Interview with Cathal Black

Cathal Black is one of the most significant film artists from Ireland’s “First Wave” of independent filmmaking during the 1970s and 1980s. 

In 2018 his newest documentary, Five Red Roses: One for Every Syllable of Your Name, was screened at the 63rd Annual Cork International Film Festival. The documentary explores Máirín de Burca, a prominent feminist and Irish republican activist, whose divisive yet gripping story is portrayed by Black in a poetic yet analytical way.

Gabrielle Ulubay had the opportunity to interview Black about the film and about his career more generally.

 

To start off, I attended the Cork Film Festival screening of Five Red Roses: One for Every Syllable of Your Name, and I found it such an interesting documentary on both an informational and audiovisual level. Máirín de Burca, the subject of the film, is such a fascinating figure in Irish history. Would you mind speaking about how you came to make a documentary about her?

I was kind of called into something many years ago, when I was offered the chance to interview a woman who had set up Attic Press, and who was very badly ill at the time, and later died. But I interviewed her and put together a small trailer that we could not, unfortunately, get off the ground. From then, it developed into something more than that. To be honest, there were a few times when I wanted to abandon the project, but we tried to make it a bigger, broader documentary about people like Máirín, Nell McCafferty, and that kind of period. That didn’t take flight either, because of whatever the atmosphere in Ireland was like at the time – some people said that they’d covered it before, or they weren’t sure what the point of view was, or they wanted to sex it up or have a specific, named person walk us through the period. We tried to do that, and used a female comedian, but that got turned down. Then we tried another person, and it wasn’t going to work with her, either. I finally said that it was either going to work with Máirín or it wasn’t going to work at all. Now, someone else could have tried those things and make a different film, but I decided that I didn’t want to have a narrator who appears on screen every once in a while, because that could get a bit boring.

That’s what I like about your documentary. I told you at the end of the film’s screening that I feel documentaries don’t have to be confined to a succession of interviews or voiceover narration. So while you certainly did a few interviews, I found your audio-visual choices very gripping. For instance, it really stood out to me when you had the audio of an interview in the background while we looked at a house with its lights gradually going out. Could you talk about what drove you to make some of those choices?

Well, I didn’t really know what Máirín’s house was like. As a matter of fact, a lot of us thought that the house where she was brought up, in County Kildare, had been pulled down. We thought it was no longer there, and Máirín didn’t seem too keen on filming there. Then, a cousin of hers, named Tomás, who was at the screening in Cork, let us have a look at it, and it was still there. That was very interesting because in my imagination, I had a clear idea of what the house was like: I thought it would be two-storied with old-fashioned staircases, and that wasn’t so.

Now, once we arrived there, the problem was that we didn’t have much time to work with or to mull over what it was about the place that was so interesting. We found some old photographs that we put away in a trunk, and I thought that this house where she was brought up would be instrumental in discovering more about Máirín. She didn’t originally want to reveal much about her father and mother, but she did after a while, when she became comfortable with us. I thought that was a layer which, once brought out, would reveal more about the whole history.

There also aren’t many archives in Ireland about that period in history. There are certainly photographs, and there have been books or bits and pieces written about it, but I wondered how we could visualize all of this. I thought, How do we get to the essence of all of this? Then, when Máirín talked about how she left school at the age of 12 or 13, then joined Sinn Fein at the age of 16 and would come home late on her bike, I found all of that quite captivating. So I took the notion of the house as, one one hand, quite romantic, but on the other hand as having a lot of unrest and a certain amount of sadness. So that was a great way to convey all of that.

Could you talk about the process of finding actors to play Máirín at different ages? Did you have them speak directly with Máirín, or did she have a say in the casting? I imagine that it must have been challenging, because she’s a very complex person.

No, it wasn’t a very difficult process. If you look at the two women who play her, they don’t even look like her at times. I paid more attention to Máirín when she was older, so the woman who is in her twenties was more important to me, whereas the girl on the bicycle was just a one-day shoot. I was trying to match the photograph that Máirín has of herself in her hallway, from her school days. So I thought that if I got someone who looked like that, then I could pull that off. But because of the way this film was made, it was only two or three people trying to piece it together. We didn’t have the luxury of a casting director, so a lot of it we just did ourselves. People did us a load of favors. In fact, there was a woman in Kildare who dressed the girl and found the bike for us, and then we went up to the house and shot what we could. Then we waited for it to get a bit darker, and shot that sequence with her walking with the bike. Nearby, there was actually a school with a little theatre attached to it, so we took footage of the Irish flag on the top of the stage, which is part of Máirín’s story as well. So, in a way, these were all visual metaphors that would probably take us through the story.

The problem is that we had to cut what Máirín said down to its very bone, because there just isn’t enough time to include all of it. It was a question of being visually poetic, as opposed to moving the story along and making good use of time.

I like that you brought up the necessity to bring the film down to its very bones, not only because of time constraints but because of budget constraints. Now, because I am writing for a population that will include aspiring filmmakers working with little or no budget, I was wondering if you could talk about what qualities a filmmaker needs in order to make films under such constraints.

Just speaking from my experience with this film in particular, I found it useful to speak with just two or three people who would be in it for the long haul. I also avoided shooting nonstop for a full week and then getting maybe two days that are very good, while the rest of the week is very bad. That’s just the way I work. I think that you should try to keep it very tight and avoid letting the shooting go on forever, because if it does then all sorts of little mistakes can begin to creep in. Because we were flitting all over the place, picking up shots here and there, it might have been difficult for a large crew to keep up, so I tried to contain it and then find people to help locally.

Now, sometimes we needed more people in scenes, like the Mansion House, which involved about 40 extras. That was probably our most expensive day, because we had to go in, pre-rig it, shoot all day, feed people, and pay them. That was a much bigger operation, so we brought in 2 or 3 extra people for the crew, but in general we kept it pretty tight. It’s almost like some guerilla warfare: You go out, shoot for day or two, come back and assess what you have, and the prepare for the next time you go out. It’s exhausting and not a great way to work, because you have to refuel yourself every time, but in my experience it was the only way we could do it. You also need time to ask yourself, ‘What would be the best image for that?’ or ‘How can I best express that?’ I would think about things that Máirín had told me and wonder if that was a strand I wanted to go on.

But one of the difficult things about doing documentaries is that you have to decide what the narrative is without just listing the things that the person has done. That is alright on paper, and even then looks a bit dull, so you have to consider how to bring some life into the material and what devices you should use to do that. An obvious way is to try to have enough photographs and archival material, and to have people talking, and to cross-cut between them. If you’re interested in this kind of material you would find that interesting, but if not then you might find that boring.

That’s something that came up in the Q&A – the question of how relatable this material is for people who don’t know anything about it, or have nothing to do with the historical material. When you were filming, did you have it in mind that you wanted to make the topic universally interesting?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, one could get into the entrails of the conflict in Northern Ireland, but that’s a very complicated, difficult area. And there are a lot of things Máirín said that people would find very offensive, even though that’s her point of view. You know, when recording this I tried to do justice to what she said, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m for her or against her, because I should be invisible in a certain kind of way. It’s not really my job to come down left or right of her. The aim was to make it so that ordinary people could follow this, without oversimplifying the conflict. There were times that I wondered whether I was skipping over things, but sometimes those are decisions that you have to make.

And it’s very difficult to make those editorial decisions because, like you said, when making a documentary like this you have to remain relatively invisible. I want to bring that back to what you said earlier about a documentary taking on a life of its own, and how Máirín would say certain things that would make you consider going down a different strand. In terms of making this documentary or even making documentaries in general, could you expand on this tension between making editorial, narrative decisions and letting the material take on a life of its own?

I’ve made both documentaries and dramas, and I find that making documentaries is much more fretful. It’s much scarier, because it can take a huge amount of time to find the sort of story you want to do. Also, you have to discover where the documentary leads you and when it begins to find its own energy. It’s a very difficult thing to describe, because the more you work on it the more you pare it back.

It can be quite scary to take things away, but I find that the more information you take, the more the mind expands.

That’s very interesting.

Because the other solution is to just force-feed people information and the audience becomes passive, whereas I wanted people to be riding the journey with her. I wanted them to have a certain amount of feeling for her. You know, I wouldn’t be the best sort of person to make a documentary with just talking heads. I don’t think I could do it.

That’s one of the qualities I appreciated most about the documentary: you captured what a gripping figure she could be, while of course acknowledging what a polarizing figure she could be. The way you depicted her made it so that, whether you agreed with her views or not, she was undeniably fascinating.

If that’s the way it’s working then I’m glad, because from my perspective it’s hard to know whether I’ve hit the right marks. After a certain point, you get thrown out of your editing room because you need space from it. You find yourself making strange decisions in a short space of time, and our editing went over a longer time. I gave myself a certain number of weeks, and it went another 3 or 4 weeks beyond that. I just found it very difficult to get the thing to fit, and I felt that I needed to be fascinated myself or I would get frustrated with it. I had to try to fit the scene with the televisions in, and to take those interviews and use them in an interesting, different sort of way. It didn’t all need to be from A to B to C to D. It could be small pieces of memory, and to me that was more interesting than creating a historical document of her life.

Right, and it is working in the way you intend for it to work. To tie this in with your larger body of work, I know you’ve addressed a number of thought-provoking, often contentious subjects in other films of yours, such as Our Boys (1981), Korea (1995), and Love and Rage (1998). What sparks your interest in these issues, and how do you determine whether you’re going to address them in a documentary or a narrative film?

Well, to go back to Our Boys, that film was made in anger. It was something I felt I needed to do, and I wanted to set the record straight on certain things that were happening in Ireland that are still coming to light. It wasn’t shown on Irish TV for at least 11 years, and it was quite a short piece. The idea was to be subversive in that we used both drama elements and documentary elements, such as archival footage. We want to be subversive and to make a film that said ‘Sorry, but this happened and it was wrong, and we’re going to be living with this for centuries to come.’ I was schooled in the way depicted in the film as well, so I was familiar with the material.

Korea, on the other hand, was made out of love for John McGahern’s short story. There’s an essential sort of dislocation in some of the work, which I find interesting. Anyway, Korea deals with America. It also deals with the notion of going to war, with policy, with legacy, where a father encourages his son to go to America, knowing that he might be enlisted. The father would get paid if his son was enlisted, and if his son passed away.

In a way, the films are about living in a world that I’m not completely comfortable with. I mean, I’m living in a country that I’m not completely comfortable with, but it’s always been like that. It was like that with Máirín de Burca in a way: I didn’t really understand her. I could appreciate what she did, and I was kind of fascinated by her single-mindedness, and yet on another level I wanted to see if there was a way of making this have its own truth, you know? So that you could transcend the historical material and turn it into something else. All my films are sort of like that: They seek to turn something sort of historical and uncomfortable into some energy, as though through some kind of alchemy, so that you can hit audiences in the back of their minds rather than necessarily in the front lobe.

That’s very interesting, and that’s exactly what I was thinking about: how to find the common thread in a diverse range of material. Because the material itself is all very interesting.

Right. For instance, I made a film about Thomas Lynch, who is a poet and undertaker who lives in Michigan. He found out he had some ancestors in Ireland, so he came back to County Clare and met this woman, Maura Lynch, who lived in a small cottage. He absolutely fell in love with the place and comes back every year, and he talks about journeys, the notion of being in Ireland, and the journey he then takes. I was fascinated by that. To put those two things together and to see what his point of view of Ireland was. I accused him once of being far too romantic about Ireland, but at the same time, that cottage in Clare is the same place where I once asked him, ‘Are we going to talk about the fact that you’re an alcoholic?’ You know, it was beautiful down there and I thought that would be the best place to talk about this.

It’s that sort of strange brood that interests me. I think I would be very bored if I didn’t find images and sounds to mix things up and make something interesting. Because without that, you’re just lashing the stuff together.

I agree, and you certainly avoid that pitfall. I really enjoy your work, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

Thank you.

On that note, you said a while ago that you were working on some new things before we started talking. Would you be open to talking about those projects that are in the works, or what you might be considering for the future?

Sure. I have a script for a period drama that I’m hoping will work out. It involves the Second World War and certain royalty coming to Ireland, and what happened to them. That’s one thing.

Another thing is a project about a woman who is with the Irish army in Lebanon, and she comes home because her daughter is shot dead. The drama is about us following her, and seeing where her journey takes us. In a way, it’s about modern Ireland, and the idea of coming back to a landscape that you don’t really recognize anymore. There are so many new people, and everything has changed, and the meaning of being Irish is up in the air… and that’s a good thing, in many ways. Those are the two projects. I’m staying away from documentaries at the moment.

Yes, because you said it took you 8 years to do this last one!

Right. Eight years from the time of trying to get people in it, getting it off the ground and then putting it down for a while, and then picking it back up and trying to get some heat in it, and then being told no. We were bringing the budget down, and it’s vile but that was in part because we were thinking ‘Will it get passed if we bring down the budget?’ Then, of course, you get the money and you’re delighted, but the reality of having to make the film with that amount of money is difficult.

Now, when I say ‘that amount of money’ I don’t mean a couple of Euros. It was certainly enough, but when you’re bringing in scenes like the one with the televisions, and moving locations for different shots, you’re sort of asking for trouble with that budget. But we did it. In many ways, it was a miracle that we were able to do what we did.

Yes, and it’s very impressive, and certainly something we can be inspired by.

Thank you.

To close out, I wanted to mention that I saw a screening of Pat Murphy’s Maeve at the Cork Film Festival, and she mentioned Our Boys as a landmark film that was made around the same time as Maeve. I thought to myself how exciting and interesting that was, because I had just met you at that point and we had decided to do this interview. It’s great to see the filmmaking community and Irish film history come together like that.

Very good, yes. In some ways, I think that Pat is not being given the recognition she deserves. I know that her path has been quite difficult, but the problem about working in Ireland is that even when you make a film, and it’s well received, you feel a sort of pressure to reinvent yourself every time.

Yes, I think that’s a pressure that a lot of artists face.

Yes. There was no guarantee that just because you made something and it was good, you would get permission to do another one.

That’s something many of us artists certainly find ourselves hyper-conscious of. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Thank you.

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Kate Dolan

Filmmaker Kate Dolan was recently named in the Irish Times Top 50 people to watch in 2019: Ireland’s hottest young talent. Gemma Creagh sat down to talk to Kate about her career to-date and what we can look forward to in 2019. 

Kate graduated with an Honours Degree in Film & Television Production from the National Film School, IADT in 2012. There, she majored in Directing and minored in Editing. Her graduate short Breathe In (2012) was selected for a number of Irish and international film festivals. She then worked as a Broadcast Producer in TBWA Dublin for almost 2 years after graduating.

In 2014, Kate attended Berlinale Talents to develop a short called Little Doll at the Short Film Script Station. The film depicts the first same-sex crush of a young girl. The short then premiered as part of Generation Kplus at Berlinale 2016. For her work with Little Doll, Kate was included in the British Council’s fiveFilms4freedom 2016 Global List – 33 inspiring people from around the world promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights every day.

In 2016 Kate was chosen to take part in the Guiding Lights, the UK’s leading mentoring scheme for filmmakers and was paired with director Alice Lowe (Prevenge, Sightseers)

In 2017, Kate was funded by Screen Ireland to make Catcalls, an irreverent horror about a sexual predator who gets what’s coming to him. The film won Best Short Film at the YDA Ireland in 2018 and has played at many festivals all over the world since its premiere at the Cork Film Festival in 2017.

Recently, Kate was selected for Screen Ireland to take part in their inaugural POV scheme. The selected projects will enter a development and mentorship phase before three will be greenlit, with a budget of up to €400,000 each – the money has been ring-fenced from Screen Ireland’s overall production budget. They will be aiming to enter production in late 2019/early 2020. You Are Not My Mother is a horror feature to be written and directed by Kate and produced by Deirdre Levins (Nails) for Fantastic Films.

In the world of music videos, Kate has gained praise for her work with Bitch Falcon and Maria Kelly as well as her recently critically acclaimed video for Pillow Queens’ ‘Gay Girls’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate Dolan: Little Doll

 

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

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Irish Film Review: The Favourite

DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Fiona Crombie •  CAST: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

The Favourite just might be Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ crowning achievement. Lanthimos initially garnered recognition for his acclaimed film Dogtooth, and has successfully built on this with follow-ups  Alps, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

The Favourite is a monstrous regal satire set during early 18th-century England. And like any Lanthimos film, The Favourite is a strange creature, yet in many ways, it’s probably his most accessible and endearing. We’re immediately brought into a world built on a foundation of royal pomp and carnivorous manners, which lend to the presiding absurdist comic tone. But underneath the veneer of aristocratic fashion and elaborate dances is a world of barbarous cruelty, betrayal, cunning, and cunnilingus. In short, very quickly everything we think we know about the period film is subverted through the brutal absurdity of Lanthimos’ deranged vision.

So it’s the 18th century, and while England is at war with France, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is bedbound, and her closest friend and council the Duchess of Malborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs on her behalf. But this loyalty and love is a subterfuge for the Duchesses’ own quest for power. The Duchess is intent on continuing the war if it guarantees her personal advancement, and will even go as far as to tax the Queen’s people. But the Duchesses’ desire is at odds with esteemed trailblazing Tory and landowner Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who is disgruntled by the proposed land tax and tries to persuade the Queen of this. Of course, then along comes Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a disgraced relative of the Duchess, whom she begs for work.  Abigail impresses the Duchess and rises quickly up the ranks. But when Abigail’s desire earns the favour of the Queen too, this brings the Duchesses’ ambitions into doubt and puts her at odds with Abigail.

 

The script was crafted by writers Deborah Davis and Tony Mcnamara. It’s a  crazed work of royal madness that seems to strike straight to the heart of the zeitgeist. The script is toxically comic, the comedy is opulent yet fiercely dark, but there’s a richness to the absurdity which keeps it grounded in a clear emotional reality, even when logic seems to go out the window.

The savagery of Lanthimos’ vision is served honourably by his confidant in arms, Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Ryan’s cinematography injects a distinct sense of chaos and disorder into the aesthetic decorum and pomp of the 1700s. Together Lanthimos and Ryan boldly shape a perspective of the past that’s grossly distorted, both literally and metaphorically, and the film towers because of it.

The performances are staggering and endearingly comic. Rachel Weisz brings an intoxicating wickedness to her role as the Duchess, and Olivia Colman radiates a triumphant ignorance and warmth as Queen Anne. And then there’s Emma Stone, who just kills it, and brings a fierce sense of charm and duplicity to Abigail. Lanthimos really seems to have struck gold with The Favorite; it’s a terse tale fit for the chaos of the times that’s unrepentant in its originality, it’s like a cross breed of Barry Lyndon meets Doctor Strangelove with perhaps a bit of David Lynch thrown into the mix for good measure, go check it out.

