contend With.” Evening Herald 31 Jan. 1918: 2.

“Picture Film Seized in Drogheda.” Drogheda Independent 19 Apr. 1919: 2.

“Picture House Crowding in Dublin.” Dublin Evening Mail

Rockett, Kevin, Luke Gibbons and John Hill. Cinema and Ireland. Routledge, 1988.

“Sinn Fein Review Film Seized.” Drogheda Argus 19 Apr. 1919: 2.

“Worthy of Support: Activities of the Vigilance Association Outlined.” Weekly Freeman’s Journal 3 May 1919: 1.

 

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Film Ireland Goes to the Heart of Alaska

Image: B1999.14.1210D, Hilscher Collection, Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK.

 

James Bartlett found himself in Fairbanks, Alaska and learned about the single most powerful businessman in the Territory of Alaska and its richest resident, Austin “Cap” Lathrop, who would have a role to play in the territory’s film history. 

Ireland may be famous for its weather, but it struggles to hold a candle to the freezing extremes of Alaska. Fairbanks is the second-largest city in Alaska, and, due to its location right in the center of the state, is nicknamed “The Golden Heart.” 

Alaska is enormous, too. Twice the size of Texas, I was surprised to learn that it only became a US state in 1959. Until the discovery of gold (and later oil), the purchase of this frozen, largely-uninhabited landmass was famously derided as a folly.  

Hollywood rarely comes to Fairbanks, though a number of its landmarks did feature in the Oscar-nominated 2007 film Into the Wild. Directed by Sean Penn, it looked at the life of Christopher McCandless, a young man searching for adventure who died in the Alaskan wilds he had made his temporary outdoor home. 

On a recent visit to Fairbanks I saw several of the locations that featured in the film, including a couple of evenings in the shamrock-friendly Big I pub (you just can’t get away from Irish pubs, no matter where you are).  

Inside I heard stories of fur trapping, driving across the ice on the frozen Chena River (there was only one two-way steel bridge), and how travel by small plane is still as common as ever.  I also learned that Fairbanks was once home to a film mogul named Austin “Cap” Lathrop.

Lathrop first made inroads into Alaska in 1895, when his steamship bought supplies – and prospective miners – to the territory. He later invested in mining and oil, and in 1911 he converted a clothing store into his first Empress film theatre in the city of Valdez.

He opened other Empress-named cinemas, including the all-concrete one in Fairbanks (1927), where he also bought out the owners of the rather forlorn-looking Lacey Street Theater (both now long replaced by a multiplex). 

Lacey Street

He had radio and newspaper interests in Fairbanks and beyond too, but in 1924 he was the driving force behind adventure-drama film The Chechahcos (the title meaning “tenderfoot” or “new arrival”). 

Many Alaskan stories had been seen on the big screen, but they didn’t shoot on location. Lathrop, as president of the Alaska Motion Picture Corporation, wanted to change that. They announced plans for the production of a 12-reel picture – three of which were to be shot in Alaska – as a co-production with Oregon-based American Lithograph.  A large studio was built in Anchorage, and the crew from Hollywood, New York and Oregon flew in to work on the melodramatic story of gold-rush days. 

Every effort was made for full authenticity, and actors and crew alike faced the challenges of shooting on location, including a final chase involving mushing, a frozen river and a glacier – all of it real. Many local actors were hired, and others lined up to help and to work as extras (a story familiar to the countless hundreds or more who picked up work on the many years that “Game of Thrones” shot in Northern Ireland). Pathe-International bought the rights, and it was screened at the White House for the President before being released across America.

Hopes were high and reviews favorable, but audiences weren’t impressed (and the unusual title probably didn’t help either). Some, however, noticed that Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 comedy The Gold Rush might have been influenced by it, and in 2003 it was selected by the National Film Preservation Board.

Image: www.cheechakos.org

Lathrop died in an accident in 1950, but he did live on in perhaps Fairbanks’ most famous film. Released in 1960, Ice Palace was partly shot in Fairbanks, and featured a cast that included Richard Burton and Robert Ryan. 

Based on the 1958 novel by Edna Ferber, it saw rich businessman “Czar” Kennedy (played by Burton) and Thor Storm (Ryan) as two friends and rivals living in “Baranof,” a growing city looking towards statehood.  “Baranof” was greatly inspired by Fairbanks, and Czar was based on the life of “Cap” Lathrop. 

Northward Building

In 1950 a new, swish, eight-story apartment complex called the Northward Building had been built in Fairbanks. It was home to the city’s elite, and a very-similar building was Czar’s home in the pages of the book.  Writer Edna Ferber was fresh off the success of her previous novel Giant (and the subsequent James Dean film), but this movie version was a flop.   

Though it has lost almost all its lustre, the Northward Building still pays tribute to its moment in the spotlight: the hallway is lined with posters, newspaper articles and copies of the book. Locals still call “The Ice Palace”. 

Perhaps the best show in Fairbanks is the Aurora Borealis, which can be seen – weather conditions permitting – on many nights of the year here, thanks to that central location. I was lucky enough to catch a pre-winter glimpse….

 

 

Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland.

He’s available for private consultation at jbartlett2000@gmail.com

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary 

Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah)

Seán Crosson took in a selection of  documentary shorts at this year’s Fleadh, featuring works from both established and debut directors, showcasing the best of Irish talent. 

A key component of the Galway Film Fleadh’s focus on new and emerging talent is the series of short programmes featured across the festival. In total there were nine sessions dedicated to shorts at the Fleadh, covering documentary, fiction, and animation and as always the organisers deserve great credit for the focus and space they allocate to young Irish filmmakers in the programme. 

The films included in the first programme covered a wide range of topics from reflections on Irishness, to profile pieces, and considerations of aspects of the natural world.

El Hor

The programme began with the visually stunning and evocative El Hor directed by Dianne Lucille Campbell. Inspired by the beautiful Saluki dog, the film combines mythology, nature imagery, and dynamic cinematography, with otherworldly musical accompaniment. In the surreal landscapes and images created, the film is reminiscent of Maya Deren’s work, but also in its imagining of the world from the perspective of the animals featured, the work of Stan Brakhage. Overall Campbell has produced an extraordinary cacophony of sound and image, impossible to categorise but rather oddly included in a section dedicated to short documentaries; this was a work much closer in form to experimental film.

