Reel Horror Show: Episode 12

Otto Lehtonen

 

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

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


 

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John Butler, Writer/Director Papi Chulo

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

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


Papi Chulo is in cinemas from 7th June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Short Film Winners Paul Horan & Mia Mullarkey 

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

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

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

Moe Dunford & Frank Berry discuss Michael Inside  

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

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

Hugh O’Conor in conversation

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

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

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

Seán Murray

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

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

Isle of Docs panel

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

John Lynch Interview

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

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

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

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

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

Karl Geary with Simona Pellis

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

Prof. Aine O’Healy with Dara Devaney

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

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

 

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

 

Visit www.irishfilmfesta.org

 

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 35 – Drop Kick a Puppy

 

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

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

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

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

Listen…

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

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Jon Hozier-Byrne

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

 

 

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Eilish Kent: Tips for Writing Short Films

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

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

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

Small stories that turn on a single event work best.

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

Change needs to happen but it can be very small.

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

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

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

Consider sound and how it can carry story.

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

Write the film without dialogue first.

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

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

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

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

Use themes as subject-matter of dialogue.

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Watch Irish Short Film: Jelly Baby

Megan Bramble & Charleigh Bailey in Jelly Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cast & Crew

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reproduced from the British Newspaper Archive.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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The Movie Brothers – Part 2: Patrick Houlihan


John and Patrick Houlihan at Newsman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios (pic: John Houlihan)

The Movie Brothers – Part 2: Patrick Houlihan

By

James Bartlett

Last month we spoke to John Houlihan, Senior Vice President of Music at 20th Century Fox film studios, and this month we’re going to get the other side of the sibling story by seeing what his younger brother Patrick (who also has the same job at the same studio!) has to say for himself.

Patrick was born in Waukegan, Illinois (just outside of Chicago), and the family moved to the East Coast when he was very young. Like John he was largely brought up in New Jersey, and he also agreed that “rowdy” was a “very accurate description of our childhood. I am still not sure how our parents survived the chaos,” he laughed.

Today Patrick lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two young teenage daughters, but he still remembers growing up hearing some legendary stories about the Houlihan’s Irish ancestry.  

“As far I am aware, we are direct descendants of Fionn mac Cumhaill himself,” he said, adding that his brother John has been investigating their lineage. “He keeps promising that we will need to go scour every pub in Ireland to verify his findings, so I keep a bag packed, my passport close to hand, and I patiently await his call to action.”  

Patrick has visited Ireland before, spending a summer taking some courses at University of Galway during his college years.

“While pretending to study, I spent most of my time trying to see and experience as much of the country as I could. Some memorable moments took place at the Cliffs of Moher, the Guinness Factory and the Dingle Peninsula, but most of all I enjoyed spending time at local pubs meeting the incredible folks of Ireland – friendliest people on the planet. All in all, it was an incredible experience.”

Asked about his job as a music supervisor, Patrick said that “most days I’m on urgent conference calls from the moment I pull out of my driveway. Then I may go to a “spotting session” with a composer and set of filmmakers to figure out the best way to use songs and score throughout each scene of their film.”

There could be many other tasks, including going to vocal sessions to work with an actor who must pre-record their singing for an upcoming music scene, “grinding” on song deal negotiations to get prices down, or simply convincing the owners of a song to approve a clearance request.

There are of course lots of meetings – “sometimes I even have meetings about meetings!” – and every couple of weeks there is usually a test screening “where 400 people from the real world are watching a rough cut of a film and rating all of the elements including the music.”

No two days are the same it seems, but Patrick reckons he is fortunate to have a job that provides him with so many varied experiences. John and Patrick work together regularly, and Patrick says that “while we don’t know absolutely everything about all music, we do know how to discover it all and how to apply it to a film.”

Aside from the huge moments like the Disney takeover, the music business has changed a great deal over the last few decades too, going from vinyl to online streaming.

No matter what the format is however, Patrick says he “still enjoys looking for the needle in the haystack. I think that the digital age and streaming has really opened up a ton of incredible access to music and artists that 15-20 years ago I might not have ever been privy to. They’re very powerful tools.”

He admits that he misses holding CD artwork and thumbing through liner notes, but streaming and the internet is “such a deeper and quicker dive into a new artist. With just a few clicks you get videos, live performances, additional photos, interviews and more. Honestly, I find it pretty mind blowing.”

Unusually, Patrick and John work in the same job and at the same place – but both have different stories of how they ended up where they are today.