Michael Lee

119 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Favourite is released 1st January 2019

 

 

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 32 – Space Jesus & Sudden Male Nudity

 

Sarah Cullen & Richard Drumm return to your ears after a forced lengthy absence in 2018. We hope to find a home in 2019 and have them back for their almost-regular film ruminations. For now, we set up shop in an abandoned room and reflected on the year in film…

The pod kicks off with our buffs looking at their favourite Irish films of the year and includes Richard finally asking Sarah if she’s “got any yokes”.

Our best branding people came together to title a special section for this episode called “The 2018 Oscar Films that Only Came Out Here in 2018 but Are Technically 2017 Films”, including a look at the politics of Phantom Thread and the fish-sex movie.

After discussing the sudden appearances of naked men, Sarah and Richard pull apart their favourite films of the year, discuss recurring tropes in the year in film, including assimilation, Motherhood as a horrifying thing, highbrow trash and how deaths of wives and girlfriends give men the opportunity to become violent and get in touch with their emotions. Handy.

Finally there’s the delicious mention of turkeys of the year.

Ear ye. Ear ye…


 

2018: Writers’ Choice

 

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

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2018: Writers’ Choice

Film is everything we desire and we strive to recognise ourselves in it in a bid to be desired ourselves. It is the light in the dark. It is the whisper in the silence. It bequeathes us an infinity of lives. And so our band of film worshippers honour its divine power and cast an eye over the year that was 2018, delivering their highlights served with the occasional turkey. 

Behold the end of year list…

“The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

Davide Abbatescianni

 

On My Skin (Alessio Cremonini)

Alessio Cremonini’s film is a brave, moving, and incredibly shocking film that revolves around the last days of Stefano Cucchi, a 31-year-old Italian building surveyor who died in unclear circumstances during preventive custody. Alessandro Borghi’s interpretation is simply astonishing here. Now available on Netflix.

 

Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson)

Winner of Cannes’ SACD award and recipient of the prestigious Lux Prize, Benedikt Erlingsson’s feature presents the story of an intrepid woman and is a touching message of civil resistance that viewers cannot ignore.

 

Rosie (Paddy Breathnach)

Paddy Breathnach’s film treats the Irish homelessness crisis, one of the most discussed topics. A well crafted cinematography and the two lead characters’ interpretations (Sarah Greene and Moe Dunford) are rich of realism and tenderness.

 

1983 (Rou Siva)

The best from the East. It is a Polish TV series but with the same dignity of every good European film. Set in Communist Poland during the early 2000s, it is a bright example of what a good alternate history-based series should be. It also disrupts the stereotype that all Soviet-influenced countries should look like poor, depressing, and outdated places to live. 1983’s Warsaw is a feast for the eyes.

 

The Belly of the Whale (Morgan Bushe)

A very enjoyable Irish film, premiered in Galway and marks the directorial debut of Morgan Bushe. Excellent acting, beautiful soundtrack, and a very intriguing original plot. Definitely recommended.


Andrew Carroll

Suspiria (Luca Guadagino)

A feverish nightmare. A study in Nazi culpability. A film about witches. Suspiria is all of these things and more. It is a starkly beautiful, achingly powerful and graphically violent effort by Luca Guadagino with career best performances from Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton and Mia Goth. Suspiria isn’t just a great homage to the 1977 original it’s a genre-defining horror film in its own right.

 

First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

Ethan Hawke’s best performance since Linklater’s Before Trilogy anchors Paul Schrader’s modern day Taxi Driver. Cough syrup in whiskey and a barbed-wire crucifixion echo the film’s themes of religious faith and stewardship as well as personal pain. First Reformed acknowledges that when everything else is gone faith – no matter what it’s in – will be all we have left.

 

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)

The greatest Western action film ever made. Tom Cruise’s willingness to die for our entertainment makes this film a necessity. No other movie superstar does this kind of thing on this level. Scientology and long running times be damned Mission: Impossible – Fallout never backs away from the edge, it jumps right off.

 

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos)

The newly crowned King of the midnight movie. Cage howls and roars his way through axe-forging and chainsaw duels in his most Nicolas Cage and most affecting performance ever. Panos Cosmatos conjures up dreamscapes with a dedication rarely seen outside of a heavy-metal album cover all while the late Johan Johansson saws at guitars and coaxes midnight blue melodies out of synthesisers. All hail the Children of the New Dawn!

 

Kissing Candice (Aoife McArdle)

A weird mood piece in the often realist landscape of Irish cinema but one that shines bright, nonetheless. It is a beautiful and gritty indictment of the culture that created a violent, wayward, disaffected youth across Ireland. Director Aoife McArdle’s dreamy, grounded direction makes Kissing Candice a Discover Ireland ad for those caught between the mire of the past and a future already out of reach.

 

Worst of the Year

Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence)

By far the most disappointing movie of 2018. Full to the brim with needless sexual violence and grim torture Red Sparrow is nowhere near as clever or provocative as it thinks it is. Perhaps worse is that it’s euthanasia inducingly boring. And that is the worst crime a movie can commit in this day and age. A waste of a great cast is the final nail in Red Sparrow’s coffin.


Sarah Cullen 

Overall I’m satisfied with 2018. While there were some disappointments there were also some very pleasant surprises. Once again my top 5 is horror-heavy but at this point I’ve accepted it as my lot in life. In no particular order…

Unsane (Steven Soderbergh)

I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt quite as sick and claustrophobic at a film before. Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane takes on the classic gothic tropes of entrapment and hysteria and reworks them for the twenty-first century in this scathing attack of the American health system and American misogyny. There has been little more cathartic this year than Claire Foy’s vicious and devastating take-down of her relentless stalker. And it’s all shot on a camera phone, to put all those fancy-schmancy filmmakers in their place.

 

A Sicilian Ghost Story (Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza)

Based on the horrific real-life abduction Giuseppe de Matteo, the son of an informant, by the Sicilian mafia, Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s adult fairy tale turns a nightmare into an aspirational tale of love and hope. Following the detective work of a local girl who is determined to discover the truth behind the kidnapping, Sicilian Ghost Story permits its child protagonists agency through fantasy, enabling them to transcend the bounds of their complicit adult society. Haunting yet strangely uplifting, the film becomes a way of exorcising the ghosts of Giuseppe’s unimaginable ordeal.

 

The Little Stranger (Lenny Abrahamson)

Did Lenny Abrahamson’s chilling tale of toxic masculinity just reinvent the ghost story? At the risk of sounding naive, I’m going to say yes, and also that I love it. The often mundane relationship between Domhnall Gleeson’s affable doctor and Ruth Wilson’s lonely impoverished patrician lulls the viewer into a false sense of security before Abrahamson ingeniously reveals (or does he?) the mysterious force at the centre of the film, Wilson’s crumbling family estate. It’s a thinker for sure.

 

Black 47 (Lance Daly)

Perhaps there’s a reason we’ve never had a film about the Irish famine until now: with the year (and even the week) that’s in it, it feels eerily prescient. Either way, Lance Daly’s western revenge thriller is chock-a-block with fantastic action and excellent performances. In particular, it should be praised for its sophisticated stunt choreography which ensures that the narrative never flags. Ultimately, Black 47 demonstrates how a film’s subject matter can add much-needed pathos and nuance to a genre.

 

Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)

It’s nice to see a slacker film really putting in the work. An almost pitch-perfect response to last year’s Get Out, Boots Riley’s absurdist comedy takes off where Jordan Peele left off in its examination of commodification and race in the United States, except this time we also get Danny Glover explaining double-consciousness to Lakeith Stanfield. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we might get a third film in the same vein next year and make it an unofficial trilogy. (Anyone know if Ava DuVernay has a gap in her schedule?)

 

Turkey

Red Sparrow

While there are a bunch of movies I would consider nominating here, I think I’m going to go with the one that was most watchable in a trainwreck sort of way, which would be Red Sparrow. If you really wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence and the director of the Hunger Games franchise back together to make a new version of the Hunger Games but this time about sexual assault rather than violence, then you’re in luck. But also, what in the heck were you thinking?


David Deignan

Custody (Xavier Legrand)

A masterpiece. I did Custody the disservice of watching it during a long-haul flight but that didn’t stop it from being the best cinema experience of my year. This terrifically tense family drama follows the destructive divorce of a hellish couple and the horrific toll it takes on them and on their two children. It’s almost overbearingly intense at times but remains absolutely engaging from the very first frame to the last – a testament to the sheer strength of the writing, direction and the performances of the key cast. This is faultless filmmaking across the board, and it is extremely hard to believe that this is only Xavier Legrand’s first feature. I can’t wait to see what he does next. If Custody is any indication, it’s going to be special.

 

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

Spectacular in every sense of the word. Roma marks Alfonso Cuarón’s first Spanish-language feature since 2001’s Y Tu Mamá También and is a sprawling, heartfelt snapshot of a tumultuous time in the life of Cleo – a young, live-in housekeeper for a middle-class family – and the city that she lives in. Set in the Roma district of Mexico City in the early 1970s, this film boasts a gorgeous visual palette. Beautifully shot (with cinematography also by Cuarón) in black and white, every individual frame is carefully curated by a filmmaker at the absolute top of his game. It surprised nobody by winning the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival and, while no foreign language film has ever won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Roma will undoubtedly be in the picture come February. Although it’ll soon be available for streaming on Netflix, this sweeping behemoth begs to be seen on a big screen.

 

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

Lynne Ramsay’s powerful fourth feature is deeply intricate, deftly subtle and stirringly affecting, confirming her place as one of contemporary cinema’s most exciting filmmakers. Based on the 2013 novella of the same name, the film’s narrative is essentially a character study of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe, an unstable hired gun who is tasked with rescuing trafficked girls from their captors. Phoenix is in fantastic form, delivering his best performance to date as a character who may be the most captivating of the year. Ramsay’s clever staging and misdirection drives the electrically charged narrative forward, her confident storytelling coupling with Jonny Greenwood’s dissonant score to create a jittery atmosphere perfect for this film. I couldn’t get this out of my head for weeks after watching.

 

Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest is a beautiful ode to the families we choose, rather than the ones we are born into. Winner of this year’s Palme D’Or in Cannes, the narrative follows a tight-knit family who are forced to shoplift in order to survive their life of extreme poverty. To tell much more than that here would be unfair, as this is a subtly complex story which deserves to be experienced by an audience going in blind. All I’ll do is reserve special praise for Kore-eda and his stellar cast, with the younger members in particular stealing the show.

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, Rodney Pothman)

Hot take: this is the best comic-book movie ever made. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is chiefly a love letter addressed to the turbulent history of its titular hero as well as the array of creatives who have brought his stories to life both on the page and onscreen. It’s a brilliantly silly caper full of heart and whip-smart humour, and the gorgeously varied visual palette can be held up as an A+ example of what animation as a form can achieve. This was the most fun film of the year for me. The late Stan Lee would undoubtedly have been proud.

 

Surprise of the Year

Blockers (Kay Cannon)

I didn’t expect much at all from this inversion of the typical teen sex comedy. The trailers and inconspicuous title did the film no favours in marketing, serving to disguise the surprisingly sweet and refreshingly open-minded story buried beneath the dick jokes. The film is hilarious when it wants to be and touching when it needs to be, smartly exploring the teen angst of sexual exploration and the parental fear of growing apart with your children. It has well-drawn characters with highly effective individual arcs and deserves real credit for representing minorities in a way that doesn’t feel tacked on. And John Cena is outstanding, announcing himself as a seriously funny comedic talent. Wow, I never thought I’d say that.

 

Christmas Turkey

Peterloo (Mike Leigh)

Alfred Hitchcock famously once said that “drama is life with the dull bits cut out”. Peterloo is based on real-life events, but writer/director Mike Leigh has left in the the dull parts and forgotten to add any excitement. Whatsoever. Stuffy, bloated and outstandingly boring. I love Christmas Turkey, but I hated Peterloo.

 

Most Anticipated 2019

The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent) / Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)

The Nightingale – Jennifer Kent’s long awaited second feature following 2014’s acclaimed The Babadook – was my personal favourite at this year’s Venice Film Festival. It is a brutally violent, intensely provoking and unflinchingly honest revenge story guaranteed to polarise audiences upon releasing next year. Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, meanwhile, is an unapologetically funny anti-war film. The story follows lonely and confused young German boy Jojo, whose only goal in life is to become the best Nazi the world has ever seen. In order to achieve this aim, he calls upon the help of his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler – goofily played by the half-Jewish, half-Maori Waititi. The filmmaker has proudly stated that his latest is going to “piss off a lot of racists.” It’s also going to be a strong awards contender this time next year.

 


Sean Dooley 

Deadpool 2 (David Leitch)

I thought Infinity War would have been my favourite movie of the year for sheer size alone but Deadpool 2 lived up to the high standards from the first movie and blew it out of the park. Ryan Reynolds can do no wrong and just keeps getting better and better with the likes of Deadpool (we don’t mention Green Lantern) my personal favourite of the year.

 

Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

The must-see movie of the year for not just Marvel fans but everyone. A huge collaboration of the Marvel universe finally coming to fruition, one of the biggest and best Marvel movies.

 

A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper)

Another man that can do no wrong it seems is Bradley Cooper, one of my favourite actors, and he plays a famous junkie. Lady Gaga is a revelation and was probably a surprise to everyone how well she could act. We all knew Cooper’s acting skills but I was blown away by his musical ability and vice versa with Gaga and her acting ability. A fantastic version of the movie that brings you in and pulls on your emotions to the end.

 

Christopher Robin (Marc Forster)

A feel-good family movie that appeals to all ages. Taps into a nostalgia but beyond that never fails to pull on your heart strings.

 

Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird)

Another nostalgic throwback for everyone, this one had been long awaited by myself and I am sure millions of others still wondering what happened at the end of the first movie with the Underminer. A relief that we finally got the movie, and not just get it, but live up to the standards of the first, which most sequels find extremely hard to do.



Richard Drumm

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
It’s difficult to put into words what this film is or how deeply under your skin it can get. A thoroughly affecting exploration of PTSD, violence and the darkest concerns of the soul. You couldn’t call it a fun watch but everything from the editing, sound design and cinematography   to a highly impressively crafted and suffocating atmosphere of dread.

 

Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson)

 

One of the most intense horror sequences of the year, a superb score, believable lead characters and some of the most satisfyingly righteous anger to emerge so far in the post #MeToo era.

 

Cam (Daniel Goldhaber)

 

Another film to add to the growing list of impressive Netflix originals. Gorgeously shot and anchored by a great central performance, it’s a clever, sex positive horror that’s an unsettling mirror to our digital lives.

 

Upgrade (Leigh Whannell)

 

Aka Good Venom. A tightly constructed, inventive and thoroughly satisfying low-budget action thriller that’s able to see its concept through to its logical conclusion.

 

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)

 

For all intents and purposes, this year’s Fury Road. We can argue all day if it’s a good thing to let Cruise have this much good will given his, ahem, affiliations, or if maybe its too long, but those concerns largely melt away given the sheer quality of the staging of the nearly 100% practical stunt work on display. Staggering that no one was killed making it.

 

Best-Worst:

 

Final Score

 

Or as it’s more affectionately known; ‘Die Hard at a Football Match’. Stupid beyond words, it’s a film clearly made by Brits with an eye for the American market so includes every football stereotype imaginable. Evil Soviet types take a stadium hostage in order to capture Pierce Brosnan where the day is ultimately saved by racism and not Dave Bautista ramping his motorbike over a still happening football game. Grade-A shite.

 


Ilsa Flynn

Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)

Surrealism at its finest. This film is a landmark. It is not only a statement on racism in the US, it is a statement on capitalism and how it is consuming us beyond comprehension. There are no words to encompass this film accurately. It is completely bizarre but oh so brilliant. You must see this film before you die.

 

Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)

It’s a raw, yet ironic look at the life of an introverted girl who comes to accept herself for who she is. I was touched by how on the nose this movie is. It doesn’t idealise or pretend. It contains the gritty details of early adolescence with care and brute honesty. I honestly couldn’t love this film more

 

Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

A heartwarming story to the core. Wes Anderson puts an interesting spin on his style with his first original stop motion picture. A trust is formed and justice is sought. There is a beautiful look at barriers and comprehension. This ultimately is a very human and heartwarming story. Beautiful in aesthetic and story.

 

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

This film is unsettling to say the least. The originality was astounding and the story took turns no one could have foreseen. Slow moving, and ominous for a spine-chilling first act with a jolt into the second act that shocks you until the end and continues to build to unforeseen heights. I was terrified in the true sense of the word. This is honestly the most terrifying film I have ever seen.

 

Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

The most anticipated film of the year did not disappoint. Many entered the theatres like myself, unaware of what to expect and whatever expectation we did have was risen with this action packed, hilarious, yet somehow devastating instalment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

Irish Film

Cellar Door

Small budget independent that blew me away. You will be disillusioned but engrossed from the first second. This film is magnificently written and put together. The story of a young mother who is brought to a mother and baby home quickly becomes a psychological thriller on a level of pure brilliance.  


Shauna Fox 

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer)

An amazing film with, obviously, the best soundtrack. This is an absolute job to watch, capturing the highs and lows of Freddie Mercury’s career. Rami Malek is a revelation; and the last twenty minutes of the film…it’s a kind of magic.

 

Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

I am total Marvel nerd, and this was the holy grail of Marvel films! The acting, the CGI, the action, the soundtrack, the cinematography all just everything came together to make this the most ambitious Marvel film yet. And if you haven’t checked out the new trailer for Avengers: Endgame…where have you been hiding?!

 

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

Slick, stylish, and modern, Black Panther was everything that was hinted for us when we first met T’Challa in Civil War. This was one of Marvel’s more contemporary feeling films.

 

Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu)

Hilarious and romantic, this is a film about finding the strength to love. Great costumes, fantastic soundtrack; this was the comedy of the year for me.

 

Deadpool 2

Violent, gory, and hilarious! Everything that is expected of the Deadpool franchise. Perfection!

 

Notable mentions:

A Star is BornAnt-man & the Wasp Mamma Mia 2

 


Cian Geoghegan

The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)

Orson Welles’ phantom masterpiece finally sees the light of day, and reaches it gargantuan potential. A daring film, serving chiefly to deconstruct the cult of personality around Welles, and demolish the church of the iconoclast film director.

 

Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

At once the most wholesome and tragic film of the year, chronicling a family bonded not by blood but by illegal living space. Its beauty is neat and subtle. Its heart is gigantic.