Our Land

More in keeping with documentary form was Eoin Harnett’s Our Land, an impressively realised reflection on what makes Ireland distinctive. Featuring seven contributors, each of whom provide engaging, humorous and at times insightful commentary on the topic, the documentary was excellently paced, moving effectively between its contributors and supporting footage from the streets of Galway.

Recommend Rapper

The subsequent films Recommend Rapper (Caoimhin Coffey) and Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah) (Gerard Walsh) each provided profiles of intriguing characters from Galway. Recommend Rapper focuses on would-be rapper Danny Rock from Kinvara in Galway and his efforts to produce his first music video. While generally well produced, there is an uneasy tension (never entirely resolved) evident in this work between the director’s concern to sympathetically portray the subject and Rock becoming himself a figure of fun. Farmer Michael concerns the man (Steven Timothy) behind the comic character in the film’s title who has achieved a considerable following in recent years for his entertaining and idiosyncratic YouTube videos. This is an entertaining and at times moving account of the challenges Timothy has faced in his life. However, it is also a somewhat unbalanced piece that would have benefited from either a longer profile to accommodate the tonal changes apparent or a more focused production. 

Squared Circle

Squared Circle is an interesting chronicle of a group of wrestlers setting up and performing  on Waterford promenade, accompanied by an evocative commentary of the events concerned, written by Dublin-based wrestling promoter Simon Rochford, and recited by actor Ger Carey. In its day-in-a-life structure, the documentary is an informative account of the wrestlers featured and the effort involved in the events they organise and participate in.

Making Tom

Big Tom McBride was a legendary figure in Irish country music, above all for people from his native Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan. Táine King and Lorraine Higgins’ Making Tom is a sensitively produced study of the making of a statue to commemorate the country and Irish legend, and the impact of its unveiling on residents of his home town.

Pigeons of Discontent

The final documentary featured in this programme was Paddy Cahill’s Pigeons of Discontent – this was amongst the strongest works featured in this section, imaginatively engaging with the divided opinions among local residents of Stoneybatter in Dublin city towards the large number of pigeons that gather in the area. Cahill rightly chooses to focus his camera almost entirely on the pigeons themselves and the, at times, striking and beautiful shapes they create in flight, accompanied by comments (both positive and negative) from those who share Stoneybatter with them. 

Seán Crosson

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary programme screened 10th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: A Bump Along the Way

Siomha McQuinn gives up her seat for Shelly Love’s A Bump Along the Way.

A Bump Along the Way, a product of an all-female creative team and winner of Best Irish First Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh, is about the tumultuous relationship between happy-go-lucky Pamela and her 15-year-old daughter, Allegra, who does not shy away from scolding her mother’s behaviour. Picture a modern-day Gilmore Girls but the relationship between the Lorelei and Rory is more hostile, Rory is a vegan and Stars Hollow is now a gossipy town in Derry.

After a night of lacklustre romance with a younger man, Pamela is baffled to find herself pregnant. Her situation is far from ideal as the father wants nothing to do with her and she can barely make ends meet in her current situation. The news puts further strains on her relationship with Allegra and the pair must learn to navigate their reality as they prepare for the arrival of their newest family member.

Many of the ideas in this film are already well-trodden paths such as the mother/daughter role-reversal and the absent father. However, both Pamela and Allegra are given narratives that are separate to the central relationship and this makes the world of the film richer.

The role of Allegra is played by Lola Petticrew, who won the Bingham Ray New Talent Award for her performance. She switches seamlessly between being a callous and bitter teenage daughter and a shy, artistic student who falls prey to some of her classmates. Her acting style is very natural as she creates a character who is quietly brave. The way she treats her mother initially seems disproportionately cold and unfair but with the realisation that Allegra is having a difficult time in school, and the knowledge that Pamela’s pregnancy will only act as fuel for her bully’s taunts, it is easier to empathise with a teenager who is doing her best to survive a tough time in her life. 

Bronagh Gallagher, who plays Pamela with big-eyed lovability, is clueless to Allegra’s bullying. She is well-meaning but vulnerable, which makes the growth of her character even more pleasing. A party-girl by nature, she is restless during her pregnancy and it is endearing to watch the pure torture that it is for her stay at home and rest, made worse by Allegra’s increasingly busy social calendar.  

Apart from Pamela’s delightful baker boss and Allegra’s kind teacher, men are painted in an almost entirely negative light; from the father of Pamela’s unborn child, who is fiercely unkind when discovering the pregnancy, to Allegra’s father who kicks up a fuss when asked to contribute financially. Their characters lack much intricacy, but this is easily forgiven as A Bump Along the Way is a film that champions women and delves into their complexities, making a slight dent into the massive backlog of films that represent women through flimsily constructed characters. These typical toxic male characters are there to aid the narrative. Pamela realises that she needs to stand up to the negative men in her life if her daughter is ever to respect her. 

A Bump Along the Way is a sweet and uplifting film about female relationships, the difficulties of life in a small town and the power of standing up for yourself. Despite engaging with difficult topics like bullying and misogyny it remains light and upbeat. It is satisfying and fun and suggests a bright future for the women involved in its production. 

Siomha McQuinn

@SiomhaMcQuinoa

A Bump Along the Way screened 13th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

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GAZE International LGBT Film Festival Roundtable

From left to right Katie McNeice, Tom Speers, Maya Derrington, Gemma Creagh and Roisín Geraghty

In this podcast, we welcome three filmmakers whose works are screening at this year’s GAZE International LGBT Film Festival (1 – 5 August). Maya Derrington, Katie McNeice and Tom Speers join Gemma Creagh to talk about their films and filmmaking.

Plus festival director Roisín Geraghty pops in to give us a quick look at this year’s programme.

Frida Think (Maya Derrington)

A woman walks into a party dressed as Frida Kahlo, only to find that her version of unique has mass appeal.


In Orbit (Katie McNeice)

A hypnotic and beautiful love story between two women that crosses both time and space.


Boy Saint (Tom Speers)

A sumptuous short film of friendship and adoration between boys, based on a poem by Peter LaBerge.

The GAZE International LGBT Film Festival runs from 1 – 5 August 2019. 

The Irish Shorts programme screens at  6:30pm at the Light House cinema on Sunday, 4th August.

Full programme & tickets here.

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Finky

Siomha McQuinn reflects on Dathai Keane’s offbeat, mysterious, fantasy drama, which is the first film to emerge from the Cine4 scheme.