“Out of the Blue” by Electric Light Orchestra was the first album I ever bought,” said Patrick. “I was 10 years old, and my brother “co-financed” the deal with me – I guess you could say that is when our collaborative spirit began!”  

He admits that the pair have always loved discovering, creating and exploiting music, and that “it has always come naturally to us. One of us is always spouting out song ideas or suggesting composers for the other’s latest film project.”

As mentioned last month, it was John who was the first to move to Los Angeles with the express purpose to get into music supervision. The year was 1992 and he had just $200 in his pocket, but in time he hired Patrick at the small company he co-founded. John’s wife Julie and another of their brothers, Kevin, works with them today too.

“Yes,” said Patrick. “I do credit John with giving me my start and mentoring me through the dark art of music supervision when old dinosaurs like him roamed the earth, and it is a blast to be able to work closely with him every day.”

“However,” he adds ominously, “in regards to some of John’s “superiority” claims in his interview… well, that is just the drink talking!”

Both brothers have had some memorable moments, and while John told us about using psychic powers on Aretha Franklin and tip-toeing past bodyguards to see a famous rap artist, Patrick says that he has to pinch himself all the time on what he calls a “rollercoaster ride.”  

He did mention a couple of times though.

“I have had the privilege to score Ridley Scott films at Abbey Road Studios, shoot music videos with Celine Dion and Ryan Reynolds in Las Vegas (the famous “Ashes” song from Deadpool 2, which went viral and has close to 60m views on YouTube), and I taught Emma Stone how to play bass. It’s all a dream!”

Outside of work, Patrick is soccer-obsessed. “Whether it is watching Liverpool inch closer to the EPL Title, coaching my girl’s teams, playing pick-up games, or googling “best goals ever scored,” I love everything to do with the sport, and it is what fills most of my time away from film music.”

As for his favorite project, Patrick said generously that his best moments come “when an original song and original score intertwine,” singling out one especially: the collaboration between film composer Teddy Shapiro and singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez on their score to the Ben Stiller movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which included the “stunning” original song called “Stay Alive.”  

As far as the worst one project he had even worked on, he was more discreet: “My mother taught us that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”

Finally, we asked Patrick about his most unusual interest. John had mentioned his love of painting houses, a habit he had picked up working for a company during college breaks, and Patrick had a similar outdoorsy hobby.

“I have a great affection for landscaping – specifically lawn mowing. As a kid, I monopolized the market in our neighborhood, and professional landscapers despised me because I undercut their fees and would end up doing a better job than they could. I find it to be incredibly soothing and get such instant gratification from the end result. In fact, the high art that I bring to lawn mowing is often compared to Michelangelo!”

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Alan Mulligan, Writer/Director of ‘The Limit Of’

James Allen (Laurence O’Fuarain) is a successful, controlling, thirty-something banker living alone and working in Dublin city at the tail-end of the recession. When a family tragedy occurs at the hands of his employer he decides to take action which forces him to face a terrible childhood secret. Meanwhile, his mysterious co-worker Alison (IFTA-nominated Sarah Carroll) has her own agenda, which puts her on a collision course with James, triggering a dark spiral of deceit, revenge, and murder.

Gemma Creagh met up with writer/director Alan Mulligan to talk about his look at modern-day greed and desire, and society’s ever-growing need for control.


The Limit Of was released in cinemas on 5th April 2019 and is still playing in The Eye Galway and Mayo Movie World.

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 34 – Eat Your Slops

 

In a Brexit-themed show, our podders, Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm, discuss junk-checking in Captain Marvel, whip out the Irish Bleakometre for The Miami Showband Massacre, The Hole in the Ground, and Shooting the Mafia. There’s chat about the buffed fingers of Free Solo, the Peeping Toms of Under the Silver Lake, the harsh yellows of At Eternity’s Gate with Willem Dafoe’s demon face and the tragic horror of Us.

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

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Reel Horror Show: Episode 11

Our possessed podcast posse return after a hiatus in the netherworld. Summoned back to earth, Conor McMahon, Mark Sheridan, Ali Doyle and Conor Dowling cast a darkened eye over the likes of Suspiria, The Hole in the Ground, Halloween, The House that Jack Built, Anna and the Apocalypse, The Guilty, One Cut of the Dead, Overlord, Castle Rock, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, He’s Out There and The Monster.

Caution. This podcast may contain thigh-slapping.

Oo welcome, ahhh oo magu welcome to the Reel Horror Show.