 

BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

Bounding with immediacy and passion. Spike Lee has made the most mainstream-friendly film of his career, while still holding nothing back.

 

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)

Impeccably plotted, staged, shot, scored. The action highlight of the year. Pure functional filmmaking at its best.

 

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)

A collage of stories ranging from the farcical to the melancholic, all of which sink their teeth into the mind of the viewer. Tom Waits as a lonely prospector is the most beautiful sequence of the year.

 


Liam Hanlon 

Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Everything from the remarkable Vicky Krieps performance to Lesley Manville’s cutting glances help make Daniel Day-Lewis’s ‘final’ performance a standout. Paul Thomas Anderson helms a film, much like Reynolds Woodcock’s dressmaking, that is elegant, refined, and has an alluring sense of mystery, intrigue, enchantment. I loved it.

 

120 BPM (Robin Campillo)

This film offers an exploration of Parisian Act Up activists in the early ‘90s and offers hope despite some of the activists inevitably surrendering to AIDS. There is such a joie de vivre here, especially in nightclub sequences with the incredible Arnaud Rebotini soundtrack, and there is life in these characters, despite what lies ahead for them. The film is packed with emotion and the final act is powerful. It was also released on the same week as Love, Simon; a great week for queer cinema.

 

Lean On Pete (Andrew Haigh)

I adored 45 Years and was eagerly-anticipating Andrew Haigh’s next film. Lean On Pete makes the ordinary extraordinary and Charlie Plummer’s performance is captivating. Haigh possesses a deft touch at capturing relationships and interactions on-screen and I can’t wait for what he has in store next.

 

Lucky (John Carroll Lynch)

Harry Dean Stanton, in one of his final roles, is mesmerising as Lucky. It’s a film about one man’s daily routine and sounds lifeless on paper. Yet, one accident forces him to consider his own mortality and the film ironically becomes full of life. The sequence with Lucky singing at a Spanish birthday party is truly beautiful and then there’s David Lynch’s character who laments his runaway tortoise called President Roosevelt. What’s not to love?

 

Michael Inside (Frank Berry)

This film had elements of Loachian social realism and is a moving piece of cinema. Dafhyd Flynn as Michael is one of the performances of the year and Michael is a character you can support and sympathise with. It’s a film that deserves much more acclaim and Berry and Flynn will undoubtedly further assist in the promising future of Irish cinema.

 

Honourable Mentions

 Dublin Oldschool, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Love, Simon, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, BlacKkKlansman, Brad’s Status, Widows

 

Turkey of the Year

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I feel sorry for J.A Bayona for putting his name to a mishandled franchise reboot like this. He deserves better and the few good things about this are all Bayona-influenced. Not Trevorrow/Connolly.

 


Dakota Hevron

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald

While leaving something to be desired as a sequel to the highly successful Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the film is a solid second installment in the series, visually marvellous and brilliantly acted.

 

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

Black Panther is a phenomenal film, fast-paced and enthralling, a worthy installment in the Marvel film franchise with incredible performances from the cast.

 

Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

Absolutely worth all of its hype, the film is more than successful in its ambitious task of bringing so many heroes and storylines together, one of the must-sees of the year.

 

BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

A hard-hitting must-see. BlacKkKlansman is a vastly entertaining and utterly unapologetic film, one that is unfortunately still all too relevant today.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer)

The brilliantly-told story of a legend, an entertaining and poignant biopic with an award-worthy performance by Rami Malek.


Niall James Holohan 

Filmworker

Filmworker (Tony Zierra)

I was lucky enough to see Tony Zierra’s Filmworker alongside Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon on the same weekend this summer as The Lighthouse cinema in Dublin made the ingenious decision to screen several Kubrick films key in Filmworker’s narrative the same weekend that the documentary was released. This meant seeing Leon Vitali at both ends of the burning candle, as it were. First, as Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, a performance which seemed set to propel him into a long and illustrious career as a character actor and then as the man obsessed with being Kubrick’s assistant, at the end of the road which Vitali chose instead. On the face of it, this might seem like a movie for Kubrick enthusiasts only but in fact, it tells a profound heart-wrenching story of unerring commitment to a mentor and their work which demystifies the filmmaking process and, as a result, resonates far beyond the unending conceptualization and conspiracy theories which usually accompany any discussion on Stanley.

 

24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami)

Also originally released in Iran in 2017 but distributed throughout Europe in 2018, this experimental film by Abbas Kiarostami was his last before he passed away in 2016. Essentially, 24 Frames is series of shots holding for 270 seconds on what first appear to be still images, photographs, and paintings which slowly come to life. It’s an experience which is highly diminished through its description but its uncompromising dedication to the power of the arresting image makes it a film which I would highly recommend to any fellow cinéaste.

 

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

The parallels with Taxi Driver and to a lesser extent, Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, notwithstanding, this was probably the best experience I’ve had in a cinema this year. Lynne Ramsay’s films to date could be described as pure cinema in that there is often little overly said but so much going on by way of the art of visual storytelling. Amazing performances all around, typically sensitive direction from Lynne Ramsay and a shoo-in for Best Sound Mixing at the Oscars in March (I am a PTSD survivor and some of the soundscapes shook me to my very core), You Were Never Really Here is highly likely to be the 2018 film that stays with us the longest.

 

BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

When Trump was elected, I sat with an American friend in London and searching for something positive to say, I suggested that maybe, just maybe we might see the best of America in response to Trump’s warped vision of the world. BlacKkKlansman, for my money, is the finest artistic response we’ve had yet from a visionary auteur who is sliding smoothly toward becoming one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time, and arguably the one that matters most. Not a masterpiece but a timely slice of entertainment acting as a Trojan horse for big ideas and so, a unique film in 2018.

 

Generation Wealth (Lauren Greenfield)

Lauren Greenfield may not be a household name, but for the past 25 years, she has found a unique artistic voice in analyzing significant cultural shifts with a fine-tooth comb. It is a key conceit of her new film, Generation Wealth, that all of these explorations, however diverse, have led to one monolithic phenomenon: wealth culture. In Generation Wealth, Greenfield presents the best of her previous work to create an entertaining fable about the wealthiest social class in human history, almost as if told from the point of view of a historian detailing the follies that inevitably precede the fall of every ill-conceived empire. It gave me vertigo. See it.

 

Worst Films of the Year

American statesman and 26th President of the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt once famously said “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”. Still, The 15:17 to Paris, Death WishSherlock Gnomes and sadly, A Wrinkle in Time left me wondering WTF.

 


Michael Lee

 

First Reformed (Paul Shrader)

Paul Shrader fearlessly stares eternal spiritual questions straight in the face and doesn’t so much as blink, and Ethan Hawke gives the performance of his career.

 

The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

Yorgos Lanthimos offers us his opus, a  biting period satire told through a wildly absurdist lens akin to Beckett.

 

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

A horror that elevates itself above the genre, it’s classic and fresh at the same time,  writer/director Ari Aster richly captures the intensity of a disintegrating family as they step closer and closer to damnation,  and Toni Collette’s manic performance is nothing short of electric.

 

Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)

Boots Riley made the bestest, weirdest, wackiest satire since Putney Swope or Candy.

 

Phantom Thread (P.T Anderson)

P.T Anderson’s period drama hypnotizes with befitting decorum.


John McGarr 

buster scrubs
 
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)

 

The best film of the year. It’s beautifully shot, spans a wide range of genres and emotions and doesn’t have a single weak performance.

 
 

 Climax (Gaspar Noé)

 

The closest thing there is to a waking nightmare. Includes some of the best cinematography of the year.
 
 

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

 

A subtly terrifying film; Toni Colette gives the performance of the year. The modern version of The Shining.

 
 

Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

 

Aesthetically pleasing with some fantastic character designs, set designs and music.

 
 

Annihilation (Alex Garland)

 

A complex film that’s a slow burn on the viewer. The final 30 minutes are outstanding with one of my favourite endings to a film.

 


Conor McMahon

One Cut of the Dead (Shinichirou Uedaone)

 

This Japanese low-budget hit was made for 27,000 and has grossed 27 million. It’s hard to talk about this film without spoiling the really clever premise. It’s enough to say it starts with a 35 minute one-take zombie scene, before the film takes a sharp twist. It’s a film that leaves you with a feeling of pure joy for the making of low-budget horror.

 

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)

 

One of the most tense and clever horror films for a long time. And if nothing else it got people to shut up talking in the cinema.

 

8th Grade (Bo Burnham)

 

Elsie Fisher gives an amazing and awkward central performance of what feels like a very authentic portrayal of life as an 8th Grader. Directed by YouTube star Bo Burnham

 

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

 

Sold as the scariest film since The Exorcist, this film has some genuinely shocking moments and a great performance by Toni Colette. Also stars Gabriel Byrne.

 

Halloween (David Gordon Green)

 

Made as a sequel to the original Halloween, I thought this film set the right tone of horror diffused with some very funny moments. It re-established Michael Myers as someone to be feared. A new score by John Carpenter and with Jamie Lee Curtis back in the lead role made for a 77 million dollar opening weekend. The film clearly hitting the mark with fans.

 


Jack O’Dwyer 

eight grade

Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)

YouTube star Bo Burnham’s debut feature-length film is perhaps the only coming-of-age film in recent years which accurately depicts the milieu in which adolescents are growing up in the late-2010s. Burnham brilliantly captures the ways in which the joys, heartbreaks, jealousies and paranoias of teenage life have been displaced from the physical world to the virtual world of Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram. Unlike most films of its type which are largely out-of-touch in their efforts to portray social media etiquette, Burnham is meticulous in his rendering of the digital age; a clear reflection of his 12-year long spell as an internet celebrity. In addition to this well-needed timeliness, the film features an emotional central performance by Elsie Fisher as the painfully awkward and pessimistic Kayla Day, a thirteen-year-old eighth grader attempting to cope with the loneliness and pressures of high school life.

 

Utoya: 22 July (Erik Poppe)

Erik Poppe’s Utøya July 22, through the precise co-ordination of its actors and the sheer ambition of its cinematographic acrobatics, asserts itself as perhaps the most visceral and affecting film ever made about mass murder or terrorism. While the specific characters at its centre are developed effectively, the unbroken long take which presents this film also acquires its own sense of agency, which plunges the viewer into the horror of the situation in the most totalizing way possible. The killer’s presence is established through adept sound design and restrained glimpses, in a way which creates a sustained sense of fear without glorifying or legitimizing his hateful actions. The film’s structure is skilfully mapped onto the actual events of the 2011 Norwegian tragedy, with this verisimilitude leading to a palpable sense of time ticking agonizingly by throughout the shooting’s seventy-two minutes. This harrowing yet respectful depiction of a modern European tragedy is one of the year’s best films.

Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)

A unique assemblage of allegory, fable, fantasy and dream, Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro deserves praise and recognition for its temporal undulations, strange internal logic, and abstract approach towards important themes such as class, modernity and nostalgia. Through the timeless, saintly figure of Lazzaro, the film raises powerful questions relating to the place of absolute goodness in a world which is built perpetually on inequality and exploitation. The film does well to remain consistent both tonally and logically despite the loose and often shocking events which constitute its plot, most notably the daring mid-film pivot which entirely refocuses the script’s direction and context. While the film may be accused of losing focus and devolving into predictability during its second half, it must be admired for stubbornly maintaining its own unique vision. Its dual portrayal of a Europe which is beset by lasting societal issues renders the film essential viewing for fans of art-house cinema.   

Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub)

Marc Turtletaub’s Puzzle is one of the year’s most emotionally powerful films. Deceptively simple, it centres on a shy, middle-aged housewife, Agnes, who finds solace in the activity of solving jigsaw puzzles. Upon meeting a partner in her new hobby, Robert, with whom she enters a puzzle-solving competition, Agnes begins to lead a secret life away from her family, which crumbles the bedrock of her mundane, submissive existence. This is a film with much conflict but no villains; each argument is so fairly written that every character onscreen becomes equally deserving of viewer sympathy. Above all, the film proves that anyone’s life can be transformed at any time, and often in the unlikeliest of ways.

Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz)

Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot is a film which succeeds on every level. The film’s thematic density is subtly enriched throughout by its elegant yet disorientating three-piece structure. The film ranges in tone from a distant and surreal examination of war’s absurdity to an intensely claustrophobic portrayal of how a family copes with sudden grief, yet each tonal and temporal shift satisfyingly reinforces the film’s structural integrity. Its complex portrayal of the role of causality and chance within the realm of war is particularly powerful, both on a human level and in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during which it takes place. While the film often feels numb on the surface, as viewers we can infer a great deal of emotional and thematic heft which goes far beyond the boundaries of the script. It is varied yet controlled, reserved yet inventive; for these reasons, Foxtrot is a masterpiece.


Sean O’Rourke

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsey)

Director Lynne Ramsey again proves herself an expert at forcing her viewer into a mind split apart by trauma. Her direction and Joaquin Phoenix’s central performance lead us through a world so dark that the empathy and hope we find there is utterly unexpected and all the more captivating.

 

The Silver Branch (Katrina Costello)

The Silver Branch is a moving tribute to the interlocking, mutually generative forces of art and the natural world. That the film is able to blend these concepts so well, exploring life in The Burren in such a way that shows the concepts to be intertwined and, perhaps, inextricable, speaks to the amazing craft on display.

 

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

Though I could imagine Hereditary being near unwatchable for many people for many reasons, the film was completely compelling to me. It was not easy going and watching it often felt like being a dog having his face pushed into a recently-soiled carpet, but its insightfulness about collective family trauma, its exploration of the isolation caused by that collective trauma, and its eye for the visceral and the uncanny brought me through every torturous (in the best possible way) minute.

 

Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski)

Cold War is, at its core, the story of a fundamentally destructive relationship. The tale, which spans both sides of the Iron Curtain, sees love, hate, art, and politics merge, piling more and more pressure on this already flawed relationship, tearing it slowly at its seams. The film examines in detail the resulting ugly and beautiful atrophy that these characters unavoidably bring on each other.

 

First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

A kind of Taxi Driver for the age of climate change, First Reformed centres on a pastor who comes to find a horrifying purpose in response to the apathy and outright malevolence of his fellow man. Much like You Were Never Really Here, the film has a beautiful and unsettling way of combining a grimy, cynical vision of the world with empathy for those people who do or plan to do rather terrible things. On a more personal, selfish note, you should also see First Reformed because I need more people to discuss its ending with – it is gorgeous and baffling in equal measure.

 


James Phelan 

you-were-never really here

Just to clarify the criteria I apply to this list, I deliberately exclude the year’s crop of Oscar contenders. Regardless of their actual release date; spiritually and contextually they already feel like the previous year’s films.

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsey)

Here we have a brutal rumbling beast of a film. At once harrowing in its’ depiction of revenge but also curiously subtle in where the camera doesn’t venture. Yet it grows all the more devastating and graphic for its’ relative restraint.  The plot sits on ostensibly clichéd ground but Lynne Ramsey churns it all up and finds fresh blood and visuals to stain our memories with. The mesmeric audio is award worthy too.

 

A Simple Favour (Paul Feig)

I’m so far out on a limb here that I can barely see the tree of critical consensus anymore. No one else seemed to react to this zesty, zany thriller comedy but it provided one of precious few real surprises at the cinema this year. Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are the beating heart of a hybrid that elicited gasps and giggles at intoxicatingly invigorating levels.

 

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)

It’s sign of the times stuff when A Quiet Place feels like a small over-achieving film. Yet among the dull bombast of incessant blockbusters, it did feel like a stealthy skilful intruder. Apparently a whole ‘War of Worlds’ first act was jettisoned so there were excellent instincts at play here on the writing side. It was similarly assured in its’ direction. Reducing human pain down to a nail on the stairs continues to evoke more wincing empathy in audiences than entire cities falling over.

 

Tully (Diablo Cody)

I should be breaching my Oscar rule for this but Charlize Theron was not on any shortlist for this sweet, sharp and sour take on motherhood. But heck, super tired mums don’t expect any recognition. The film’s own internal identity crisis makes sense by the end as Diablo Cody’s fairytale unravelled into achingly poignant reality.

 

Teen Titans Go To The Movies/Into the Spider-Verse

Yup I know. Trying to be cool to ingratiate myself to the arthouse crowd again. While also sneaking in a sixth film. Sue me. Animation revenue is propping up the movies and we should acknowledge it once in a while.

Teen Titans was the best superhero satire of the year, expertly extending its episodic madness to a really pleasing, really funny feature. Spider-Verse proved yet again that the application of imagination and humour can enliven even a franchise that is being served up to us with what should be boredom inducing frequency.

 

Underrated

I have love in my heart for Thoroughbreds. Its’ theatrical trappings poke through too much in the finale but in the main, it’s an icily performed if imperfect thriller. BlacKkKlansman is rightly receiving plenty of praise. However for me, it’s more an important film than a good film. Perhaps following the vagaries of actual fact hurts it, because it never fulfilled the promise of its giddy and gripping trailer. This opinion may suggest it belongs in the overrated category but I merely hope this film is underrated by just me and will blossom on further viewings.

 

Overrated

When a critical tide sweeps in behind certain films, it seems that all film reviewers worldwide have entered an omerta pact. We all know the type of film that gets universal five star status upon release and three months later, it all gets dialled back to its’ true rating.  This herd mentality leads to films as deeply flawed as Hereditary, Widows and Incredibles 2 being anointed as instant classics.

For the record, the second Incredibles got some bounce from moving Elastigirl centrally but thereafter – it’s the same film as the first. Like the exact same. With an ending randomly set on a boat that rouses long dormant memories of Speed 2.

Widows also has virtues but by god, it has plenty of problems too. It did achieve the impossible by feeling simultaneously too fast moving and too slow in its storytelling. It’s not a dead loss but in my opinion, it is all awfully unconvincing.

Hereditary also has powerful emotive sequences and honourable ambition but rather than concentrate on being one thing, it tried to do everything. And in doing so, diffused its potency. As the story piled on a myriad of motivations, the plot turned into a game of buckaroo. By the time narcoleptic arson was mentioned, my arse was out the door.

 

TURKEY OF THE YEAR

Red Sparrow

There were probably plenty of inferior films than this alleged ‘spy’ alleged ‘yarn’. I don’t even particularly hate it. In fact it was often accidentally entertaining as the two worst spies in cinematic history insisted on cavorting and conducting their secretive spy craft in front of room-height unobscured windows. They clearly missed the class on how the intelligent deployment of curtains and blinds might enhance the chances of their espionage endeavours remaining you know….. secret.  