 

Dathai Keane’s Irish language feature, Finky, was warmly received at its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh. Set between Galway and Glasgow, the ambitious, arty and action-packed film was brought home for its debut outing. This fever-dream of a film follows Micí Finky, a musician who is haunted by a dark past leading him to look for an escape. He finds himself in increasingly off-the-wall and dangerous situations which ultimately force him to confront his past once and for all.

Finky is a celebration of the Irish language. It catapults the language onto an exciting new terrain, far beyond the traditions of Irish-language filmmaking. 

A puppet show opens the film and this whimsical and unconventional beginning sets the tone for the rest of the film. It is made up of a series of sequences which defy expectations at every turn, leaving the audience clueless about what will happen next.

After a bust-up in Galway, Finky flees to Glasgow with his friend Tom where, after meeting an eclectic mix of characters, he is involved in an accident and becomes wheelchair bound. He seeks refuge in his state of reduced mobility but is not safe from his own memories. In an act of recklessness he finds himself recruited by a sinister circus which causes things to go from bad to worse in a spectacular final sequence. 

The film originated as a character study and this is wholly apparent as it devotes itself to Finky’s viewpoint above all others. At times he is not likable and loses the empathy of the audience with his actions. It is a challenging character and is performed well by Dara Devaney. The erratic nature of Finky’s personality is mirrored in the events of the film.

In addition to Finky, the film has a wide range of colourful characters who bring different energies to the screen. The character of Bang Bang, played by the film’s co-writer Diarmuid De Faoite, provides comic relief with his eccentricities. His character is one of the contributors to the tone of the film shifting frequently; one moment it seems to demand that it is taken seriously while at other times it is farcical and surreal in nature. 

The sensory experience of the film is enhanced with the use of a strong soundtrack. Dreamy, melodic pieces accompany the beautifully shot frames. Above all else, the film creates mood effectively. The visuals provide a dream-like quality to modern-day Galway and Glasgow.  

Overall, Finky is a well-acted, engaging and memorable film. It could have benefited from a less complicated structure as it was at times confusing, however, it is sure to be a provocative film.

Finky screened 11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

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Hugh O’Conor, Director of Metal Heart

In this podcast, Gemma Creagh is joined by writer Stephen Shields (The Hole in The Ground, 2019) to chat to Hugh O’Conor about his feature directorial debut Metal Heart.

Hugh talks about  pitching “Twin Peaks in Terenure” to writer Paul Murray, the development process, a darker version, casting and working with the actors. Hugh explains how his own background as an actor influences his directing and learning from other directors he’s worked with as an actor. Finally, Hugh sheds light on getting the soundtrack right, Louise O’Neill’s influence on the script ,  creating a complex bad guy and Resistance, an upcoming pilot for RTE.

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Galway Film Fleadh Filmmakers Roundtable

In this podcast, Gemma Creagh sits down with three filmmakers whose short films screen at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh. Director Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair (Break Us), writer Sarah Ingersoll (The Bridge) and producer Marissa Aroy (The Ferry) join us to talk about their films, their roles as director , writer and producer and their individual approaches to the craft of filmmaking.


Break Us

(DIR/WRI:  Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair • PRO: Claire McCabe, 925 Productions • CAST: Gavin Drea, Danielle Galligan, Tristan McConnell)

Irish Talent: New Shorts 7Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts
Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 11:45

Mark and Sophie plan to rob a post office but as things go awry, they each discover what they’re really made of.


The Bridge

(WRI: Sarah Ingersoll • DIR:  Mark Smyth • PRO: Lynn Larkin • CAST: Lochlann O’Mearáin, Peter Coonan, Marie Mullen)

Irish Talent: New Shorts 6, Fiction
Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 10:00

After the sudden death of his parents a young man must choose between returning to his home village in the west of Ireland to care for his estranged younger brother, and a bright future in Canada.


The Ferry

(PRO: Marissa Aroy, Roisin Kearney, Clodagh Bowyer • DIR/WRI: Niall McKay • CAST: Aoife Duffin, Deirdre Donnelly, Clodagh Bowyer)

Irish Talent: New Shorts 5, Fiction
Fri 12 July | Town Hall Theatre | 11:45

Aoife searches for her birth mother and unveils a past that entangles two other women in town.

Tickets www.galwayfilmfleadh.com/


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David Magnier, Writer/Director of ‘Buoy’

In his short film Buoy, a young man throws himself off a lighthouse to end it all, but it’s only the beginning. Ahead of the film’s screening at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, writer/director David Magnier tells Film Ireland how his short film came to surface. 

The idea for Buoy wormed its way into my head over the course of a few weeks, in the twilight hours between going to bed and falling asleep. I find this period of time the best for creative musings and if I latch onto something I like as I am about to fall asleep and if it’s good enough to pull myself out of near unconsciousness I write it down in my notes. As a result my notes make for some pretty weird reading but the idea for Buoy haunted me for weeks. It was one of those images I couldn’t shake and I just knew I had to make it as I couldn’t seem to make peace with not making it. So the three-and-a-half-year struggle to realise it began.

 

The first stage was pulling the narrative together, which was the easy bit as it’s pretty loose and open-ended and the young male suicide anomaly in Ireland is all around us so it was something I wanted to address. I felt the aesthetic of the west coast of Ireland would be the perfect landscape for it due to its sort of magical and attractive bleakness.

 

The second step was figuring out how to make it. This was the tricky part as I had never seen weightless floating achieved this way before so there wasn’t much by way of a ‘copy that’ reference. I have always had a huge affinity for post-production and using it as a storytelling tool, so this part, although stressful, was a great process to work though. Finally, it was settled on a series of shoots that we could piece together into a final result… we hoped:

 

  • On location in West Cork shooting all the background plates and locations, imagining there was a man floating in the air.
  • In the studio shooting the close-ups of his face so we can have some actual reactions and acting
  • In an underwater tank in the UK with a green screen behind the actor, which we could then drop onto the plates from the first shoot.
Sounds easy right? Well, nothing about this turned out easy. On the first day on the west coast shoot a heavy lift drone with a full days worth of footage plopped into the Atlantic Ocean (technical fault), which hammered morale of course also our lighthouse location fell through last minute. So we had to make a lot of compromises to get what we needed, not necessarily what we wanted. As a director this can be hard to swallow as you have an idea in your head, but you need to switch to firefighting mode and just get what you can without the production breaking. It’s occasions like this that your crew having your back is so so important and a few heroes tend to present themselves. Burschi Wojnar the DOP saved my bacon more than once on this shoot and without him going the extra mile the whole thing would have certainly fallen apart and Dave Minogue the co-producer pulled some magic to get a second lighthouse for us.