 

 

 

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Review: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary

 

DIR: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer • WRI: Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Sarah Broshar • DES: Todd Cherniawsky • CAST: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, John Lithgow

Doctor Louis (Clarke), his wife Rachel (Seimetz), and their two children, Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage, move from Boston to rural Maine. It doesn’t take long for Ellie to discover the local, paganistic ‘pet sematary’, befriending elderly local Jud (Lithgow) in the process. While Louis finds work at his new practice boring, Rachel is still suffering with memories of a childhood tragedy involving the death of her sister. When Ellie’s beloved cat Churchill gets killed, Jud gets Louis to bury the cat in the strange cemetery, suggesting it may have hitherto unseen powers. Sure enough, Churchill returns from the dead the next day, though there is something quite different about his behaviour.  Louis and Rachel’s’ differing engagements with mortality are pushed considerably further when Ellie dies in a horrific road accident.

This adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel, previously brought to the screen by Mary Lambert in 1989, is a lean, entertaining and effective horror film. Kolsch and Widmyer do a fine job of balancing an absurdist sense of the macabre with resonant and eerie undercurrents and some impressive scenes of body-horror. The film has plenty of cliches and some incredulous moments. It’s never very well established as to why this family would move to a rural area in the first place. Rachel’s’ reaction to seeing to children adorned in Wicker Man-esque masks as they wheelbarrow animal bodies to the ‘sematary’ seems a bit too blasé. The flashbacks to Rachel’s sister’s death are also an occasion where it feels like the film is trying too hard to elicit jumps from the audience. For the most part, however, this is a film that works decidedly well on the terms it sets out.

The directing-duo are helped in no small part by fine performances from the cast. Clarke and Seimetz bring an earthy believability to their performances. Lithgow is superb, seeming alternately sympathetic and untrustworthy, wise and foolish. Laurence plays the dual roles of both her character’s normal and un-dead self excellently. The scene that sees her zombie-self, processing, as she talks to her father, that she is in fact dead, is terrifically eerie and nuanced. For a film with its fair share of jump scares, what stands out most about the film is an insidious sense of dread at our own mortality and an unmistakable streak of humour surrounding the very same thing.

David Prendeville

100 minutes

16 (see IFCO for details)

Pet Sematary is released 5th April 2019

 

Pet Sematary– Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VllcgXSIJkE

 

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Maureen O’Connell, Writer/Director of ‘Proclaim!’

Maureen O’Connell takes us behind the scenes of her short film Proclaim!, which is now available to watch online.

Behind the Scenes Images: Marta Gomez Seanz and Joby Redmond

I came home from London in late 2015. I had trained at RADA for 3 years and had tried living in London as a poor actor for 2 years afterwards. It was punishing. When I returned, I wanted to be involved in any production that was about 1916. Everything was cast or in production already. So, I started about my own project.

Initially, I wanted to make a short film about Cumann na mBan as my grandmother, “Nell O’Sullivan”, had been an active member. I began research in October 2015 and found that it was difficult to shoot a simple story about the Cumann na mBan but I stumbled upon the story of how the proclamation was printed. It was a great story:

Three Dublin printers summoned by Connolly to print 2000 copies of the proclamation in one night and in secret to be proclaimed by Pearse in the morning and their struggles to achieve this. They didn’t have enough type, wax or paper but with ingenuity, they did it.

It was just too good a story that had never really been told or indeed, dramatized before.

Although, my Granny would have been in Limerick at the time of the Easter Rising, I decided to insert her into the story just as a hat tip to her. I make a cameo appearance in the film as my Granny.

I shot Proclaim! over 5 and a half days in February 2016. I was the producer as well as the director so I had to be super organized. I had wonderful support from the cast and crew, though. They were a really patient and easy-going bunch. This made things a lot easier for me.

I had done some of my research at the National Print Museum and they informed me that if I had wanted to film there that they would let me use the old printing press and they’d print off proclamations for me for the film. I don’t think they thought I’d take them up on the offer but I contacted them and they were so helpful and friendly. I featured the two printing volunteers from the National Print Museum in the film itself as a thank you to them, Freddie Snowe and Alfred McCormack.

On the first day we shot for just a few hours at Mary’s Pub in Wicklow Street. It was a good idea to begin lightly as it settled the nerves and got the creative juices flowing. It was a great location and the owners were absolute legends to us for allowing us to shoot there.

AT SWENY'S PHARMACY, THE "CO-OP"

The next day, I shot in the wonderful Joyce Pharmacy, Sweny’s; off Pearse Street. They were so good to us. Initially, I had asked for only a half day to film in their shop but we ended up needing the full day and they let us have it! This was an incredible kindness as, it was, like every other location we shot at, free of charge. Sweny’s became the famous Co-Operative Baby Clothes Store from which Connolly printed his subversive socialist newspapers – and the very first Irish Proclamations. Thanks to the staff at Sweny’s and to our brilliant production designer, Joby Redmond who did an outstanding job.