Stephen Porzio

mission impossible fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)

A sixth entry in a franchise has no right being this good. That said, most franchises don’t have a lead who seems willing to die for people’s entertainment. With a deliberately stripped back but sharp script, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie chose wisely not to focus too heavily on plot, devoting all his energy to action. At nearly 150 minutes, Fallout is like a berserk Asian action film à la The Night Comes for Us (narrowly missing my top five), featuring bone-crunching violence and mind-blowing set pieces that just keep topping themselves in terms of OTT glory. Early on, the movie shows Tom Cruise literally jumping out of a plane at 25,000 feet and that isn’t even the most exhilarating moment.

However, what makes Fallout feel like a classic blockbuster is the mega-wattage charisma of Cruise, backed by an unbelievable supporting cast including Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris and Vanessa Kirby as well as a never better Henry Cavill.  On top of all this, the film’s more haunted and doomed tone than previous entries in the franchise feels timely and the central theme of Cruise’s agent petrified that his heroism will end up destroying everybody he loves, manages to tie the franchise together in a way that makes even its predecessors look better. Thus, my mission (and I chose to accept it) is to put this as my number one movie of the year.

 

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsey)

Narrowly missing the top spot for me is You Were Never Really Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a former FBI agent/soldier and victim of child abuse turned hitman. He is tasked with rescuing a young girl from prostitution.

Not a single frame is wasted in this 90-minute masterpiece, which plunges viewers into Joe’s past through trauma-induced memory shards which jarringly jut into his present. Director Lynne Ramsey and editor Joe Bini create an unbelievably evocative portrayal of extreme PTSD and how trauma can impact our lives as we go forward. As Joe is asked by tourists to take a photo, he is immediately back to when he discovered a warehouse full of drowned illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, one frame of Joe’s dad wielding a hammer makes viewers understand why it’s now the hitman’s weapon of choice.

However, despite the grimness of the story, Ramsey makes You Were Never Really Here ultimately hopeful. All violence is shown off-screen, with viewers only seeing the aftermath. The relationship between Joe and his elderly mother is oddly sweet and the final moments, which see two victims of abuse coming together to help each other through the darkness, is utterly beautiful.

 

First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

Ethan Hawke excels as a grieving reverend whose counselling of a radical-environmentalist leads him on a path of self-destruction. A renowned scholar in religious cinema, writer-director Paul Schrader remixes Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light with his Taxi Driver script in this haunting, quietly angry drama about life in the 21st century. In many ways it feels like the film his career (featuring other Scorsese collaborations The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead) was leading up to. In making it, he has created his best work in nearly 20 years.

 

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Early in 2018, came the deliciously fiendish latest from Paul Thomas Anderson. Set in 1950s London, Daniel Day Lewis stars as a genius if fiercely controlling fashion designer who starts a relationship with a mysterious muse (a bewitching Vicky Krieps).

Beginning as a story featuring the common trope of the creative genius and the woman who stands by his side, Phantom Thread mutates as it goes into something unbelievably exciting. Part romance, part Gothic psychological thriller – the drama comedically lampoons the notion that one must be a jerk to be creative. While it does so, Anderson crafts a film so luscious, so sartorially elegant even the obsessive fashionista at its centre would be proud.

 

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos)/Revenge (Coralie Fargeat)

2018 gave us two phenomenally original takes on the vengeance genre and I can’t pick between the two.

Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is a fiercely stylish stripped back thriller about a woman named Jen left for dead in the desert. Bolstered by mesmerizing visuals – which both feel realistic but also ultra-stylised, one must admire the clean, tight script. It begins with its central character being sexualised by her eventual attackers (with Fargeat queasily mimicking the male gazes with her camera), before her reincarnation as unkillable destroyer of toxic masculinity. Revenge then ends with a showdown for the ages, in which previously established roles are reversed as Jen chases her nude male oppressor around a house wielding a shotgun.

Where Mandy fails in clear narrative storytelling, it more than makes up for with its crazed LSD trip atmosphere which manages the impossible task of being on the same mental wave length as Nicolas Cage. The screen legend stars as quiet logger in the Shadow Mountains whose life falls apart when his wife (Andrea Riseborough) is kidnapped by a hallucinogenic loving hippie cult. Ingesting many drugs, the husband launches a one-man war on the gang. Writer-director Panos Cosmatos makes literally every frame of Mandy a work of art, drenching the movie in neon and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson menacing, eclectic score.

While the events which occur in Revenge and Mandy often defy realism, both masterfully create their own distinct worlds and feature elements which tie them to reality. In Mandy, it’s Cage’s raw, incredibly dialled in performance (his bathroom breakdown scene would get the actor an Oscar in a more conventional movie). Meanwhile, in Revenge, it’s Fargeat’s unfiltered onslaught against misogyny.


David Prendeville 

 in-fabric

In Fabric (Peter Strickland)

Peter Strickland wowed me once more with this incredibly seductive mesh of Walerian Borowczyk, 70s Euro-horror, and kitchen-sink drama. A film obsessed with objects and sounds, it also sees Strickland branch out into a new realm of off-the-wall humour that has shades of Luis Bunuel and Chris Morris. Features a superb central turn by Marianne Jean-Baptiste.

 

The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier)

I know I’m in the minority on this but I found it to be an extraordinarily visceral and scathing genre deconstruction, as well as a hugely imaginative and satirical summation/self-critique of von Trier’s work. Matt Dillon has never been better, in what is a uniformly excellent cast.

 

First Reformed  (Paul Schrader)

What a surprise this was. After spending the last number of years stuck in below standard fare, Paul Schrader returned to triumphant form with this autumnal masterpiece. The influences of Bergman and Bresson loom large but this retains its own singular, distinctly Schraderian quality. By turns austere, bleak, playful and moving. Powered by a supreme central performance from Ethan Hawke.

 

Climax (Gaspar Noe)

Another surprise, in the sense that Gaspar Noe has here made a film that didn’t prove divisive, this being almost universally admired. Noe again showcases his formidable command of the medium to create an overwhelming experience. Anchored by a great Sofia Boutella and a relentless, pulsating soundtrack.

 

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

No surprise to see Lynne Ramsay deliver yet another directorial masterclass here. Her formal audacity and imagination elevates the pulpy source material to a higher plane. There isn’t a single shot wasted in the film’s remarkably concise 89 minutes. Features another terrific performance by Joaquin Phoenix.

 

Honourable Mentions

 Loveless, The Favourite, The Square, Zama, Phantom Thread, Hereditary, The Wild Pear Tree.

 


Brian Quinn

First Reformed  (Paul Schrader)

For all First Reformed’s quiet fury it’s the perforated moments of intimate wonder which gnaw against our subconscious, a divine sweetness blossoming between bruises.

 

Faces Places (Agnès Varda, JR)

Varda’s charming curiosity is as infectious as ever in this documentary. Through a road trip full of giddy joys we’re left with a thoughtful self portrait of the artist herself. Faces Places is all kinds of lovely.

 

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

As if one of Woodcock’s own creations come to life, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is sleek, soft and delectably sophisticated from start to finish.

 

Michael Inside (Frank Berry)

Michael Inside shrugs off sentiment at every turn and manages to sidestep cliches with a potent simplicity.

 

Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

Stunning animation, wonderful voice acting, and my one weakness: Talking dogs.

 

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

A collaboration between Ramsay and Phoenix was always going to be an affair to remember. Phoenix’s physical acting style blossoms like a beast under Ramsay’s direction, it’s shocking to think it’s been 7 years since her last feature.

 

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

My favourite horror since The Witch (2015), Hereditary couples strong performances with a menacing visual style.

 

Jeune Femme (Léonor Serraille)

In what might be my favourite performance of the year, Laetitia Dosch is a refreshing screen presence, dangerous and daft in equal measure she carries this film to dizzying heights.

 

Zama (Lucrecia Martel)

Zama is a delicate brew, one which Martel stirs into a cosmic cocktail inviting our senses to unfurl in ways both delirious and delightful.

 

Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Zvyagintsev’s follow up to Leviathan (2014) is truly suffocating. Its overwhelming atmosphere of dread never gives its audience a chance to catch their breath. It may not be subtle in its attack but is expertly crafted from the outset.


Gabrielle Ulubay 

Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)

Boots Riley’s directorial debut is worth all the hype and more. It’s true that this film is an important commentary on race, class, capitalism, and protest culture in America–but it’s also hilarious. Additionally, the film is spectacularly made, with shots, camera movement, and attention to detail that comprise any film buff’s dream. I was stunned by the sound design (Riley’s previous work on film soundtracks is quite evident) and clever dialogue, but was perhaps most impressed by the film’s immediacy: For a surrealist film, Sorry to Bother You’s themes, visuals, and events were startlingly familiar.

 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan)

This film did not get the attention or the positive reviews that it deserves. Not only is it timely and important, but it is beautifully filmed, with well-composed shots that convey its physical and temporal setting. Director Desiree Akhavan also uses sound and music in a memorable way, while her nuanced, artistic visual depiction of intimacy and sexuality underscores our need for more female directors. This film is heartbreaking, poignant, and even funny at times, and I highly recommend it.

 

Leto (Kirill Serebrennikov)

It’s been nearly a month, and still I remain captivated by Kirill Serebrennikov’s Leto, a depiction of Leningrad’s punk rock scene during the early 1980s. Leto’s plot summary claims that it is about a love triangle, but this is an infinitesimally small aspect of the film compared to its meditation on authority, freedom, rebellion, and youth. Nothing particularly sad happens during the main narrative, yet its soundtrack still summons feelings of melancholy–a deep sense of loss over old friends, lost innocence, and time passed.

 

Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)

Alice Rohrwacher’s latest film beautifully integrates folktale storytelling traditions with contemporary socio-political observation. The film is a journey through the undercurrents of modern Italian society, with dreamlike audiovisual characteristics that come back to mind with incredible clarity.

 

Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is a mysterious exploration of not only a love triangle, but of the rattled psyche of its protagonist, Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in). I was utterly engrossed by this film from start to finish, as it escalated from a relatively straightforward narrative to an ethereal web that left me questioning the line between reality and hallucination.

 


 

 

Irish Films of 2018

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Irish Films of 2018

It has been a great year for Irish film. Black 47 took over €1 million in the Irish box office making it the highest grossing Irish film of the year reimagining Irish history in a Western-style, action-packed revenge thriller. Dublin Old School took us back to the not-so-distant past, where the older ravers among us could relive those drug-taking days to the visceral soundtrack of their youth. We were brought bang up-to-date with Paddy Breathnach’s emotionally-charged Rosie, a feature reflecting on the human fall-out from our current housing crisis. That left Aoife McArdle to haunt our dreams, with her hallucinatory representation of the journey from teen to adult; Kissing Candice was a confident debut from a talented filmmaker that we look forward to seeing more of.

Documentary continued to shine a light on a variety of subjects close to Irish hearts, such as Katrina Costello’s The Silver Branch, which expressed a romantic and beautiful declaration of love for nature and Ireland’s rich historical connection to the land. Land was also at the heart of The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, a fascinating study of one man’s fight against the state for his land. Ross Whittaker’s Katie takes off the gloves and delivers an emotional, honest retelling of one of our countries biggest success stories to date – the phoenix that is Katie Taylor. Meanwhile Donal Foreman’s The Image You Missed was a deeply personal exploration of documentarist Arthur MacCaig, Foreman’s deceased father. And there was Sinead O’Shea’s gripping film A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot, an absorbing study of a post-peace-process Derry

 

Features

Rosie

” timely, well executed and – more than anything else – important.” 

Review


Michael Inside

“Dafhyd Flynn delivers an understated, emotional performance as Michael. Quiet and contemplative, his vulnerability is made evident as his incarceration looms.”

(Loretta Goff)

Review 


Dublin OldSchool

” will have you sucking on your soother necklace.”

(Gemma Creagh)

Review


Black 47

 “a rollicking western with fantastic action and excellent performances”

(Sarah Cullen)

Review


Kissing Candice

 “a visual thrill”

Stephen Porzio

Review


Documentaries

The Silver Branch

“a testament to patience, determination and love of a place.”

(Ruth McNally )

Review


The Image You Missed

“engaging and evocative in both form and content.”

(Siomha McQuinn)

Review


Katie

“a beautiful, complex piece of cinema, as nuanced and fascinating as the superstar herself.”

(Gemma Creagh)

Review


The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid

“a rebel with a cause”


A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot

“compelling, challenging and at times chilling.”

(Siomha McQuinn)

Review

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Capital Irish Film Festival: Chairman, Paddy Meskell & Director, Pat Reilly

 

John Collins spoke to Chairman of the Capital Irish Film Festival, Paddy Meskell and Festival Director Pat Reilly about the origins and evolution of the festival, the importance of an Irish film festival in Washington and the challenges the festival faces.

The Capital Irish Film Festival celebrates annually the best of new Irish features, documentaries, shorts and animation, and particularly welcomes Irish language films.

 

 

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

 

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Garry Miley: How We Made ‘The Island Of Evenings’

The Island Of Evenings tell the story of a man whose depression is so crippling he can barely function. But a chance meeting with a therapist (with unconventional methods) on the internet sets his life off in a direction he wasn’t expecting.

Writer/Director Garry Miley takes us behind the camera.

I had just finished editing a short film and was impatient to have a go at another project. I wanted to test myself on a feature-length piece but I didn’t have a budget for it – or for anything at all. So, I started out with a simple plan and that was to make a feature film for no money whatsoever. I initially took this to mean that the story involved only one character and that this character was confined to one location. Given these parameters, the only way I could imagine a scenario taking shape was if the character was alone in his own house, struggling with depression and facing possible death. 

Once I realized that the theme was depression, it occurred to me that it was a topic I already had views about – opinions I had tried out with friends over a drink but had never bothered to explore. But now the opportunity presented itself. The first idea I developed was the notion – not mine, there’s a long tradition of debate on it – that people brought up in the Catholic tradition aren’t cut out for life in a capitalist world. Capitalism and Calvinism are philosophically aligned. Capitalism and Catholicism, in a certain way and with certain individuals, grate against one another. It occurred to me that this circumstance might be the cause of a type of distress I’d noticed in myself and in some of the people around me. So the first half of the script was about a man brought up with a strong Catholic sense of conscience, struggling to get by in a cut-throat world and, as a result, depressed.  

Once I had established the character’s dilemma, I had to decide how to get him out of it. This was something I had previously thought about as well. It seemed to me that, in the context of finding a way out of a depressed state, there might be something worthwhile to be explored in the philosophical notion of Genius Loci – roughly translated as ‘sense of place’. It’s a complex idea but I’ll try to put it simply: we all know that Ireland – not all of it and not all the time – has a certain magical quality which derives from a mix of its climate, history, geology and geographic location. Well, it occurred to me that maybe this magical quality is something we should examine a little more closely: what if, instead of considering it as something useful for attracting tourists, it might actually contain within it a possible explanation for the very meaning of life? What if all of us who live in Ireland, instead of getting caught up in the rat race, allowed ourselves get high on the magical qualities to be found in Irish nature?  Might this be a valid way to find satisfaction in life? 

I wrote the script in about three weeks. After two weeks of writing, I admitted some additional characters into the story. I couldn’t avoid introducing some extra locations as well but, in reality, almost everything was shot in or around my own home in County Clare. We worked long hours and filmed around peoples’ schedules. Cast and crew stayed in my house. My wife kept us all fed. After thirteen days of filming all the equipment had to be returned its owners. I was left to make the film with whatever footage I’d shot, I didn’t have any say in the matter.

Given how little money we had, you might imagine it to be one of those films you feel obliged to like because of all the pain and anguish that went into the making of it. But it’s not like that at all. It’s actually a good film. 

 

 

The Island Of Evenings premiered in Waterford at Garter Lane on 28th November 2019 and will be screened elsewhere around the country in the new year.

 

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Capital Irish Film Festival: Editor, Tony Cranstoun

John Collins spoke to Tony Cranstoun, editor of A Date for Mad Mary and The Farthest, which closed this year’s Capital Irish Film Festival in Washington D.C. John was good enough to send us on his recording of their conversation.

The Farthest chronicles NASA’s 1977 launch of twin space probes, sent to capture images of remote planets and bear messages from Earth.
 

The Farthest screened on 4th March 2018 as part of the Capital Irish Film Festival

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

 

InConversation: Tony Cranstoun

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The Belly of The Whale, Director Morgan Bushe & Actor Lewis MacDougall


Set over a long bank holiday weekend, misfit teenager, Joey Moody, returns to his home town in a bid to reopen his family’s crumbling caravan park and salvage his friendship with his best friend, Lanks. Meanwhile, on a mission to find the money to cover his wife’s medical expenses, Ronald Tanner, a fractured soul, risks his meagre life savings on a get rich quick scheme that ends in abject failure and humiliation at the hands of local big shot Gits Hegarty, pushing Ronald over the edge and off the wagon. After Joey accidentally burns down Ronald’s camper van and is forced to find the cash to repay him, the strange pair find themselves bonded together in misfortune. In an effort to change their shabby circumstances they concoct a plan to rob the Pleasurama, the local amusement arcade, and the domain of the iniquitous Gits.

 

 

Gemma Creagh chats to Morgan Bushe about The Belly of the Whale, his debut feature as a director and Lewis MacDougall about his role as Joey.

The Belly of the Whale is currently in cinemas

 

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

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Book Review: The Films of Lenny Abrahamson

Stephen Porzio checks out Barry Monaghan’s comprehensive study of the films of contemporary, highly critically-appraised Irish director Lenny Abrahamson.

Barry Monaghan’s new book The Films of Lenny Abrahamson is the definitive exploration of perhaps Ireland’s finest director.

Analysing the filmmaker’s career from early shorts Mendel and 3 Joes all the way to Oscar-nominee Room, the scholarly essay-style work explores how Abrahamson managed to transcend the barriers of Irish and art-house cinema, garnering worldwide acclaim and profits. It then wraps up with a transcript of a conversation between Monaghan and the director.

The book’s biggest strength is its argument for Abrahamson as a true auteur figure. While the filmmaker has fluctuated between countries and genre, telling wildly different stories, Monaghan keenly points out recurring elements in his work.

He posits that Abrahamson’s breakout success could be down to the fact that many of our nation’s dramas which preceded him were explicitly dealing with lrish-specific stories. This made them less accessible worldwide, lowering their chance of big box-office returns. Monaghan argues that Abrahamson is more successful because his exploration of contemporary Irish issues is kept often as subtext, making them fiercely relevant here but capable of being understood abroad.