 

The underwater tank shoot was one of those high risk situations where you wonder, can David Thompson, our lead, act underwater while holding his breath. Thankfully, the answer was yes and he played such a blinder that by the end of the shoot day he was actually nearly blind. Talk about putting your body on the line. It was already becoming very apparent to me that I wasn’t the only one rooting for this film and the cast and crew were, if you’ll pardon the pun, keeping me afloat.

 

So with all the shoot days behind us the final and arguably the toughest hurdle was looming. Getting someone to do the incredible amount of post production for the meagre budget I had remaining. This took some bouncing around and the guts of two and half years as a few people took it on and the volume of work scared them off. Then Johnny Han introduced me to Brian Ali Harding, the next hero in the story. Brian took it on and although it was a lot more work than he anticipated – think bubble removals, rotoscoping, keying, CGI whales and seas, etc. – he took it on as a labour of love and saw it through. When you are lucky enough to find people who care about your project beyond just the budget available you are very fortunate indeed and that for me is what short film is all about. It’s a collaboration against the odds to make something you all end up emotionally invested in.

 

Buoy screens as part of the Irish Talent: New Shorts 2, Fiction programme on Thursday, 11th July at the Town Hall Theatre at 10:00 as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh.The 31st Galway Film Fleadh runs 9 – 14 July 2019.

 

 

Preview of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh 2019

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 36 – I’m Jesus. I Want Cocaine

 

Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm return to open up the bonnet of film. In this episode, our podders shine a light on Netflix fodder Rim of the World, I Am Mother, When They See Us and The Perfection, and take a look at some recent cinema releases, including Too Late To Die Young,  Diego Maradona, Brightburn, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, High Life, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and In Fabric.

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Gerard Walsh, Director of Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah)’

 

Gerard Wash’s short documentary introduces us to Farmer Michael, a Galway-based, divisive character getting millions of views online. But his creator, Stevo Timothy, has a past with far more twists and turns than anyone would expect.

 

Ahead of its screening at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, Gerard tells Film Ireland about how the film came together.

 

Documentaries were always something that I enjoyed watching but I never thought I would make one. Feature films have been my goal for over ten years and after directing 3 I decided why not! Let’s give it a go.

I have always been interested in telling people’s stories through small profile pieces and just putting them online so I was really going into the documentary blindfolded. Learning each day.

In between work and personal projects I enjoy asking interesting people that I encounter if I can document their story or talents and just put it out there. It helped me with my filmmaking and storytelling and I would always learn something new.

I still don’t know if it’s a selfless or selfish thing to do because I enjoy taking a peek into other people’s lives. The goal for me is always to help the subject with some sort of release or maybe just help them show off their talents.

I started this with a YouTube channel over 5 years ago called “LIVESETS” at the time. I would contact bands and singer/songwriters and just shoot one-take live performances. But after a while I wanted to do profiles on people from all walks of life. From barbers and sportspeople to comedians and grieving mothers.

Eventually I was approached by Stevo (Farmer Michael). I had worked with him a few years back on a promo video for a pub in Galway and after that, asked him to play a small part in my film South, so there was a bit of a relationship there.

He was looking for someone to create a short video about him and his life so I agreed.  When I sat down to interview him I really wasn’t expecting him to tell me the things he did. I felt Immediately torn on how to tell his story.

On one hand, it is a story of success, redemption and prevailing through art. I think that’s the story he wanted me to focus on originally.  But on the other hand, it’s a story about a terrible tragedy and something that could change a lot of people’s’ minds on how they feel about Stevo as a real person and not just his character.

After the first interview I realized that the story was bigger than I originally thought so I decided to spend more time exploring his life. I shot more days over the course of a year and wanted to see different sides of Stevo. I wanted an ending, I wanted some sort of redemption. For me, redemption needs to be shown over the course of time, it needs to be earned and I wanted that to come across in film.

If I’m being honest I was just looking for an honest way to tell the story and I’m not 100 percent sure I found it. The cut of the film as it stands has an ending, I think it works the way I indented it too, for now,  but I would eventually like to explore the idea of a longer film, hopefully we can acquire some funding for a feature-length version.

I always had a the goal of letting the viewer decide how they feel at the end and not forcing my own opinion on them. I could have easily sugar-coated Stevo’s story and tied it up in a nice little bow but there is no way I would. I have laid out as much as I could and I think that’s my responsibility as a storyteller.

If people are expecting to see a film based on a comedian and his hilarious exploits, they may be in for a bit of a surprise with this film. It is a story about a comedian, but also a story about a man with an extraordinary past.

I’m really looking forward to hearing people’s opinions and views after they see the film, I could be over-thinking everything and it’s entirely possible that I may have my head up my hole with my analysis of the film. But let’s see how it gets on.

Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah) screens as part of the Irish Talent: New Shorts 1, Documentary Irish Talent: New Shorts 6, Fiction programme on Wednesday, 10th July at the Town Hall Theatre at 12:00 as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh.

The 31st Galway Film Fleadh runs 9 – 14 July 2019.

 

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Prisoners of the Moon – Johnny Gogan, Director & Nick Snow, Writer

Image used with kind permission from the IFI

In this podcast, Gemma Creagh talks to director Johnny Gogan and writer Nick Snow at a special screening of Prisoners of the Moon at the IFI.  The film tells the story of Arthur Rudolph, a scientist who played a key role in NASA’s historic 1969 moon landing. Rudolph was one of over 100 Nazi V-2 rocket engineers secretly brought to America in 1945 to work on the Cold War missile programme. He became a key figure in NASA’s space race, but was arrested in Toronto in 1990 on suspicion of being a war criminal. The dramatised trial (featuring Jim Norton and Cathy Belton) animates this revelatory documentary which uses archive material, expert witness interviews, and the testimony of Jean Michel, a slave labour survivor of the subterranean wartime V-2 Rocket.

https://www.prisonersofthemoon.com/events

This podcast was recorded at the IFI on Monday, 1st July 2019 at a special screening of Prisoners of the Moon.

 

 

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Erik Nelson, Director of ‘The Cold Blue’

The Cold Blue is a new feature-length film, digitally restored, constructed from the material of 34 reels of raw, colour, footage shot during bombing missions in Germany.

Captured by William Wyler, it was originally shot for the 1944 documentary The Memphis Belle: A story of a Flying Fortress. This extraordinary, never-before-seen colour footage puts you 30,000 feet over Nazi Germany, battling killer flak, enemy fighters, and minus 60-degree temperatures. 

Director Erik Nelson, who was in Dublin recently, talked to Paul Farren about the making of the documentary. 

 

How did this project come about?

It came from a long-term passion of mine for World War II history and aviation and I had a friend who worked with Paul Allen, the reclusive billionaire, who also shared a passion for World War II aviation. They gave me some money to go and look for colour footage of WWII airplanes just because it would be interesting for historical purposes. That’s when we discovered William Wyler’s outtakes – and intakes actually – from Memphis Belle and the moment I saw that collection I realised that there was a feature film in here and pretty much this whole project crystallized instantly.

It’s a very beautiful, very sombre depiction of the B-17 bomber crews coming from England to Germany at the end of the war. How would you describe it?

The film is, in essence,  a time portal that immerses you in the world of 1943 and the men who flew over Germany from England and the strategic bombing campaign.  It catapults the viewer into a B-17, 25,000 feet over Germany with flak enemy fighters in unbelievable cold and strenuous conditions.

The transformation job on the footage was astounding.  I couldn’t get over the beauty of it.

Originally I thought of this as an art film, not an historical documentary, maybe influenced by my work with Werner Herzog.  So I tried to create something that wasn’t a traditional documentary but which was much more of an immersive experience, not unlike the Peter Jackson film [They Shall Not Grow Old, 2018] or Apollo 11 [Todd Douglas, 2019].

It’s interesting seeing this kind of restoration because it does have a most unusual and emotional impact, it certainly did for me.  Some people might find it controversial in the way that it touches on certain aspects of the violence of the war and where people might see the voice it gives. But I thought it more profound than that because you did talk about the effect the war had on the citizens of Germany and the whole madness of that and so the story is there for people to go and check for themselves.

That’s it. This points you…  it opens up the door if you want to walk into it and learn more. But you can’t tell the story without discussing the people on the ground. They often get dismissed in traditional World War II documentaries. It’s very much an unflinching, cold-blooded presentation of the realities of the time and viewers can find in it what they want.

I agree. It was a story is a bunch of 20-year-old men who were put in a terrible situation and made the best of it.

Terrified 20-year-old boys really, who were following the moral dictates of the time and found themselves in this insane position, day after day, mission after mission.

You were very lucky in being able to have anyone left to be able to talk to and give you that narrative. Tell me about that process going about meeting all these 90 year old men who’d been part of that.

We cast them – we worked with someone who knew who the survivors were and we created a composite crew: one guy for each section and we drove cross-country myself and the producer got in a car and paid house calls because that’s where you’ll find them – you go to them; they don’t go to you – and we spent an hour an hour and a half with each of them across the country: 9 guys, 9 different places. I knew they had to speak to the footage. I knew what was in the footage so I focused the interviews to compliment the footage I knew I had.

It was a highly charged emotional thing for these guys to look at themselves after all these years. 

Yes. This  trauma has never left them and this film opened up that door again for them and my questions opened it up for them, so it was a kind of therapy for them in some ways.

 

What were the biggest challenges for you once the project really heated up and began.  Technically it must have been huge.

No, it pretty much went together very simply. There’s probably 7 active creative participants, 2 people on restoration, 1 person, David Hughes, whose previous film was Black Panther, on sound design, and Richard Thompson, who composed the extraordinary soundtrack.

It was an amazing soundtrack – very evocative and it crept up on you in terms of how it dealt with the emotional moments and how it tried not to be over-melodramatic, I suppose avoiding a propaganda-esque feel.

Exactly. It’s melancholy. That’s something about Richard’s music. He’s always had that kind of melancholy streak, very realistic, cynical streak. I’ve worked with him in the past – he scored my film Grizzly Man and a couple of other films with me. 

What was his way into it? How did you discuss it with him?

He did what he wanted. I’d given him a copy of the finished film with what I thought were the appropriate music choices and he pretty much threw out my choices and did what he wanted, which is  kind of what I was expecting him to do. And he made it far better than I could have dreamed.

Which is part of the joy of that collaborative process when you meet somebody you totally trust.

I do 

And the sound design deserves extra mention as well because that is a huge task to do justice to do something that…  not that it was a case of guessing what it was like, but more to evoke that memory. 

Well the good news is that we didn’t have to guess because  we had access to a real B-17 and state-of-the-art audio recording and we knew where the cameras were placed because we had the footage – so it was probably the opposite of guesswork; it was more duplicate, it was more put the microphone at the right angle and record it exactly how it was. We had to create the sounds of Flak. I worked with the veterans who described what Flak sounded like so we did our best to duplicate that sound.

 

How’s the response been so far at the screenings for the piece?

It’s been terrific. It  seems to be really striking a chord in people. With the success of the Jackson film and  Apollo 11 and now my film, there seems to be a real interest in immersive bigscreen history and for some reason people are looking to escape into “the past”.

I couldn’t get over how huge the missions were from England.

Literally thousands of planes. That will never happen again. You’ll never see 1,000 airplanes in the sky at one time ever again in human history – that was once in human history and William Wyler happened to capture those images in colour film in 1943 and the raw footage that  he captured has managed to survive for 75 years so that’s pretty extraordinary all around.

The work is phenomenal. Just to say again, I’ve never felt such an emotional touchstone to that time and place, in as much as you can have –  it’s a bit of a time machine. 

Thank you – that was the intention, to connect you to the past through the footage of men who were there.

 

In cinemas one night only July 4th http://www.mycineplace.com/thecoldblue

Dublin screening at IFI

 

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Tristan Heanue, Writer/Director of ‘Ciúnas’

 

Tristan Heanue gives us an insight into Ciúnas, his Irish language short film, which is screening at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh. Tristan is also nominated for The Bingham Ray New Talent Award at this year’s festival.

What can you tell us about Ciunas?

It follows a couple as they drive to the city to collect their daughter, they are in the middle of a family crisis. It focuses mainly on the parents and how they cope with the situation.

How did the idea come about?