Adam and Paul and Garage are both dramas about how, during the Celtic Tiger, certain pockets of Irish life were left behind. However, lacking overt references to the boom, the former could equally be perceived as a warped fairytale and the latter a sad portrait of rural loneliness that could resonate with anyone. Similarly, What Richard Did is a drama examining notions of privilege set in Dublin’s southside rooted in true events. Yet, in making only implicit references to its social backdrop, its story still works outside of said context.

This also extends to his work outside Ireland. Frank serves as a demystification of the artistic process but doubles as a whacky comedy. Room is a film somewhat based on the infamous Fritzl case but told from the perspective of a child, making it also a coming-of-age story. By avoiding heavy references to true life, Abrahamson’s movies avoid polemical debate, instead favouring to immerse audiences in their characters’ worlds.

Monaghan also highlights how Abrahamson’s films all feature in someway or another a Beckettian exploration of the failures of language. They also each eschew traditional narratives, in favour of building characters – all of whom never fit generic archetypes.

The book is not geared for casual reading, feeling very academic. Thus, it is stuffed with references to other scholars. Occasionally, these can overwhelm the conversion about Abrahamson’s oeuvre. This is notable in the section on Frank. One wonders whether references to Jacques Lacan’s philosophy in discussing the Frank Sidebottom mask or harking back to the work of George Melies when exploring Domhnall Gleeson’s unreliable narrator are necessary. This is also heightened by the fact that the book excludes talk of Abrahamson’s notoriously hard to track down four-part series Prosperity (RTE please release that on DVD!), something fans of the director would rather be reading.

There is also a feeling it may have been too early to release a book about the filmmaker. This was written before the release of The Little Stranger, the director’s most interesting movie to date – an unsettling horror film which fits with all of Monaghan’s points about Abrahamson’s work but also failed to wield big profits. Meanwhile, with him set to adapt Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People for BBC, there is a sense Abrahamson has more fascinating work ahead of him.

Still, in terms of work to date, this is essential reading for die hard fans of Irish cinema, as well as those in a film theory course prepping an essay on any of Abrahamson’s movies.

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Irish Film Review: The Devil’s Doorway

DIR: Aislinn Clarke • WRI: Aislinn Clarke, Martin Brennan, Michael B. Jackson • PRO: Martin Brennan, Katy Jackson, Michael B. Jackson • DOP: Ryan Kernaghan • ED: Brian Philip Davis • DES: John Leslie • CAST: Lalor Roddy, Ciaran Flynn, Helena Bereen, Lauren Coe

In 1960, seasoned, jaded priest, Fr. Thomas Riley (Roddy), and his understudy, Fr. John Thornton (Flynn), are sent by the church to investigate a supposed weeping statue in a Magdalene laundry. They are to document their findings on film. The Mother Superior (Bereen) is dismissive of the claims, suggesting the whole thing is a hoax. However the more the priests investigate matters, the more they begin to realise the extent of both the horrors being inflicted on to the women in the laundry by the sisters, and also horrors that may not be of this world.

This found-footage film follows in the recent tradition of horror films that act as metaphorical representations of serious social and psychological issues such as Get Out, which satirized liberal white America’s insidious racism through horror-comedy, and Hereditary, which examined the theme of familial grief in an occult setting. Here, in her feature debut, Aislinn Clarke tackles Ireland and the Catholic Church’s dark history with the Magdalene laundries. The presentation of this being a documentary film from 1960 adds a further layer of clever genre deconstruction. The decision to shoot on 16mm film rather than replicating the era digitally creates an evocative and eerie aesthetic, as well as adding a further layer of authenticity to the picture.

Clarke utilises the found footage element often creatively and extremely effectively. The film features a haunting birthing sequence that focuses solely on a characters’ face as she stares into camera. Clarke has cited Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc in how troubling and dramatically effective sustained focus on the human face can be. The film’s frequently stark approach to horror, allowing certain scenes to play out without cuts, often also calls to mind the uncompromising style of filmmakers such as Michael Haneke more than it does other found-footage horrors. This style contrasts nicely with scenes in which Ryan Kernaghan’s camerawork is more frenetic, such as in the frantic last act. It is consistently a film, however, that plays on the power of the audience’s imagination, making them think they have seen more than they have. Clarke finds interesting and diverse ways of suggesting rather than showing and the film is all the more powerful because of that.

The form of the film also allows her to develop her characters in interesting ways, with direct-camera monologues providing effective and concise insights into their background. Clarke is aided by a superb cast. Roddy exudes wearied decency as Fr. Thomas struggles to comprehend both the supernatural goings-on in the laundry and, even more so, the shocking cruelty on display from the nuns in the laundry. It marks another superb turn from Roddy this year following his outstanding work in Michael Inside. The Mother Superior, at the forefront of the cruelty, is brilliantly essayed by Bereen. It’s a chilling and wholly believable performance. An early scene in which she viciously slaps a girl who makes flirtatious remarks to the priests is as shocking and stomach-churning as any jump scare. The Mother Superior’s continued arrogance in the face of being found out by the priests is a wonderfully drawn microcosm of the evils of the Catholic Church’s abuses and cover-ups. Flynn and Coe are also utterly convincing in their respective roles.

Smart in both form and content, this is an innovative, effective and necessary Irish horror film. It marks Clarke out as a distinctive talent to watch.

 

 

 

Aislinn Clarke, Director of ‘The Devil’s Doorway’

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Short Film Review: Stephanie

David Deignan takes a look at Fergal Costello’s short horror film Stephanie starring Moe Dunford. 

Moe Dunford must be the busiest actor in Ireland right now. He has five feature films releasing this year – including a magnetic turn in Paddy Breathnach’s recent Rosie – in addition to significant parts in two TV series and, now, the leading role in Stephanie, the frenetic new horror short from writer/director Fergal Costello.

Stephanie is an ambitious, deliberately ambiguous story which wrenches the viewer by the collar and refuses to let go from the first frame to the last. The narrative begins with Joe (Dunford) determinately struggling to protect the titular character, portrayed by Aoife Spratt, from the murderous intentions of Walsh (Joe Rooney). As tensions quickly escalate between the trio, it soon becomes clear that the secretive Stephanie is not all that she seems to be.

The abrupt opening quickly cultivates a tantalising sense of mystery: it doesn’t waste a second on exposition, instead preferring to drop the viewer without warning straight into the middle of the conflict. Violence looms like an ugly shadow throughout the opening sequences, threatening to burst to the fore at any moment. Costello’s clever script subtly balances the reveal of important information with intentional misdirection early on.

The film clocks in at just under 9 minutes in length and is impressively shot in one uninterrupted take. Costello’s staging is confident and plays out seamlessly while Philip Blake and Padraic Conaty deserve props for their work on the cinematography. The camera weaves its way dynamically around the characters on screen, reacting imaginatively to plot developments as they play out. Its eye is often trained on Dunford and he doesn’t miss a beat, ensuring that the internal rhythm plays out smoothly.

Mark Murphy’s pulsating musical score works well, plunging and escalating sharply as the action does. It comes to a crescendo in the third act, as the intensity increases, and contributes importantly to the film’s all-action finale.

The narrative’s initial hook is enticing and the opening minutes deftly draw the viewer into the story, with the early exchanges engrossing. But it falters somewhat in its second half, when it runs out of reveals and the execution of a key sequence becomes a bit messy, the film becoming caught up in its own franticity. The ambition on show, however, is undoubtedly admirable and the overall technical prowess on show serves to smooth over the plot’s weak points.

Stephanie feels like a sequence cut from a larger concept. While this is a testament to the world being built by Costello and crew, it also stops the story from fully resonating in its current form. It’s a shame – considering how effectively it starts – but this is still an enjoyable, stylishly executed short that’s well worth watching. And, with the director’s website listing his next project as a debut feature currently called Untitled Awesome Horror Film, I’d hope to see more of this story on screen soon. Lord knows Dunford could use the work.

 

fergalcostellofilm.com

Fergal Costello on Vimeo

 

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Festival Report: Hamptons International Film Festival

Ronan O’Sullivan reports from the 26th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival, which included screenings of The Favourite and Making The Grade. Along the way Ronan shared a cigarette with Eva Trobisch, director of Alles Ist Gut.

 

The Hamptons consist of a number of towns on the east end of Long Island, one hundred miles east of New York City.  Montauk, Amagansett, East Hampton, South Hampton, Hampton Bays, Sagaponack and Sag Harbor, are a few of these ‘hamlets’, and the further east you go, the more expensive things become. I spent four of the festival days in East Hampton, a town which could have been lifted straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Property prices in Dublin may be scary, but the cost of some of these homes on the Atlantic is phenomenal. The Hampton Film Festival is where the famous mingle with the rich and glamorous, not unlike The Cannes Film Festival.

This year marked the 26th year of the HIFF.  Hundreds of movies were to be seen, ranging from shorts, documentaries to narrative feature films. Every cinema on the East End was booked out for the duration of the festival, which usually takes place over the Columbus holiday weekend (Oct 12th). Screenings were often followed by Q&As with actors/directors.

My introduction to the festival began on Friday morning at a #MeToo filmmakers’ talk in Rowdy Hall, a local restaurant. Three women filmmakers spoke to a capacity crowd. They spoke from their heart with the courage of their convictions. Nancy Schwartzman, one of the speakers warned all males present that even if they weren’t involved in abuse scandals – to be on their bended knees thanking females for any and all sexual relations. No men spoke at the Q&A. I approached the three speakers afterwards, in particular Nancy Schwartzman. She laughed when I brought up her earlier opinion, admitting it was a little extreme. What they said by and large made a lot of sense, and in person they were warm, less intimidating and not as extreme. 

The two Irish films on offer were The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) and Making the Grade (dir. Ken Wardop). Mike Trentacosti, a volunteer from Babylon, Long island, sampled the reaction to Making the Grade and considered it overwhelmingly positive. This view was reflected in an audience vote. Toni Ross, a founding member of the HIFF and a local restaurant owner also gave it two thumbs up.  It made her cry, and the cinematography was beautiful, she said.  She wanted to know if all Irish houses were similar to the kind depicted in the film. 

Some movies are “Spotlight” films, meaning to attend their screening needs a special invitation. Unfortunately, The Favourite was one such film. I was unable to attend the screening or speak to any of the cast or crew.  It was awarded two prizes at the Venice Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actress Award for Olivia Colman. It is Lanthimos’ second feature film working with Rachael Weiss.  The Favourite was shot by Element Pictures. Screen Ireland helped with the funding. It is not the first time Lanthimos has secured funding through SI.  The movie will be released in the US later this year and in Ireland early in the new year.

The HIFF is renowned for its ‘Breakthrough Performance Program’.  Former breakthrough artists include Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt.  This year, the festival selected Cory Michael Smith, Amanda Stenberg and Kayli Carter.  Smith plays the Riddler in the ‘Gotham’ TV series and currently plays the lead in an indie production 1985.  Stenberg gives a riveting performance in The Hate U Give, playing a high-school student who witnesses the shooting of her childhood friend by the police. Carter who had a small part in Netflix’ Godless will next star in Private Life for the same company. Full-house audiences gave these actors very warm, receptions.  All three spoke about their lives as actors and discussed how their careers are progressing. Smith joked about the dilemma of acting in independent films versus working in TV roles to make a living. Carter, born and raised in Oviedo, Florida, grew up in a farming community and had no idea that acting would shape her life. 

I met Eva Trobisch almost by mistake in a small restaurant off East Hampton’s Main Street. A waitress pointed out a vacant chair and a half-finished glass of white wine, informing me that a German director was present if I wanted to stick around. I knew of only one German film represented at the HIFF, which was Alles Ist Gut. The movie has received extremely good reviews as has its female lead, Aenne Schwarz. So I stuck around. A short-haired woman soon appeared with an apprehensive smile and immediately I liked her.  I introduced myself as a contributing writer for Film Ireland. She smiled again, telling me that Alles ist Gut has been selected for screening at the Kilkenny SUBTITLE European Film Festival,running 19 – 25 November.  She asked for a cigarette and I gave her a few, which she carefully tucked into her bag and I liked her even more.  Eva wasn’t rich, and she wasn’t famous.  She had just travelled alone from Germany and was nursing a glass of wine at the bar. Alles Ist Gut was set for screening at 8:30, an hour from now. She struck a lonely figure, very unusual in a town populated by publicity seekers and film pushers. She gave me several minutes to ask a few questions on a bench outside Babette’s Restaurant.  Her command of English was very good, and she spoke with a disarming, soft German accent.

How long did it take you to write Alles Ist Gut?

I think I was one and a half years writing it. I wrote it during my screenwriting masters at the London Film School, which I can very much recommend, and  then I came back with the second draft, and then another four drafts…

And how did you get the funding?

There was a broadcaster involved, a German broadcaster with very little money, like €60,000 and then my school – since it’s a graduation film and then we had German film funding – Bavarian film funding worth €150,000.  So, all in all we had €260,000 which is nothing compared to other films.  So, we all earned €8.50 an hour.  The entire crew, the actors, everyone.

You said you were in the London Film School?

I was studying Directing at the Munich Film School, but I was longing for a deeper understanding of screenwriting so I went to London Film School.  First, I went to Tisch School in New York (Tisch School of the Arts) for half a year and after that I did a screenwriting masters from the very first idea to the second draft – you go step by step in one year.

If the film makes money; does everybody get more money!?

(Eva nods her head and smiles)

Perfect. And it’s going to make money I hope? 

Yeah!  It looks good.  It’s been picked up for France and in Germany it’s going to be released, and Austria, and Switzerland is confirmed now.  And other countries are coming… 

Hopefully we will get America on board…

(Laughs) Yeah…

What are the plans for the future?

Doing my next film (big grin)

Do you have it written?

I have a treatment quite developed.  Yes, and we will apply for funding. To write it next year and then shoot it 2020 I guess.

 

And then she had to leave, slinging her bag over her shoulder with a goodbye smile.  She had to introduce her film and it was getting late. I watched from my friend’s pick-up truck as she weaved her way towards the movie theatre, losing sight of her in a snake of car headlights and a slow-moving line of pedestrians. 

Alles Ist Gut won the Big One the following day: The Best Narrative Feature of the Hamptons International Film Festival.  It was up against a number of Hollywood greats. I expect we will be watching Eva Trobisch’s films for years to come.  You can catch Alles Ist Gut at the Kilkenny Film Festival and hopefully Eva will be in attendance. 

No article about the HIFF would be complete without an honourable mention to a short film called The Hidden. Throughout the five days of the festival, this virtual reality short film played in a barn on a local property known as the Mulford farm. The experience was open to the public, free and very well attended. Earlier, its creators BJ Schwartz, Anne Lukowski, James Della Famina and Bruce Vaughn (Music by Ched Tolliver) also spoke in Rowdy Hall.  The Hidden was my first experience of a virtual reality narrative film. I watched it with two friends, an off-duty East Hampton cop and a fellow Irish man. We wore VR goggles and headphones throughout, an experience in itself. The story concerns itself with an ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raid on an unsuspecting Latino family whose father is hiding in the house. The movie was shot with 8 different cameras giving a full 360-degree point of view. You could turn and look over your shoulder to see what was behind you. It was an eerie, spectacular experience. The off-duty cop had a few issues with the narrative. He felt that the ICE agents were at times unprofessional and negatively portrayed.   

I came into contact with many films at the festival. I would highly recommend a few of them, including the Best Documentary Winner, Divide and Conquer. It’s the story of Roger Ailes and is directed by Alexis Bloom.  I must stress that with so many films screened, I only had the opportunity to see a fraction.

Kindergarten Teacher, directed by Sara Colangelo and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gael García Bernal.

Wildlife, directed by Paul Dano, and starring Carey Mullingan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ed Oxenbould.

Birds of Passage, directed by Christina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, from Colombia

First Man directed by Damien Chazelle starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.

A beautiful, bright sun shone throughout the HIFF autumn weekend. I was made most welcome by the festival staff and my sincere thanks to the many organisers and volunteers for making the experience so pleasant. 

I have attended a few festivals in my time, some of which could learn from the courtesy and kindness on display at the HIFF, where I was treated like an equal, never separate from the elite.

  

Ronan O’Sullivan

 

The 26th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival took place 4 – 8 October 2018

 

Ronan O’Sullivan is a filmmaker and photographer with a degree in Film Production from the City University of New York, Brooklyn College. He has shot many short films, music videos and commercials. He also tutors film and photography for Transition Year students in Dublin.  He has a feature film screenplay ‘Scorched’ under development with a NYC-based production company.

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: One Million American Dreams

Loretta Goff discovers the secrets of New York’s mass graves in Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams.

Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams brings into focus the often unnoticed Hart Island, a small New York City island that is used as a burial ground for the city’s unclaimed dead, and for those whose families cannot afford burial expenses. Byrne’s documentary takes a personal approach to the subject matter, following the stories of four families with members buried here. In doing so, he removes the anonymity of the Hart Island cemetery, reinscribing it with the narratives of these individuals and providing a sort of commemoration for them that is not fully offered on the island itself.

Introducing the film at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Byrne commented on his own relationship with New York City, from his first visit at age 17, when he was in complete awe, to his multiple returns that have also revealed the city’s tougher edge. When he was made aware of a two-minute recorded news piece on Hart Island he realised it deserved more attention and that he could make a whole film about it. This led to One Million American Dreams, which he describes as “a difficult love letter to the place I’ve had a longstanding love affair with” that takes a “deeper look into the soul” of the city.

Several animated segments in the documentary, along with narration by Sam Rockwell, provide viewers with the necessary historical details of Hart Island, which are expanded upon in interviews with scholars, journalists and politicians. We learn that burials began there in 1869, with over one million individuals laid to rest on the island to date, that it was also used as a Union Civil War camp (amongst other things) and that it is currently run by the Department of Correction, with inmates employed to bury the bodies and no access to the general public. These details are made more visceral with the striking animations that accompany them. One of these, in particular, stands out; it shows layers upon layers of nameless coffins piling up below the island, forming it, but also giving shape to a human head, reminding us that each coffin contains an individual that had a part to play in the story of New York City, and that those who are marginalised should not be forgotten or cast away.

Our attention is turned to some of these marginalised individuals through the stories of the families affected by loved ones’ burials on Hart Island. We meet an African-American Vietnam War Vet whose baby daughter was buried there while he was away, a Cuban family whose father died alone with dementia in the city, a Puerto Rican woman whose stillborn child was due to be buried on Hart Island and the family of a man suffering from drug and alcohol addiction who ultimately ended up there without his family’s knowledge. Through their stories, not only is Hart Island personalised, but we are confronted with the deeper underlying issues affecting New York City and contemporary American culture more broadly—racism, immigration, substance abuse and poverty.