I was visiting someone in a psychiatric hospital a few years ago and I saw a middle-aged couple sitting at the table next to me in the waiting area. They weren’t speaking and just sitting there in silence.

A few minutes later their daughter arrived, I had no idea why she was there and nothing was addressed when they met. They just proceeded to make small talk even though they both looked like they had a million things they wanted to say to her and ask her. It just stuck in my head, that old Irish thing of not being able to express your feelings or say what you feel. I started to imagine their morning before they came to the hospital and that was where the main story came from.

A few years later I submitted the idea in a paragraph to the Físín Script competition run by the Dingle Film Festival and it was shortlisted and eventually went on to win the award which came with €5000 funding and €2000 equipment rental to make the film.

You’ve a fantastic cast, including Hazel Doupe, who was staggeringly good in Float Like a Butterfly. Can you tell us about finding your 3 leads and working with them.

I saw Hazel in Michael Inside at the Fleadh a couple of years ago, she only had one scene but I was blown away by the emotion and how real she was. I contacted Frank Berry and he put us in touch, I sent her the script and thankfully she liked it.  She’s a really special talent, and takes her work very seriously, I’ve no doubt that she will have an incredible career.

Gary Lydon I have been a fan of for years, we did a film together last August and on the last day I asked him how his Irish was and if he would like to read the script. Again I was delighted he liked it and came on board, we worked very closely on his character and spoke at length in the months preceding the shoot and I think that shows in his performance.

Ally Ní Chairáin I had met through a friend and I instantly knew I wanted to work with her. She was the first person to be cast and again we spoke at length regarding her character and we worked out many ideas and subplots, none of which you see on screen but they gave her layers to her character and performance.

On set it was a dream really, the work we had done individually really showed and everyone hit the ground running. We didn’t rehearse really, apart from a few reads of it the night before we shot.

Does your background as an actor feed in to your directing?

Definitely, I love working with actors, it’s one of, if not my favourite part of the directing process. You just have a better understanding of how they think and what they may need to hear when you’ve acted yourself. You are more sensitive to their needs and can be quite protective of them.

I see you’re working with Narayan [Van Maele, cinematographer] again alongside you – what does he bring to the project and maybe tell us a little bit about working with him.

Narayan’s incredible, we have a wonderful collaborative relationship. He brings so much knowledge with him and always has so many ideas and suggestions. We usually do our location recce together and plan the shot list after. But we like to keep it kind of loose so if something isn’t working or locations change we can work together to find solutions or a better way to do it. I’m looking forward to making many more films with him.

Also you have the brilliant Michael Fleming composing the music…

Yeah, we had worked together on my previous film and I loved the experience. We agreed that this project needed a very subtle score. We decided early on that too many notes over such a delicate piece felt contrived so we set about finding sound textures that reflected the mood instead.

You were also nominated for The Bingham Ray New Talent Award at this year’s festival – what does that mean for you?

It was a real shock to be honest, they had never nominated a short filmmaker before so I really didn’t expect it. I’m hugely honoured and so happy that they liked the film and connected with it. Win or lose it’s a great boost and hopefully it helps bring the film to the attention of some more festivals and helps it on its journey. Things like this can really make a difference with an independent film.

 

Ciúnas screens as part of the Irish Talent: New Shorts 6, Fiction programme on Saturday, 13th July at the Town Hall Theatre at 10:00 as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh.

 

The 31st Galway Film Fleadh runs 914 July 2019.

 

Preview of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh 2019

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Jaro Waldeck, Cinematographer

In this podcast, Gemma Creagh talks to Jaro Waldeck about filmmaking and her career in cinematography. Jaro talks about learning her craft, training opportunities and getting into the industry.

Jaro is a DOP with Master of Arts in Cinematography from FAMU Prague and a Bachelor of Arts in Cinematography from Columbia College Chicago. She interned with Academy Award nominee Phedon Papamichael, ASC, and won several Best Cinematography Awards in Ireland and Scotland. Jaro has worked on projects ranging from short narrative and documentary films to music videos, TV documentaries and commercials and promos. She is a member of Czech Society of Cinematographers and a board member of Women in Film and Television Ireland.

As well as focusing on lighting and camera operating, Jaro has four years combined experience teaching cinematography and supervising student film-shoots. Her skills and experience involve working with all modern digital semi-pro and fully professional cameras and workflows, 35mm and 16mm film stocks and cameras, lighting and camera support equipment, colour corrections, location scouting, technical script analysis, storyboarding and shot list creation.

More information on her website www.jarowaldeck.com

 

 

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Preview of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh 2019

As the good weather starts to kick in we take a look at the goodies on offer at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.  Always a fabulous festival. Hope to see you there. 

The 31st Galway Film Fleadh runs Tuesday 9th to Sunday 14th July 2019

 

Irish Talent: New Shorts 1 – Documentary

Wed 10 July | Town Hall Theatre | 12:00

Features works from both established and debut directors, showcasing the best of Irish talent.

Tickets


Cumar – A Galway Rhapsody

DIR:  Aodh Ó Coileáin

Wed 10 July | Town Hall Theatre | 14:00 

Through the eyes of six Galway artists this is an art film exploring the confluences which have shaped Galway and Connemara’s unique cultural fabric.

Featured artists include writer Mike McCormack, poet Rita Ann Higgins, singer Róisín Seoighe, street theatre director Noeline Kavanagh, visual artist Pádraic Reaney and musician Máirtín O’Connor. Comedian Tommy Tiernan also adds his distinctive voice to Cumar.

CAST: Mike McCormack, Rita Ann Higgins, Róisín Seoighe, Noeline Kavanagh, Pádraic Reaney, Tommy Tiernan, Máirtín O’Connor

Q+A with director Aodh Ó Coileáin

Tickets


Glimpses of Galway

Wed 10 July | Town Hall Theatre | 16:00

 

The Irish Film Institute returns with a new programme of archival films made in and about Galway and its environs. The programme includes both amateur and professional footage, dating from the 1920s to the 1970s, and will cover such a broad range of people and places that you may well see yourself or someone you know on screen. The silent films in the programme will be accompanied by Aran Island fiddler Deirdre Ní Chonghaile.

Tickets


Supervized

DIR:  Steve Barron • WRI: Andy Briggs, John Niven

Wed 10 July | Town Hall Theatre | 19:45

An elderly group of international superheroes have retired to a nursing home in Ireland. Heroic adventures have been swopped for bingo and blanket baths. When one of the group dies after having his superpowers ‘downwardly managed’ for the safety of others, one of them suspects foul play.