Commenting on his film in a Q&A after the screening, Byrne noted that he used the cemetery on Hart Island, and the stories that emerged from it, as a “frame to confront issues that still face America”, which are threaded throughout the film. We see this in the stories of the individuals that the documentary follows, but also through the film’s carefully crafted cinematography. This captures the beauty of New York City—in the bright lights of Time’s Square, the skyline and diverse groups of people—but also its struggles and darker sides, focusing attention on the homeless sitting overlooked on busy streets and those that exist in the fringes. A particularly striking image follows the ferry travelling out to Hart Island as it, and the island are engulfed in fog. This offers a skillful visual depiction of the islands shrouded nature, cast into the shadows of the dazzling city.

Discussing the process of making the film, Byrne noted that the project as a whole took between three and four years (with 18 months of filming). He commented that it was a process to get the stories of the individuals, but that “without their stories we wouldn’t have the film”. It is the honesty of these that resonates with the audience, offering the documentary’s powerful social commentary.

One Million American Dreams is a timely, well-crafted, poignantly shot and animated documentary that speaks to a number of contemporary social issues neatly encapsulated by Hart Island—the story of which is remarkable in itself.

 

One Million American Dreams screened on Saturday, 17th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival   (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Belly of the Whale

Cian Griffin enters The Belly of the Whale which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

The Belly of the Whale is the debut film from Irish director Morgan Bushe and stars veteran Irish comedy star Pat Shortt and up-and-coming Scottish actor Lewis McDougall. The film tells the story of recovering alcoholic Ronald (Shortt) and his relationship with young misfit Joe Moody (McDougall) as they plot to steal from local politician Gits Hegarty.

The main strengths of the film are its characters and the performances. The two main characters are extremely relatable but tragically flawed at the same time. Both Shortt and McDougall turn in great performances that make you laugh out loud while also pulling at your heartstrings. Shortt’s performance is especially moving as he departs from his typical over-the-top comedic roots and delivers a surprisingly nuanced and layered performance as a man struggling to come to terms with the blows that life has dealt him. Michael Smiley (known for his work in Luther, The Lobster and Rogue One) also turns in a memorable performance as local politician Gits Hegarty. He is extremely menacing and threatening while also chewing the scenery in every single scene, providing most of the laughs in the film. The cast as a whole are great with strong supporting performances from Game of Thrones star Art Parkinson and young Irish actress Lauren Kinsella as Moody’s friends Lanks and Sinead.

However, the film suffers a bit from some pacing issues. The film takes too long to get to the actual plot, spending the majority of the runtime setting up the characters and their circumstances and at times drags, spending a lot of time wallowing in the misery of the characters. In contrast then, the ending of the film is a bit rushed and clumsy, culminating in a finale that lacks the emotional payoff we have been building up to throughout the film.

In saying that, for a first-time director, Bushe (who also co-wrote the script) manages to find a great balance between humour and tragedy to make a film that is bursting with heart. On top of this, he makes some great artistic choices and the film is quite beautiful, creating a vivid and realistic picture of rural Ireland. Based on his first film, I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Overall, The Belly of the Whale is a charming and endearing film that tells a poignant and at times, heartbreaking story of two flawed characters coming to terms with the challenges in their lives. It’s a touching story of love, loss and friendship bolstered by a great director and strong performances and while it’s not perfect, it is sure to delight audiences while also making them cry.

 

The Belly of the Whale screened on Friday, 16th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival    (9 – 18 November)

Opens in Irish cinemas 7th December 2018.

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Maeve

Jack O’Dwyer gets caught up in the fractured narrative of Pat Murphy’s seminal Irish film Maeve, which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

 

In an attempt to describe her state of mind as an artist during the appalling years of the Irish troubles, feminist filmmaker Pat Murphy has posited that the North suffered primarily from everyone trying to shoehorn it to fit snugly into their own system of beliefs. This is a clear starting point in an analysis of her seminal 1981 film Maeve, co-directed with John Davies, which depicts the problematic ways in which personal and political beliefs can coexist within a troubled nation, often leading to layers of conflict which act as further barriers to peaceful resolution. At its core the film portrays a sort of uprising through inaction, a tentative method by which an individual may behave if they feel that they are excluded from the promised land which lays at the end of the revolutionary road. Through its radical aesthetics and characterisation, the film offers a unique perspective on one of the darkest periods in the island’s turbulent history.

The driving force of Murphy’s film is the titular Maeve, seen in both present day 1981 and also in recurring flashbacks to unspecified times in the past. In the present day, she returns home to Belfast from bohemian London, fully embodying the stringent lifestyle of a feminist ideologue. In the past, with these nascent ideals starting to take shape in her mind, she is seen as a young adult who vows to escape from the hostile community which stifles her. Maeve, played with skilful restraint by Mary Jackson, is often a difficult character for the audience to relate to, likely a reflection of Murphy’s acknowledged debt to Bertolt Brecht and the so-called ‘’distancing effect’’ which he utilized in his theatre. Much of her dialogue is heady and intellectual, delivered as a series of feminist mantras which refer to metaphysical ‘’Woman’’ rather than earthly, anecdotal ‘’women’’. Traditional womanhood, devout Catholicism, revolutionary insurrection; Maeve chooses to shun all of these potential paths in an effort to gain her own autonomy and identity. In one scene, Maeve and her schoolmates are being forced to rote-learn a religious commemoration to the victims of the local conflict. Maeve instead stares out the window, demonstrating a conscious decision to shun the milieu in which her peers are enmeshed.

Acting as a traditional counterpoint to Maeve’s personal protest is her sister, Roisin, played by Brid Brennan. One masterful aspect of Murphy’s screenplay is the heightened importance placed upon storytelling, particularly in relation to how it enlightens the characters who take up the role of storyteller. Roisin tells a number of stories throughout the film, usually depicting some form of tyranny inflicted upon the population by the armed British guards who patrol the streets. One such story implies that Roisin and her friend were the victims of an attempted rape by an intruding soldier, but the nonchalance and humour with which it is told does little to convey the potential severity of the situation. Moments such as these subtly paint Roisin as a character who is caught in the flux, unwilling to critically examine her role as a traditional, oppressed, catholic woman. Despite her sister’s warning that marriage ‘’only keeps woman down’’, there is never the suggestion that she will follow in Maeve’s non-committal footsteps. Even further alienated from Maeve is their mother, Eileen, played by Trudy Kelly. A quiet well of frustration with little dialogue in the film, she is a helpless bystander to the rampaging tide of patriarchal nationalism in her nation, serving as the outdated archetype to which Maeve internally revolts. Perhaps the film’s most emotional scene takes place in a room filled with religious relics, designed by Eileen as a place devoted to her daughter’s future courting. Such a traditional fantasy comes off as absurd given the nature of Maeve’s character, with the scene soon devolving into a heart-breaking monologue from mother to daughter recounting the first time that Maeve boarded the plane as she left to London – ‘’You never looked back once to say goodbye’’. Tragically, this marks the only point in the film at which Eileen is given an extended opportunity to speak, with each word driving a further nail into the coffin that is their incompatible relationship.

The most articulate challenger to Maeve’s unique vision of nationalism comes in the form of her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend, Liam, played by John Keegan. Murphy has expressed the importance within feminist fiction of creating authentic, coherent male characters so as to create an equal playing field of debate. In this regard, the character of Liam is a triumph. A committed republican, he matches Maeve both in the strength of his personal convictions and the fierceness of his debate. The film’s philosophical assertions are founded upon a masterful series of scenes in which the two debate each other in various locations, their rival viewpoints clashing together in a captivating stream of insights and insults. Murphy’s idea for these scenes was that the two would cease to be characters for the duration of these debates, instead transforming into unfiltered mouthpieces for their espoused ideologies; a clear admission of her Brechtian and Godardian influences. The first of their debates happens upon Cave Hill, as they gaze upon a deceptively serene-looking Belfast in the distance. Maeve is first triggered into stating her defiant viewpoint as a response to Liam’s praise of lifelong nationalists, those passionate men who have ‘’been able to keep that image together through all the madness’’. Her issue lies in the fact that the romantic image of Ireland which has guided nationalism thus far excludes her as a woman, it leaves no space for her, she is ‘’remembered out of existence’’ as part of its clause. Next, in her rented apartment in London, Maeve speaks of her decision to ‘’withdraw from it’’, to distance herself from the ‘’country’s neuroses’’. To this, an apoplectic Liam castigates the cowardliness of her actions, pointing to the fact that those who have fought and died for the cause have not had the luxury of her aloofness and free speech, warning that ‘’you’re going to have to come back’’. Virtually every line of their gripping debates could and should be isolated and unpacked by viewers of the film; rarely has such a testament to the efficacy of the Socratic method appeared on screen.  Their intellectual sparring culminates near the film’s end as they saunter gloomily through Clifton Street Cemetery, mutually accusing each other of copping out of their ideals. At the argument’s climax, Maeve compares Britain’s treatment of Ireland to man’s treatment of woman, warning that, if Liam and his counterparts should someday be successful in their struggles, then women will ‘’recognize you as the next stage in their struggle’’. In a film which thrives upon exploring the intersection between nationalism and feminism, this stands as perhaps its most radical political expression.

The film’s challenging subject matter is reflected in the austere visual style which Murphy and director of photography Robert Smith choose to adopt. Considering that the film is set in an environment which features constant, often unexpected intrusions into the daily life of Belfast’s citizens, the cagey 4:3 aspect ratio feels suitably oppressive when viewed on a large screen, as if the characters must struggle in order to escape beyond the borders of the frame. This is further enhanced by the usage of a number of internal framing devices, often doorways, which further squash the characters in to fit their surroundings.  During the tense night-time scenes, the camera creeps behind characters or flits about from left to right, suggestive of the widespread paranoia which haunts the streets. Maeve’s increasingly disillusioned father, Martin, played by Mark Mulholland, returns in a series of scenes throughout the film during which he generally tells a story involving the local population, and these are among the film’s most intriguing moments from a visual perspective. In the first such instance, the camera suddenly wheels around to Martin as he interrupts his wife during a story, and frames him in the middle of the boxy screen staring directly into the camera as he completes a long, thickly-accented monologue. These scenes which feature Martin staring into the camera increasingly come to feel as if he is breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. The subtle increase in intensity each time this occurs reinforces a sense of desperation and fear which has creeped into his character, culminating in the heart-breaking, quietly fearful words which he tells himself at the film’s closure. The film therefore arises from the lineage of European modernist cinema not only in its bold subject matter, but also in the way it creatively manipulates the filmic tools to give rise to new modes of artistic expression.

Maeve is comparable to Seamus Heaney’s famous ‘’bog poems’’ in the sense that it holds an abstract mirror up to this unspeakable Irish tragedy in a way which seems to shed cognitive and emotional light upon the subject without offering any form of trite solution to what is an endlessly thorny situation. The film is a whirlpool of ideas, of narratives, of memories, described by Murphy as a ‘’political document rather than a film’’. It feels like a political document not only during the war of words and ideologies at its core, but also in its harrowing evocation of a city where children play in the presence of armed soldiers, and searchlights cut through the dark streets like knives. One of the nation’s finest films, Maeve is a brave, important film, whose intellectual honesty and defiant spirit ought to inspire generations of Irish filmmakers.

 

 

Maeve screened on Thursday, 15th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Town of Strangers

 

Loretta Goff meet the locals in the County Galway town of Gort, in Treasa O’Brien’s Town of Strangers, with a diverse cast, including young Irish Travellers, English New Age hippies, Brazilian factory workers and Syrian refugees.

 

Before the screening of Treasa O’Brien’s new documentary, Town of Strangers, at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, her short The Blow-In (2016) was played. Both feature the town of Gort in County Galway, and those newer residents to the town, considered “blow-ins” or “strangers”. The Blow In is narrated by a French woman who we meet at the start of the film, cleverly framed with an uprooted tree by O’Brien. This woman’s voiceover explains that, as a result of moving around a lot during her youth, she often felt like an outsider and developed a habit of observing people through her windows. This is used as a thread throughout this short documentary as she “looks in” on the lives of several of Gort’s residents.

A narrative thread similarly runs through Town of Strangers, but this time it is the director herself, who interweaves elements of her own life with those of the individuals she interviews in the film, notably drawing together similarities between them. The premise behind this documentary was an open-call film audition O’Brien held in Gort, from which emerged several stories that she felt compelled to follow. In the Q&A following the film, the director explained that she initially had the idea of making an experimental film based off of a script she was working on located in Gort, tackling the subject of changing Ireland and what that meant to a small town. However, she was “very surprised and really moved” by the stories people shared and her experimental film turned into a documentary.

In Town of Strangers we meet individuals from around the world—Afghanistan, Brazil, England, Ireland and Syria—who have all come to call Gort home. As these individuals open up about their lives we are invited to learn about their different backgrounds and unique stories, but what stands out are the commonalities between them (and ourselves) at basic emotional levels. Answering questions about what “home” means to them, about their families and about their dreams, the participants in this documentary reveal their fears, insecurities, hopes and strengths both through what they say and what they don’t. O’Brien subtly catches the whole range of emotions in quiet moments where the camera lingers on individuals’ faces, allowing the audience to read, and connect with, them. Discussing the film, O’Brien said that she was “trying to show empathy in a cinematic way”, and she certainly does.

All of the individuals are presented as different types of “outsiders”—with immigrants, hippies and Travellers among them. However, what emerges throughout the film more than a sense of living between two cultures, though that is evident, is what O’Brien notes as “displacement from the family”. It is through O’Brien’s exploration of this, along with its associated loneliness, that she is able to connect her audience with these “strangers”. Portraying them with empathy and understanding, rather than looking away from difficult stories, reveals just how familiar these individuals really are.

Speaking after the screening, O’Brien said that she “wanted to make a film for our times”. She went on to note the rise in right-wing politics and the fear that is developed by not fully understanding large events, explaining that, with this film, she wanted to bring things back to the personal and focus on connection. Ultimately, she hopes that this documentary contributes to a “shift in your consciousness [in terms of] how you might perceive people”.

Town of Strangers visually challenges perceptions—juxtaposing shots of the Gort Show (agricultural, baking and animal events) with rappers and dancers and Brazilian shops—in order to open up our understanding of rural Ireland, and reinforces this with its interwoven narrative of deeply moving, personal stories. All in all, the documentary offers a sensitive and engaging depiction of human connection, with all its fragilities, and, in doing so, beautifully reflects on contemporary rural Ireland.

 

Town of Strangers screened on Tuesday, 13th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review: The Camino Voyage

DIR: Dónal O’Ceilleachair •  DOP: Bob Kelly • ED: Síle Ní Fhlaibhín • CAST: Liam Holden, Danny Sheehy, Breanndán Ó’Beaglaoich, Breanndán Pháid Ó’Muircheartaigh, Glen Hansard

 

Donal O’Ceilleachair’s film is an inspiring tale of hardship and immense work. The story is laced with the euphoria of people doing something unimaginable in today’s modern world. Four men set sail on an epic 2,500 km modern-day Celtic odyssey. Renowned Irish musician, Brendan Begley; distinguished artist, Liam Holden; skilled stonemason, Brendan Moriarty; and celebrated writer and poet, Danny Sheehy, undertake a journey that their ancestors would have done, from Ireland to Santiago de Compostela.

Their ancestors sailed to Coruña in Northern Spain, and walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela from there. These men did the same, sailing in their ‘Naomhóg’, a traditional West Kerry rowing Curragh/boat. Neither young nor hardened men of the sea, they were writers, musicians and artists. This pilgrimage was an ode to their kindred predecessors. En route, they had to traverse rocky coast line, cross seas and work up rivers all for the hope that they can complete the journey. To do what these men did, all in a Naomhóg built by their own hands, would be thought impossible, but this group of artists  showed true passion for the beyond-demanding journey. Not only this, but it was all done with a smile.

As Danny says of the sweat, blood and blisters journey, “People might say we’re out of our minds… you need some of that because  if you’re sensible all the time – sure you’d do nothing.”

While the “crazy” journey is the subject of the film, it is the people who are its heart. The crew – who are joined by Glen Hansard along the way – are an infectious manifestation of courage and conviction with a true grá for adventure. This feature  documents this pilgrimage skillfully and tracks their battles they face along the way. These men saw the impossible as improbable and made the improbable doable. Their message is clear: no matter who you are or the road you’ve travelled, if you decide to do a 2,500km journey in a rowing boat then why don’t you?

Sadly, as Danny continued this Naomhóg journey south in 2017, he tragically lost his life when the Naomhóg overturned. A truly wonderfully inspiring man, whom this beautiful film is a testament  to.

 

Sean Dooley

97 minutes
PG (see IFCO for details)
The Camino Voyage is released 16th November 2018

 

 

 
THE CAMINO VOYAGE – A 2,500 km MODERN DAY CELTIC ODYSSEY from Anú Pictures on Vimeo.

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Watch Irish Short Film: Rob Kennedy’s ‘Sit Beside Me’

Lorena Weldon

Rob Kennedy talks to Film Ireland about his new short set in a haunted cinema. 

Sit Beside Me is about an usher who becomes trapped in a haunted cinema after hours. One moment she’s sweeping popcorn, the next she’s battling a mischievous ghost. The inspiration for the film came from an old Ambrose Bierce short story: ‘The Suitable Surroundings’. It’s about how our surroundings alter how we perceive a story. I thought it would be interesting to make a horror film set in the environment in which they’re traditionally seen. I love going to the cinema. But at the same time, I’ve always found it a little bit creepy. Sitting in the dark with a group of strangers? Or alone? Sometimes the seats creak. Sometimes you hear some odd noises from your neighbours – particularly those behind you. Horror is often about feeling stranded, isolated. A cinema auditorium felt like the perfect untapped location for a scary movie. It has this palpable atmosphere of anticipation. And suspense. So I wrote the script.

My last film, a feature, Midnight Man, ended up being remade in Hollywood, a bizarre and exciting process but also a lengthy one. The negotiations and contracts took years. I was determined to go back to making a film on my own terms, relatively quickly, with a small crew. The biggest challenge was securing the location – a big thanks to Paul Ward of IMC Cinemas – arranging insurance, and working out the right time to shoot, which ended up being in the early hours of the morning before showtimes, when the cleaning crew were the only other people in the building. This definitely added to the creepy vibe I was chasing.

I operate camera on all my films, but Andrew Mahon, a longtime collaborator, figures out the lighting for me. He also built a nifty dolly track, which came in handy for the opening shot as we follow our doomed usher climbing the stairs with brush in hand. Billy Keane recorded sound.