Ray, the once world renowned ‘Maximum Justice’, decides to investigate. The rest of the gang are not so convinced, and Ray finds himself not only battling against his enemies, but the stigma and restrictions of old age.

CAST: Tom Berenger, Beau Bridges, Fionnula Flanagan, Louis Gossett Jr., Fiona Glascott, Ned Dennehy

Q+A with Fionnula Flanagan


Irish Talent: New Shorts 2 – Fiction

Thurs 11 July | Town Hall Theatre | 10:00

 

This series of live action shorts features a mix of traditional narrative and experimental storytelling. With an exciting programme of premieres and competition winners from Little Cinema’s ‘48 Hour Challenge’ & Offline Film Festival.


Irish Talent: New Shorts 3 – Fiction

Thurs 11 July | Town Hall Theatre | 11:45

 

This third programme of live action shorts explores the parallel problems of escapism from a variety of settings: judgement, troubled pasts and unhappy status quos. Featuring student work and work from established directors.

Tickets


Finky

DIR: Dathaí Keane • WRI: Dathaí Keane, Diarmuid de Faoite

Thurs 11 July | Town Hall Theatre | 18:00

A musician and puppeteer seeking to escape his past steals an envelope full of cash and escapes to Scotland with his childhood friend Tom to start a new life. On their first night in Glasgow, Finky has an accident and is left paralysed from the waist down. He hits rock bottom, but is given a chance at redemption when he is recruited by Carnival Chaotica, an avant-garde circus troupe. As his journey becomes increasingly hellish and surreal he realises that he must confront his tormented past if he is ever to find peace.

CAST: Dara Devaney, Ned Dennehy, Diarmuid De Faoite, Fionnuala Gygax, Eoin Geoghegan

Q+A with cast and crew


Irish Talent: New Shorts 4: Fiction

Fri 12 July | Town Hall Theatre | 10:00

 

This programme of Irish Premieres explores love stories from the past, the present and everywhere in between. Screening work from both debut and established filmmakers.

Tickets


This selection of shorts celebrates the cinematic convergence of individual art forms. This programme features student film and work from established filmmakers. Loneliness and freedom are key themes throughout.

Tickets


Gaza

DIR:  Garry Keane, Andrew Mcconnell

Fri 12 July | Town Hall Theatre | 13:45

 

It’s hard to imagine anybody living a normal life in the Gaza Strip. Frequently labeled as the world’s largest open-air prison, this is a beautiful portrait of everyday Gazan citizens, leading meaningful lives beyond the rubble of perennial conflict.

Gaza depicts a people plagued by conflict but not defined by it, painting a tender portrait of a beleaguered humanity.

CAST: Manal Khalafawi, Karma Khaial, Ahmed Abu Alqoraan

Q+A with directors Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell

Tickets


Bruno

DIR/WRI: Karl Golden
Fri 12 July | Town Hall Theatre | 16:00

 

Daniel is a man without a home. Following a personal tragedy, he left his wife and job and drifted into a life on the streets of London. Living in the shadows and surviving on the margins has taken its toll. He desperately wants to find a way back to his former life. But guilt and shame are insurmountable obstacles. Instead, he watches his wife from a distance, as she goes about her daily life. She is so close and yet belongs to another world. A world that he once shared with her.

Daniel’s only companion is a dog called Bruno. They are inseparable. But after he is assaulted one night, Bruno goes missing. As Daniel searches the city for Bruno, he comes across a young boy hiding alone in a dark playground. They search for Bruno, forming an emotional bond in the face of danger. Each step of their journey taking them closer to home and offers the possibility of redemption.

CAST: Diarmaid Murtagh, Woody Norman, Seun Shote, Scarlett Alice Johnson

Q+A with director Karl Golden and cast

Breaking Out

DIR/WRI: Michael McCormack

Fri 12 July | Town Hall Theatre | 18:30 

 

Filmed over 10 years and covering a lifetime, Breaking Out is the story of singer and musician Fergus O’Farrell, an artist whose unique talent inspired a generation of songwriters and touched thousands of lives, even as his own was slipping away. Its pace matches the remarkable energy of its central character, a man whose pursuit of perfection, gift for friendship and capacity for love captivated all who met him.

CAST: Fergus O’Farrell, Meng Li O’Farrell, Glen Hansard, Jeremy Irons, Vincent O’Farrell, Maureen O’Farrell, Steve Wall, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Liam Ó Maonlaí

Q+A with director Michael McCormack and cast

Tickets


Animals

DIR: Sophie Hyde • WRI: Emma Jane Unsworth

Fri 12 July | Town Hall Theatre | 20:30

2 best friends and drinking buddies’ hedonistic existence falls under the threat of responsibility and adulthood when Laura gets engaged to Jim – a devilishly handsome and ambitious pianist. As their relationship intensifies, Laura’s friendship with Tyler comes under pressure.

As the fabric of their friendship begins to fray, the bond between these two siren soulmates starts to implode. Finding themselves at a crossroads as their old lives start to slip away, both begin to encounter new opportunities that might carry them beyond their past hedonism. This film, set in Dublin, is a very funny, insightful celebration of female friendship and the choices we make.

CAST: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat Fra Fee, Dermot Murphy

Q+A with cast and crew

A Dog Called Money

DIR:  Seamus Murphy

Fri 12 July | Pálás Screen 3 | 21:00 

As imaginative as the creative process it documents, this is a uniquely intimate journey through the inspiration, writing and recording of a PJ Harvey record.

Q+A with producer Katie Holly

Tickets


Irish Talent: New Shorts 6 – Fiction

Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 10:00

This programme of live action shorts explores themes of avoidance and escapism. Featuring films from both new and established directors. A programme hosting home-grown Irish talent and international co-productions from the United Kingdom and United States.


Irish Talent: New Shorts 7 – Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts

Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 11:45

Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) is proud to present the World Premiere of an exciting selection of new Irish short films funded under the agency’s Frameworks and Short Stories schemes. The Frameworks projects included in this line-up are co-funded by FÉ/SI and RTÉ.

Tickets


Best Before Death

DIR: Paul Duane

Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 13:30 | Documentary

Following artist Bill Drummond over two years of his 12-year World Tour.

CAST:  Bill Drummond, Tracey Moberly

Q+A with director Paul Duane, cinematographer Robbie Ryan and producer Robert Gordon

Tickets


Bojayá: Caught In The Crossfire

DIR: Oisin Kearney

Sat 13 July | Pálás Screen 1 | 13:45

 

The 2002 Bojayá massacre was and remains one of the worst mass atrocities in Colombia’s 50-year-long conflict. The victims were never to be properly identified. As a result, Leyner, a community leader and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, decided to become a lawyer to fight for his people’s rights.

Through capturing Leyner’s obstacle-filled quest in real time, a fascinating perspective emerges on the unfolding history of Colombia.

CAST: Leyner Palacios

Q+A with director Oisín Kearney

Tickets


Jihad Jane

DIR: Ciaran Cassidy

Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 15:30 

 

In March 2010, two American women, including one called ‘jihad Jane’, were caught in a number of high-profile arrests, which were trumpeted by the US attorney’s office as ‘the new face on terror’.

Facing huge jail sentences, the two women pleaded guilty but now for the first time ever, with unprecedented access, Jihad Jane tells the story of the most absurd terror cell ever to come together.

Q+A with director Ciaran Cassidy

Tickets


A Bump Along The Way

DIR:  Shelly Love • WRI: Tess Mcgowan

Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 17:45

 

Fifteen-year-old Allegra is constantly embarrassed by her mother’s immaturity, her dead-end job at the bakery and her lifestyle, encouraged by fast-talking best friend Aisling. But Pamela’s fed up too, having put her life on hold to raise her disapproving daughter.

When Pamela becomes unexpectedly pregnant, the relationship between mother and daughter is tested as the two navigate the upheavals of pregnancy and teenage hormones, driving Pamela and Allegra to a new understanding and appreciation of each other along the way.

CAST: Bronagh Gallagher, Lola Petticrew, Mary Moulds, Dan Gordan, Andy Doherty, Gerard Jordan, Paddy C. Courtney

Q+A with cast and crew

Extra Ordinary

DIR/WRI: Enda Loughman, Mike Ahern

Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 20.00|

 

A driving instructor must use her supernatural gifts to save a lonely man’s daughter from an aging rockstar looking to use her for satanic sacrifice.

CAST: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte


Heyday: The Mic Christopher Story

DIR: Alan Leonard • WRI:  Níall Carver, Alan Leonard

Sat 13 July | Town Hall Theatre | 22:30

One of Ireland’s great musical talents finds his body shattered by a road accident. After a miraculous recovery, he is reborn, transformed, and in his last year inspires his friends onto greatness. Mic Christopher was an enormous musical talent who since his death in 2001, remains largely unknown outside of Ireland.
This story charts Mic Christopher’s rise, fall, rebirth, and legacy – how he leads his wide circle of friends (an entire generation of Irish musicians ) onto fame, success and new artistic highs.

CAST:  Mic Christopher, Glen Hansard, Sharon Horgan, Rónán Ó’Snodaigh, Bronagh Gallagher, Mike Scott, Lisa Hannigan, Colm Mac Con Iomaire

Q+A with director Alan Leonard and cast

Tickets


Irish Talent: New Shorts 8- Documentaries

Sun 14 July | Town Hall Theatre | 10:00

This strand showcases a diverse range of short documentary films. We explore different themes surrounding present-day social and global issues in a variety of styles. Showcasing work from debut filmmakers and more established directors from Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Tickets


A Girl From Mogadishu

DIR/WRI: Mary McGuckian

Sun 14 July | Pálás Screen 3 | 12:00

 

A true story based on the testimony of Ifrah Ahmed, an Irish-Somali activist. In this female empowerment film, Ahmed escapes war-torn Somalia as a teenager. With the help of a human trafficker, she finds refuge in Ireland where she vows to devote her life to stopping the practice of female genital mutilation.

CAST: Aja Naomi King, Barkhad Abdi, Martha Canga Antonio, Maryam Mursal

Q+A with director Mary McGuckian


Irish Talent: New Shorts 9: Animation

Sun 14 July | Town Hall Theatre | 12:00

This strand of shorts celebrates the creative cornerstone of Irish film: the animation industry. We showcase the latest work from established directors and the best in new Irish animation from the country’s recent graduates of Ballyfermot CFE, IADT, Limerick Institute of Technology and Coláiste Dhúlaigh.

Tickets


Never Grow Old (Closing Night Gala)

DIR/WRI: Ivan Kavanagh

Sun 14 July | Town Hall Theatre | 9.30

 

An Irish undertaker initially profits when outlaws take over a peaceful American frontier town, but his family come under threat as the death toll rises. Don’t miss this exciting fast-paced action movie set on the infamous California trail during the 1849 gold rush, where loyalties spin like the barrel of a gun

CAST: Emile Hirsch, John Cusack, Déborah François

Visit galwayfilmfleadh.com for the full programme

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Reel Horror Show: Episode 12

Otto Lehtonen

 

Our grotesque gathering of ghouls and goblins return to spread mischief in the latest episode of the Reel Horror Show. Ali Doyle, Conor Dowling, Conor McMahon and Mark Sheridan are all chained at the ankle to a pipe and will only be set free by discussing horror for over an hour – will they succeed and be freed or will they fail and be handed a hacksaw by their evil editor. 

Films that come under the horror hammer include Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,  Escape Room, The Silence, Us,  The Twilight Zone, Mom and Dad, Insidious IV, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Victor Crowley, The Cure for Wellness, Unfriended: Dark Web, Slenderman, Possum – “it’s a guy, with a bag, with a spider in it…”, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, Necromancer, Patchwork, May, Pet Sematary.


 

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John Butler, Writer/Director Papi Chulo

Set in modern-day Los Angeles, Papi Chulo tells of a down-on-his-luck weatherman (Matt Bomer) who is shaken by the end of a relationship. He has an on-air meltdown, prompting concerned bosses to persuade him to take some time out. To fill his days, he employs a Latino migrant worker (Alejandro Patiño) to paint his home but also to keep him company. Despite their cultural, age and language differences, they connect.

Paul Farren sat down with writer/director John Butler to talk about creating his comedy/drama,  the themes of empathy and unlikely friendship, the talents of Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño and working with DOP Cathal Watters and composer John McPhillips.


Papi Chulo is in cinemas from 7th June 2019

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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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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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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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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.

 

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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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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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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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