I cast Lorena Weldon as the usher after seeing her in the TV show ‘Vikings’. She was able to convey fear with no dialogue in a way that really draws you in, which was exactly what I needed. Lorena is an exciting up-and-coming Venezuelan actress who has lived in Ireland for several years. Not only was she perfect for the usher, but she was also a breath of fresh air to work with.

This film was a proper indie effort. My girlfriend, Vicki Walsh, helped with scheduling and persuaded her multitalented family to get involved: Her mother, Susan, did makeup; her aunt Debby helped with costumes; and her sister, Sophie, had a big role to play. But I don’t want to give away too much…

 

Watch Sir Beside Me

 

Follow Rob on instagram @robkennedyfilm

 

 

 

Spotlight: Midnight Man

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Free Radicals

 

Vjekoslav Vondra was at the Cork Film Festival to take in a selection of experimental film works screened in memory of Josephine Massarella (1957 – 2018).

 

Using a church as a cinema may be unconventional, but Free Radicals is a selection of experimental shorts which are exactly that and the venue of Triskel Christchurch actually helps the films in leaving a stronger impression. To some experimental film may appear as just flashing imagery and loud noises nonsensically put together and because of that they refrain from watching. Experimental film is by its very nature unorthodox and will always struggle to reach a wide audience. For this reason, I’d imagine that the organisers weren’t expecting a high attendance. Nevertheless they must have been delighted with the respectably high turnout for the Free Radicals programme screened in such beautiful surroundings.

Right of the bat we were presented with an interesting picture, which we got to see twice due to some technical issues, Selfie Test #1 by Sybille Bauer. It depicts two women trying to find the perfect pose for a selfie in black and white followed by ominous music, leaving us with an uncomfortable feeling. During the first screening there were some imperfections on the projection which seemed intentional to everyone seeing the film for the first time and you could say that they actually contributed to the uneasy feeling the film was trying to incite. On the second showing though, another detail could have been noticed that shows the creative ability of the director. The footage was taken with the framerate adjusted so that the camera would pick up the flicker of the lights. Even though this short film is  only two minutes long, it has a great build-up resulting in a relieving climax.

Triskel’s very own head of cinema Chris O’Neill also had a film screened and was present among the audience as well. His piece Fragments was made using out-takes from a project that was shot 16 years ago. We see a woman taking out a cigarette and preparing to smoke it and the film evokes a strong sense of anticipation and a feeling of frustration. After we witness the woman taking the cigarette out of the box it appears as if the same couple of shots are just repeating themselves but the transitions in between each shot help in making them feel different. Additionally, it is hard to distinguish why these shots are out-takes as we would often see them during the credits of comedies so we expect them to be just actors breaking character or forgetting their lines. Here the issues may be technical or visual ones since there are no lines and the character is just standing in place with a seemingly normal face expression.

Another film that left a good impression is Abduction Scars by Jorge Núñez. It was the closest of the bunch to having a mainstream narrative, or at least slightly resembling it. It was also the longest film showed at 21 minutes long and at some points it felt stretched out, but overall it works well because it adds to the mystery behind it. The mystery that we learn more and more about throughout the film revolves around a bed and the man who is or should be in it but is not because of an abduction. This mystery also creates a spine-chilling atmosphere that some Hollywood horror productions could only dream of having, and here the flashing imagery and loud noises are justified and furthermore required to create such a terrifying environment and drag us into it. The editing implies that the character is having trouble sleeping and is tortured by a nightmare but it also makes us feel as if we are the ones who are having this nightmare.

Ultimately, there were certainly a number of films that stood out among the rest. Other films worth noting are: Mark Jenkin’s David Bowie is Dead and Vertical Shapes in a Horizontal Landscape, which feel as if they are the same length, even though the difference is 11 minutes, because of the pace at which the narrator speaks and the pace of the visuals; Mike Hoolboom’s 3 Dreams of Horses, which presents three different scenarios revolving around horses, admitting only one actually includes real horses, accompanied by contrasting beautiful visuals for each one; and 165708 by Josephine Massarella, who unfortunately passed away before receiving the news that her film would be shown at the festival, thus the screening was shown in her memory.

If you already enjoy experimental film, Free Radicals is definitely worth your time, and if you haven’t yet been exposed to experimental film, this is a good gateway.

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Cellar Door

John Finbarr McGarr goes beyond the Cellar Door, which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

Cellar Door is Viko Nikci’s second feature film as a writer (his debut being 2015’s Fading Away) and his first as a director. The film follows a young woman, Aidie, played by Karen Hassan, who is trying to recall the last thing she remembers and soon realises that her child is missing.

Cellar Door is both an interesting and frustrating film simultaneously. Nearly every compliment that can be given to this film can also be seen as a flaw, depending on the person. For one, it lacks the traditional narrative of most films, instead opting for what seems like a directionless montage of disjointed scenes. Simply describing it wouldn’t do it justice as it’s more akin to an experience than a story.

The audience is learning information at the same time as the protagonist is, allowing for one to get into the same state of confusion as the protagonist. The cinematography also plays an important role in this confusion; the majority of scenes are filmed with a handheld camera, giving a sense of disorientation and instability. Cellar Door also lacks any establishing shots, being filmed in either close-up or medium shots. This is crucial, as it makes the whole film feel entrapping and claustrophobic.

However, what makes it frustrating is when watching it (for the first time); one has no idea what is going on. It is also not very clear what is happening to the protagonist, as Nikci plays his cards very close to his chest. Because of this, everyone watching this film would each have their own individual theories as to what the true nature of the film is.

But the audience is not supposed to understand what is being presented on the screen, as stated by producer David Collins in a Q&A after the screening of the film at Cork Film Festival, who also went on to say how much of a subjective experience the film is. Depending on who you are, you may find the lack of tangible answers intriguing or off-putting.

Easily the best aspect about Cellar Door is the editing. Most scenes bleed into the next seamlessly in a dream-like flow. As a result, the film never feels jarring or disruptive, despite the drastic change in setting that can occur at any moment. These smooth transitions are what helps the film succeed; the protagonist hops from location to location so frequently that these transitions help ease the audience to the next scene.

The film borrows some elements from horror films, and I would consider this the least successful part of it. There are multiple jump scares where a character screams or makes a loud noise after a prolonged silence, which happens so often that you could predict when the next one is about to happen.

Regardless, Cellar Door is a great film with interesting cinematography, a solid performance by Karen Hassan and some fantastic editing. It is clear that Nikci and Hassan have put a lot of work and research into the creation of this film, allowing it to get better the more you think about it. While it may not be for everyone, I would recommend this to anyone interested in seeing something weird, different and unique, as it is an intense experience that won’t ever be replicated.

 

 

Cellar Door screened on Sunday, 11th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Curious Works of Roger Doyle

 

Loretta Goff goes on a journey through The Curious Works of Roger Doyle, Brian Lally’s documentary about Roger Doyle who, over the course of five decades, has created an impressive body of work ranging from minimalist piano and electronic pieces to orchestral works.

Preceding the screening of The Curious Works of Roger Doyle at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Roger Doyle himself performed live on the piano. Doyle synched this performance with footage of himself in concert in Beijing six years earlier (in 2012), material that was cut from the documentary. As the onscreen Doyle plays, he is superimposed with images of and from a moving train, visually mirroring the motion of his fast-paced music. This synchronicity was echoed through Doyle’s live performance, creating a synergy between the digital and the human, as well as the old and the new—something that pervades both Doyle’s work and Brian Lally’s documentary about the composer.

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle is framed around Doyle’s 2016 electronic opera, “Heresy”, performed at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, but covers five decades of his career. This intertwining of the current and the previous reflects Doyle’s style as a composer, bringing together classical forms and instruments (e.g. opera and the piano) with electronic technology to create his own style. Interspersed with footage of his opera—from the early stages of its approval and rehearsals to its live performances—are interviews with Doyle’s collaborators over the years, archival footage and several of his past performances. Though dubbed the “Godfather of Irish Electronica”, Doyle’s music has taken him across the world and we see that in the film.

Lally gives space to the music in this documentary, setting aside several sections for Doyle’s performances to play out onscreen. These are often combined with corresponding images that help tell the story of the songs to the audience. For instance, as Doyle plays his song “Chalant” in Paris, shots of the city and its people at night populate the screen. As new faces appear with each beat, a whimsical portrait of the city unfolds. While this shapes our perspective of the song, each musical break in the documentary primarily focuses on the music itself, allowing the audience to become immersed in it and reflect. Doyle’s music invites its listeners to take part in an experience and Lally’s documentary allows for this.

At the same time, we learn about the methods and motives behind the music from both Doyle and his collaborators. Doyle describes the influences behind several of his songs and his use of technology, explaining: “I revise, that’s my process”. Olwen Fouéré, who formed Operating Theatre with him, describes his music as “from the mothership”, noting how their unique styles connected in such a way that allowed them to create musical theatre pieces together for several years.

Equally, several of Ireland’s prominent filmmakers in the 1970s were drawn to Doyle’s music. In fact, Bob Quinn, who collaborated with Doyle several times, also used the composer as a subject of a 1978 documentary for RTÉ. Joe Comerford, who grew up with Doyle, explains that they worked in parallel on the short experimental film Emptigon, simultaneously developing a language of film and composition. A similar sentiment is expressed by Cathal Black, who explains that music creates “a sort of invisible story” in film and Doyle’s was able to perfectly match the film’s narrative in Pigs.

In Lally’s impressive documentary, the story of the music is much more visible and, during the Q&A following the screening, the director expressed that, though he did most of the work on the film, he had Windmill Lane work on the sound mix as that was “quite important” for this project. Equally it was Doyle’s music that inspired the project. Lally became aware of Doyle’s work in the early 1990s but started the documentary in 2005 when he saw Doyle playing goldfish bowls at Whelan’s in Dublin and thought: “this is remarkable, someone should be filming this.”

Describing Doyle as an “avant-garde” composer, Lally explained: “the more I delved into it, the more fascinated I became”, noting that, particularly when he struggled to find funding for the project, “there were certainly points when the music kept me going.” Screen Ireland funding eventually saw the documentary through to completion and the result is a thoughtful exploration of Roger Doyle’s music and career. As Doyle expressed in the Q&A: “I am constantly curious and constantly looking for new ways of doing things.” The Curious Works of Roger Doyle expresses just that, bringing the audience along for the journey.

 

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle screened on Sunday, 11th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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Aoife O’Toole, Dublin Feminist Film Festival Manager

Gemma Creagh talks to Aoife O’Toole, the Dublin Feminist Film Festival Manager, about what we can expect at this year’s festival with screenings in the Light House Cinema 21st and 22nd November plus Special Launch Events taking place on 20th November in The Generator Hostel, Smithfield. 

 

 

The Dublin Feminist Film Festival runs 20 – 22 November 

#DFFF2018 = Reframe/Refocus

www.dublinfeministfilmfestival.com

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Sooner or Later

 

Jack O’Dwyer finds much to like in Sooner or Later, Luke Morgan’s no-budget feature from Galway filmmaking collective Project Spatula.

 

Luke Morgan, standing before a full crowd in the Gate cinema, proclaims that, in years to come, ‘’we’re gonna remember this day when our little film screened in Cork.’’ He is there to introduce his feature-length debut, entitled Sooner or Later, the latest project by an artistic collective from Galway known as ‘’Project Spatula’’, described by Morgan as a ‘’rock band, except for films’’, which is loosely comprised of 30-40 members who move fluidly from film to film, churning out shorts, features and other projects in spite of the complete absence of any solid budget or sponsorship. This film should rightfully mark the point at which Morgan and his band of dedicated players move from obscurity to celebrity; for while the film may be self-described by Morgan as ‘’rough around the edges’’, it is also brave, exuberant and comedically potent throughout the majority of its 95-minute runtime.

At the core of the film are Thaddeus and Sally, two strikingly original Irish characters played brilliantly by real-life husband and wife pairing Aeneas and Anna O’Donnell. Thaddeus is a truly ineffable character, part folkloric hero in the vein of Oisín and part cantankerous lout in the vein of Father Jack Hackett, with a spindly gait like Nosferatu and a leathered face like Mick Jagger. Matching his eccentricity perfectly is Sally, scatter-brained and prone to getting caught up in fads, yet wholly capable of delivering razor-sharp wit in a way reminiscent of the late Carrie Fisher. As an elderly pair who yearn to escape the confines of their retirement home and elope to Kerry in order to commit suicide on their own terms, the couple’s seasoned chemistry bursts off the screen from the first frame. Indeed, the film’s opening scene is an absurdly comedic bathtub sequence, lit primarily by candlelight, depicting an intimate moment between the two lovers being rudely interrupted by a Nurse Ratched-like member of staff at the care home. Featuring full-frontal nudity, hysterical one-liners, and a Lynchian debate about the spelling of a suicide note, the film’s opening is a stunning introduction to a film fuelled by exuberant, darkly comedic brilliance.

Acting as the foil to the mischievous duo is Alice, Thaddeus’s granddaughter, played by Muireann NÍ Raghaillach. She cares deeply for her erratic grandfather, and has remained weary of Sally’s role in his life for the duration of the couple’s six-month long relationship. It is her care and concern for Thaddeus which leads to her being duped into driving the pair to the old family home in Kerry, despite the fact that the residents have no permission to leave the care facility. Once at the family home, Alice discovers the pair’s suicide pact after a commemorative urn is delivered three days early to the house – just one example of how the film’s plot is structured upon well-executed dark comedy set-pieces. From this point in the film, Alice has a troubled scowl upon her face, not aided by the arrival of her hapless ex-boyfriend Nigel, a man ‘’easier to push over than a cereal box’’, played by co-writer Peter Shine. Alice as a character is not as memorable or engaging as Thaddeus or Sally, which is understandable given the difficulty of playing it straight in a world defined by comedic madness. The relative weakness of Alice’s scenes within the film does not reflect upon the talents of Ní Raghaillach, who performs capably in a challenging, emotional role.

Morgan, as well as engaging in all aspects of filmmaking, is also a poet and novelist, noting in the past the similarities between writing a poem and writing a screenplay, due to the exactitude and economy of language that is needed to be effective in both. The script, written by Conor Quinlan and Peter Shine, is infused with this ethos, with great attention paid to the clever turn-of-phrase and cutting, precise punchline. This is particularly relevant in the case of Thaddeus, who speaks in a sort of impactful lilt, sometimes humorous and sometimes empathetic; each line of dialogue, no matter how inane or bizarre, falls from his lips in natural, poetic fashion, which is testament to the quality of the script. After the film’s screening, Morgan explained the unique way in which the script was assembled. The director provided the actors with certain situations and told them to improvise based on their own knowledge of their characters. These interactions were livestreamed to a team of ten or so writers in a different room, who listened intently and took down the most memorable phrases, working them into future drafts of the script. This approach leads to an abundance of memorable lines. “Last time I met my girlfriend’s family, the Soviet Union was still going strong”, “I want to remain a human…not drugged up to me eyeballs in a care home’’, and Thaddeus’s oft-repeated insult “shut up bonehead!”. In addition to such quotable lines, the script contains numerous self-contained scenes of well-plotted, escalating humour. The hilarity reaches its peak during a night-time scene which somehow brings together a daddy long legs, an erection, and a misinterpreted suicide attempt to form a feat of sustained comic brilliance which compelled the entire Cork audience to uproarious laughter. 

As Morgan himself admirably admits, the film is slightly bumpy from a technical perspective. It is far too easy to dwell upon unavoidable faults which plague the film such as inconsistent lighting, uneven sound design, and a conventional mischievous soundtrack which repeats awkwardly throughout the film’s first act. Given the virtual absence of any budget at all, these are easily ignored, especially in light of the inarguable directorial vision and ambition which pervade the film. Morgan’s compositions often convey the tone of a scene before any words are spoken. This is the case in a gloriously mundane scene between Sally and Nigel, wherein the actors’ postures communicate their mutual discomfort more effectively than words ever could. Similarly, a tragicomic shot of a melancholy Thaddeus sitting among party decorations (which he himself had put up in celebration of his own death) is perhaps the most affecting in the entire film. The film’s rural Kerry setting, which also includes locations shot in Galway and West Cork, is evoked vividly throughout the film, especially during two poignant scenes between Thaddeus and Alice that take place on a beach which plays a symbolic role in the family’s identity.

Redolent of Dylan Thomas’s famous poem ‘’Do not go gentle into that good night’’, the film is a courageous portrayal of dying on one’s own terms rather than simply fading away in conventional fashion. This mature subject matter is, in Morgan’s own words, Project Spatula’s latest attempt ‘’to shout as loud as we can’’ until the industry takes notice. If the standard set by Sooner or Later is maintained or surpassed with future efforts, then it cannot be long until the Galway collective’s calls are heard; the film is a sparkling paean to life, death, and all the love and hardships in between.

 

 

Sooner or Later screened on Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Float Like a Butterfly

Loretta Goff finds a voice to the voiceless in Carmel Winters’ film Float Like a Butterfly, which opened the 63rd Cork Film Festival.

The second feature-film of writer-director Carmel Winters, Float Like a Butterfly was the Opening Gala of the 63rd Cork Film Festival and screened again the following day, with packed out audiences at both showings. Introducing the second screening of the film, the Festival’s Programme Director, Michael Hayden, described it as “highly intelligent” and “full of humanity”. This proved to be true as audiences connected with the story unfolding onscreen over the next hour and forty minutes, laughing, gasping, clapping and crying along the way.

Float Like a Butterfly, set in rural Ireland in the 1960s, follows the story of Frances (Hazel Doupe), a fifteen-year-old Irish Traveller, as she comes of age amidst turmoil and fights back against societal expectations. The film opens with a young Frances sharing a happy moment with her family—boxing with her father and listening to her mother sing. This is quickly shattered with the arrival of Guards demanding that Frances be brought to school. Trying to take the child leads to an altercation that results in the tragic death of Frances’ mother, who is pushed by a Guard, and the arrest of her father, who fights back.

Several years later, we see Frances carrying on her father’s fighting spirit while channelling her hero, Muhammad Ali. She stands strong against the discrimination and vitriol she and her family face, reminding herself that they are “the greatest” (like Ali), and resists prescribed gender roles, focusing on boxing rather than the marriage she is continuously pushed towards. However, when her father, Michael (Dara Devaney) returns from prison as a broken man struggling with alcoholism, Frances’ strength is put to the test as she tries to hold her family together.

Tensions boil over when Michael takes Frances and her younger brother on the road. As the trio begin their journey, they come to a split in the path and, after pausing for a moment, Michael comments that “there’s no wrong way” and allows the horse to choose their direction. This neatly reflects the overall position of the film—that it is OK to follow your own path—and acknowledges the many directions one’s life might take. However, Michael does not seem to follow his own philosophy for most of the film, undermining his daughter’s passion for boxing and her more “masculine” strengths, while scolding his young son for being too “soft”.

The acting in this film is strong across the board, but Hazel Doupe stands out, expressing great emotional depth and variety throughout the film. Several shots focus on Doupe’s face, allowing it to guide the audience through both her character’s experiences and their own emotional responses to the film. Through Doupe’s subtle and nuanced performance, Frances becomes both a strong, determined individual and representative of humanity (and our fears, struggles, hopes and successes) more broadly. The audience connects with her, feels her pain and roots for her. In the Q&A following the film, Winters explained that the “character of Frances drove this… she had a story to tell and she didn’t let me go until I told it.”

Locating this film in the past gives it a mythological quality that softens and romanticises some of the tough issues the film addresses, but these remain affecting and the audience can easily relate to them. In the Q&A, Winters stated: “What I really want is everyone to open their hearts” and expressed that she hoped the film allows audiences to connect with their pain, but also find beauty. She explained: “That’s where I come from as an artist … how can I serve, whatever that might be … I want to give a voice to the voiceless.”

Float Like a Butterfly is a standout film that tells a unique story while simultaneously tackling a myriad of topical social issues relevant not only in Ireland, but across the world. It captures humanity at its best and worst, offering a message of hope throughout.

 

Float Like a Butterfly screened on Friday. 9th & Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Favourite

 

Charline Fernandez takes a break from duck racing and pineapple eating to send us this review of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite from the Cork Film Festival.

 

Royal satire The Favourite is a brilliant dark comedy, shattering notions of aristocratic decency with glee. Screening as part of Cork Film Festival, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest had its audience at the Everyman Theatre on Saturday in howls of laughter.

Set in the early 18th century, England and France are at war. However, the real battle is taking place in the Royal Palace. Two cousins are fighting for the attention of the childish and ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman – The Iron Lady, The Lobster). Her closest friend is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz – Youth, Disobedience), a strong, determined woman with a sharp tongue. Sarah’s distant cousin Abigail (Emma Stone – La La Land) is a former noble fallen on hard times attempting to social climb.

Although one could expect a formal atmosphere stressing a rigid and romanticized type of life, The Favourite subverts all expectations of typical historical drama, feeling like a breath of fresh air. Oscillating between tense and grotesque moments, the narrative keeps surprising the viewer. A recurrent element playing on these contrasts is the presence of tamed ducks – who race for the court’s pleasure – punctuating the conversations with their quacks.

Breaking the stereotype of the old princess movies, one scene shows new servant Abigail in a wood picking up plant medicine. Suddenly, a charismatic young man appears on his horse looking at the beautiful seemingly innocent person. However, the tables are soon turned when the lady bites the lip of the noble in her bedroom and literally kicks his ass during a twisted sort of role play in the same forest.

The subversion even extends into the editing as The Favourite is happy playing with the codes of filmmaking. Scenes fade in on one another resulting in a corny superimposition of images, which creates a dissonance between old-school historical drama and Lanthimos’ use of more provocative elements of modern filmmaking. Divided into several acts, the titles are often taken from a character’s venomous line.

Some of the humour even dares to cross the line of historical inaccuracies. Sofia Coppola had already challenged the conventional ballroom scene in Marie-Antoinette, having its central royal figures dancing to punk-rock band Siouxsie and The Banshees. Here, Lanthimos takes it further with a dance between Lady Sarah and a noble that starts old-school but quickly switches hilariously into more contemporary choreography with break dance and hip-hop movements.

The script is just one verbal swordplay after another, particularly the scenes involving Nicholas Hoult’s Robert Harley, a master manipulator campaigning for lower taxes. While its three central women shine throughout, the X-Men actor has his fair share of the screenplay’s provocative lines. When Abigail asks him for a favour, he dryly replies: “Favour is a breeze that shifts direction all the time. Then in an instant you’re back to sleeping with a bunch of scabrous whores.”

The cinematography from Robbie Ryan adds to the non-conformity of the film. Fish-eye lenses are strategically placed in the corner of the enormous rooms while low-angle shots breeze through endless corridors. These two combined elements create a sense of distorted reality. The same goes for the soundtrack announcing the tone from the beginning. Although it is a classical score in the opening scene, the long silences in the melody create some dissonance. As the film continues, electronic notes become more discordant.

While The Favourite is hysterically funny, Lanthimos’ does not skirt over the darkness of the story he is telling, leaving it to linger heavily in the last act. The decadence of the members of the court leads to a tragic ending where all protagonists are prisoners – for better or worse – of their own condition despite all their efforts to escape.

In Lanthimos’ satire, power corrupts. Yet, to his credit he never forgets the people caught in the power plays.

 

The Favourite screened on Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

 

 

 

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Vincent Lambe, Director of ‘Detainment’

Two ten year-old boys are detained by police under suspicion of abducting and murdering a toddler. A true story based on interview transcripts and records from the James Bulger case which shocked the world in 1993.

Eleanor McSherry was at this year’s Kerry Film Festival and got the chance to talk to Vincent Lambe about his docudrama, Detainment, which won Best Irish Short Film at the festival.

 

Killarney House is a gem of a building nestled in the heart of Killarney. The views from its gardens on a clear day, with the mountains behind it, are a vista worthy of any film. Sadly, I was not there filming but more excitedly, there to interview Vincent Lambe, a new Irish director/producer on the film landscape and winner of Best Irish Short at the festival.

According to Vincent Lambe’s website he is ‘an award-winning director and producer from Ireland. He is a graduate of the National Film School of Ireland and has worked with a wide range of companies and broadcasters including TG4, Nemeton Television, Vico Films, Sony Music and Universal Music.  He is a double winner of the Young Director Award at the Cannes Lions, winning both the Gold Screen Award and The Special Jury Prize and an unprecedented standing ovation for his latest film Detainment. The film premiered at the 58TH Krakow Film Festival where it won its first award and it won the Grand Prix at the Odense International Film Festival, which means it is officially Oscar qualified and goes on the longlist for the Academy Awards.

Vincent has a long distinguished list of films and accolades under his belt, which is not only impressive but a little intimidating. His docudrama Detainment is a story about the two ten year-old boys who are detained by police under suspicion of abducting and murdering a toddler in Liverpool in the early 1990s. ‘A true story based on interview transcripts and records from the James Bulger case which shocked the world in 1993’. This film is already on the longlist for the Oscars and is not for the faint-hearted; it is disturbing, heart-wrenching and also thought provoking.

This is a very timely short, in light of the rise of TV genre of True Crime documentaries. Viewers all over the world are switching onto Netflix and its ilk, wanting to see why some people commit murder.  What makes this film so compelling is that it not only looks at the murder of 2-year-old Jamie Bulger but also at the children, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who committed the crime. The film doesn’t glorify what they did or make excuses for them but puts the details in front of the audience in order for them to make up their own minds, which is a fantastic feat. So being able to interview Vincent, the mind behind the film was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Making a film like Detainment, was there a fear that no one will give you funding, what was the reception like for the idea?

Well, I didn’t get funding. I did try and it was tricky. I knew it was going to be tricky though, it was a risky one. I can understand that if RTE or the Film Board funded it, there is a risk that it could be either be really really good or just terrible. I just got so frustrated with the whole process I just saved up money and put €35000 of my own money into it.

How are you finding the reception from the Irish filmmaking establishment, now that the film is finished?  Are they taking notice of the film?

Yes, just lately, in Galway where the film had its Irish premiere, they showed the whole 30-minute film, which is tricky as this is long for a short film. It’s hard to programme for festivals and I knew this. I went against my own advice on it, short films should be short, thus easy to programme. I also knew that it is not right for all festivals either. The ones that it is right for seem to really like it. So Galway was first, now here (Kerry Film Festival) and the Richard Harris Festival. It’s not right for everything.

 

The timing is also important for a film like this.  If you think of when the boys were arrested, there was little media, not like we have today.  If they committed such a crime now there would be blogs, youtube, social media and it would have been all over the media and internet, so there would be little your film could offer to the discussion. But your film explores the story from an angle we never really were allowed to see at the time. Do you think now is the right time to re-tell this story?

I don’t think there is any good time to tell a story like this. I mean its 25 years since the murder happened and, while I had been thinking about this for such a long time, it had not been talked about in the media in such a long time. Then I saw it was back in the news due to the anniversary and it felt really strange, as I was not the only one thinking about it anymore. It was not good news stories either, Jon Venables going back to prison, which was bad. Also it was not a popular opinion I had, that this was a tragedy for three families. People are more comfortable of looking at those boys as those evil monsters.

The boys’ Liverpool accents in the film are so good, considering they’re from Dublin and Galway; did they have to work hard at it? What was the process that you used with them to get the accents so good?

They worked hard with a dialect coach and he was great, that’s Gavin O’Donoghue from the LIR. Leon is brilliant. He was able to drop in and out of the accent; he picked it up really quickly.  The dialect coach said he did very little with him. Ely found it trickier. He’s from Galway, and the vowel sounds are very different. He had a few sessions with the dialect coach, it made a huge difference. It was fascinating that it involved things like the placement of your tongue in your mouth to get that strong ‘th’ sound in things like ‘I think so’. They had to press their tongues against the roof of their mouths and the back of their teeth. Ely was saying ‘tink so’. I now know so much about the Liverpool accent that I didn’t know before; I could probably do a great job on it myself.

You’ve mentioned before that the two boys were not seasoned child actors but in fact natural non-actors? This seems to becoming more and more the way film directors want to go, directors like David Leigh and Ken Loach. Why did you do it?

I thought at first, to be honest that we would take one of the kids from the local drama schools. I was surprised who we ended up casting. It was as much about the right actor for the part rather than the most accomplished. Ely has never studied acting, never acted in anything or taken an acting class.  I knew that I could workshop with them and not have that unnatural ‘on’ acting that kids do on stage but rather reacting to the situation. Ely never tried to act, all he can do is tell the truth, which was a dream to direct. Leon had been doing drama but this was his first film, he’s also a really versatile actor. For example, his first audition for Jon was amazing. The fact that he could also do Robert, which was fascinating for me, as it is so far from who he really is. He’s shy and timid, which people really don’t get after they’ve seen the film. He’s such a sweet kid that if you forgot your lunch money he’d give you his lunch and not eat himself.

It’s hard to get them, the young actors, to get into the minds of Robert and Jon, as we can never really know why they murdered Jamie. How did you overcome this?

I tried to get to understand, as much as I could by the evidence that is there, for example Robert’s family dynamic. Robert was just left to his own devices, six boys in a house where, if Robert was beaten up, instead of taking it out on his older brother, he would take it out on his younger brother, Ryan, who was 6. So when they are in the shopping centre Robert says ‘let’s get a kid, I haven’t hit one in ages’.  That’s where that came from. What helped me understand was not that they came from disadvantaged backgrounds, that’s too easy to blame and plenty of people in that position don’t commit murders. For me it was the relationship and dynamic between the two boys, more so, than background that influenced what they did. Robert had this tough guy persona he created for himself and he had to live up to that and Jon was completely different, he was weak but didn’t want to look like that to Robert. So once the task was set, neither one of them could back down, for those reasons. For me that is more why what happened, happened. Their background and upbringing is relevant but it’s their toxic relationship which led them to do what they did.

I’m not sure if they even set out to murder Jamie. In the opening sequence of the film they are just hanging around the shopping centre to steal… whatever; it didn’t matter. The fun part is the stealing. Everything in the sequence happened; they poke an old women and steal a toy soldier, play with it on the escalator and break it, then throw it down the moving steps.  It’s almost like a metaphor for what they eventually do, there is no enjoyment in just taking the toy soldier and put it neatly back the shelf, then leave. After they have taken the boy, it’s like what do we do with him now and to just bring him to a police station wouldn’t have given them any satisfaction.  It’s very dark when you think of it. When you try to get into their heads, it’s like they didn’t know what to do. But there is also the fact that Jon wanted to look tough in front of Robert and Robert wanted to be the same, neither wanted to do the reasonable thing, it would have been lame. This is an example of that toxic relationship and its consequences. It’s a tricky concept to understand and most of us don’t want to understand. The case is so horrific a lot of people just want to shy away from it, than absorb all the facts about it.

The case is on most psychology courses now, to study, which is weird. Child psychologists are trying to understand the relationship that led to the awful murder. It’s a real interesting case to study.

 

 

 

Detainment screened on Saturday 20th of October, 2018, at Killarney Cinema as part of the Kerry Film Festival

 

 

Vincent Lambe: www.vincentlambe.com/

 

 

 

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Rebecca Daly, Director/Co-writer of ‘Good Favour’

In Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour, a wounded teenage stranger who stumbles into an isolated village of devout Christians gradually reveals his motives. David Prendeville met Rebecca to discover more about the film.

 

Can we talk about the inspirations behind the film?

There were a couple of ways that we were inspired to make this film. I’m not sure which came first, but one was when Glenn (Montgomery, co-writer) found an article online about this young guy who walked out of the woods into Berlin. He claimed to have been in a car accident with his parents and said that he had no memory of anything before that. We followed the story online for about a year and it ends in a bit of of a banal way. But we liked the set up. The idea of somebody arriving somewhere and not having a memory of where they came from. We were interested in what the possibilities of that were, especially in terms of what they could mean to the people they encountered. There were lots of theories online about this guy – who was he? They didn’t release a photo until quite late as they weren’t sure that that he was over 17. There was a lot of speculation about who he was. We thought that was quite interesting. What can someone be if they say they don’t know who they are?

 

And the religious aspect?

That was the other inspiration. My grandmother had this really strong faith, despite the fact that she understood that there had been various abuses in the church. But still, her faith was so strong that she could hold and contain all of this and still endure and persevere with it. So, I was interested in that – how much can people take an preserve their way of life and maintain the belief systems that they hold really dear. That was an interesting thing for us to explore, this microcosm of an organised religion really.

 

This film calls to mind European art house. Is there anything in particular that influences you formally? Are there other filmmakers you keep in mind?

No, not really. I watch a lot of films and I love a lot of different filmmakers’ work. But I wouldn’t say I have any conscious sense of being influenced. Of course, there are filmmakers I admire, like Haneke. I would be a big fan of his work. And Lynne Ramsay, or Paolo Sorrentino – who is completely different. These are all kind of filmmakers whose work I love. But I wouldn’t say I was influenced. I’m always trying to find the part of the film itself. Also, looking at my other films, I think you can see that they’re made by the same person yet still they are not the same necessarily in terms of tone and form. I think the story, and what we’re trying to get across in terms of theme, really influence how the film is made, the form of the film, the tone of the film – and this film needed to be a mystery for the central story to work; for this central character to be quite mysterious and for there to be lots of possibilities about him. That is the nature of faith itself.

 

There is a mystery at the heart of all your work. How important is it for you as an artist to challenge the audience? Your films are demanding in a very positive way.

I feel that audiences don’t always want to have a passive relationship with what they’re watching. I think they get that a lot in cinema and it’s satisfying to a point. But that’s not what people always want. Sometimes people do want to be challenged and they do want to see that the filmmaker is thinking about the world we live in. Maybe they’re considering our place in it. I want to have a relationship with the audience which, in a way, invites them to be the last piece of the meaning of the film. Of course, the film is itself. It’s a piece of work. It’s finished – but they are the last piece. Until the audience is in front of it, the film doesn’t have the full meaning.

Also, audiences differ. People talk about films as being different from theatre – that they are fixed and they are unchanging. But I think, depending on the audience, they can change quite a lot. I’m interested in the audience being the last piece of the puzzle and part of that dialogue. I found traveling with this film really interesting. People have based a reading of what they think is happening in the film quite often on their own belief systems and their own ideas about faith.  

 

There are very strong performances in the film. Can you talk a little bit about the casting process for this film and also your approach to directing that cast.

Quite a lot of the key cast are Danish actors. We have one German actress and several Belgium actors. We had a casting director, Dan Hopper, based in London working across all of it. And then we had a casting director in Belgium. She actually ended up finding Vincent [Romeo] who plays Tom. It was extensive. A lot of self tapes were sent before I would get in a room with people.I had a particular idea in my head that I wanted to work with Danish actors. They have such a fantastic reputation.

With Tom, he’s so extraordinary looking. We’d seen lot of tapes with a lot of young guys the right age. But there’s just something about him that was so striking, even though he didn’t have a lot of experience. I just knew this has to work. I did work with him quite intensely in prep and we did a lot of casting sessions with him that were about getting him to the place where he was would be ready for the role. We organised the filming schedule so that the most difficult scenes for him were at the end of the shoot. He really grew as an actor through the shoot, because the filming process often will give actors who aren’t experienced a lot of confidence. That really happened for him, which was a really interesting thing to watch.

 

I know on this film you had to build the village – what was that experience like for you?

It was such a pleasure to build a set. I’ve never had a film that had a built set before, for something like that to come out of your imagination really faithfully. When you shoot on location, as I have with other films, you get everything as close as you can to what you can imagine. Some locations will be really suitable and some may be better than you’d imagined. Others will fall short and you make the best of what you’ve got. But this was amazing. I could sit with the designer and the cinematographer, who came on early, and we would plan together. We designed and built this village together. Not only in terms of the aesthetics of it, but also how it would work for shooting and moving walls and things like that. That was an incredible pleasure. Of course, it puts a lot of pressure on a film that’s on a small budget because it’s expensive to build things. But the innovation of the designer was phenomenal, which really helped.

 

Sound is very important in your films. It’s very evocative always and seems like it’s a very important aspect to your style.

I remember when I was studying film, I had a lecturer who said that sound is nearly more important than picture so that it feels right. If the picture is a bit rough but the sound is good, the audience can still feel immersed in the world. Whereas if the sound is really bad and the picture’s great, it’s really jarring. I think it’s because we read visuals in a more conscious way. Whereas sound affects us subliminally. That’s why I think it’s so important as it taps onto our subconscious, into our dreaming states and all these areas of the mind that we’re not conscious of. I’ve been really lucky to work with really strong sound designers. There’s been different ones on each of the there films, which is part of the co-production model, that they come from different countries. I’ve been really lucky that they’ve been really responsive to a very creative approach to the sound and also a detailed approach because I am really particular about it. Or if I feel like that there’s not enough nuance in a moment, I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who go back to those moments and get it right.

 

Good Favour is currently in cinemas.

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Film Review: Good Favour

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