Shooting outside the GPO was the best day, for me. I had contacted MovieExtras.ie and asked if they had any extras who wanted to be a part of the film to play people listening to Padraig Pearse proclaiming. I said it was unpaid but they’d get coffee and tea, etc. I sent a picture of the type of costume they’d have to wear if they wanted to be in it. I didn’t expect any of them to turn up, to be honest. But all of a sudden, I started getting emails from them individually. I emailed everyone back and told them the schedule and what time to be there at – Café Kylemore, O’Connell Street, 9am – and thanked them… a lot!

Again, I didn’t expect them to turn up.

Forty people in 1916 costume turned up at Café Kylemore at 9am. I couldn’t believe it! I had a 14-foot jib crane with our camera on the end on a remote head, Michael O’Kelly in full Pearse military regalia proclaiming the proclamation and 40 costumed extras… and I didn’t even have a permit. I’d only asked the Garda Sergeant at the local Garda Station for permission and had told him, I’d have a tripod and 10 extras. It was awesome!

In fairness, the Gardai who were there helped us out so much. We only had enough crew to do specific jobs but no one to look after our bags and equipment under the GPO pillars. But the Gardai looked out for our bags and so we shot the whole proclamation scene in 3 hours in front of the GPO on a very early rainy February morning in 2016.

When I conceived the script, I knew how I wanted to shoot it. Lots of shallow depth of field, quick and sudden pans and sharp edits to give the feeling of tension and pace but also to get right into our characters’ faces and feel the emotions with them and to go on their journey.

I also wanted to track and move the camera as much as possible to give a sense of urgency; the printers had to get their mammoth task done fast with no time to spare. I also used lots of racking of focus back and forth between characters, but I racked focus very fast back and forth, again, to bring a sense of urgency.

I shot it to be black and white and had it graded. I wanted to bring out the lines in the printers’ faces, to be able to see the ink and dirt in the crevices of their expressions.

I really enjoyed working with Cian Moynan the DOP. He is a painter and really understood what I wanted from the outset. He did an amazing job especially considering he and I had never worked with a 14-foot jib crane before and our only practise of it was taking it out and assembling it the night before in my sitting-room trying to make sure we knew how it worked!

I had written the Street Urchin character into the film so that I could use her songs that she sings as a way of linking scenes and also as a kind of natural soundtrack at points during the film. In pre-production, I selected the songs I wanted Laura Murphy (Street Urchin) to sing, with ‘The Parting Glass’ being the most important. I also sent this song to the other actors in the cast as I wanted them to sing it with her in the final part of the film.

We recorded these songs separately at my house in my sitting-room. Laura sang them herself and then, the rest of the cast joined her for the final chorus of ‘The Parting Glass’. I was delighted with what they did with the song and how it brings us through the film to the final scene of the proclamation being proclaimed.

I was initially going to use a heartbeat running throughout the film again to raise tension, but when I tried this in post-production, it didn’t work as well as I had imagined. So, I decided on the use of bodhrans to give a rhythmic sense of a heartbeat throughout the film. I worked with the amazing composer Joseph Conlan and he created the beautiful instrumental soundtrack.

I cast the actors mainly from the website Film Network Ireland – it has since become a Facebook Group. All of the actors were outstandingly brilliant and so lovely to work with. I was blessed! I rehearsed them all at different times at my own home and did a rehearsed reading with all cast and crew. It was exciting to see and hear it come alive.

I played the part of my own Granny, “Nell O’Sullivan” and I remember standing on set in Sweny’s Pharmacy, in costume, and getting ready to act and at the same time giving directions, thinking quietly to myself, “What am I doing?!” My legs were shaking but I was wearing a long skirt and no one could see that – if only they knew!

I had a tiny budget of €1200.00 starting out. I then used my rent money to pay my way through the shoot. After editing it, I set up an indiegogo crowdfund to finish it as professionally as possible with a sound-design and grade. I’d no idea what I was doing and had never done a crowdfund before. I needed money fast though to try to finish it in time for the Galway Film Fleadh submission deadline, so I took the shortest campaign one can choose; 15 days. If you hit your target, it takes another week to go into your bank account. I asked for €2000.00.

I pushed it as hard as I could on social media and emailed everyone I knew and had ever worked with. I knocked on the doors of every local business. We managed to raise €2836.00 to my utter surprise!

I got it finished but regardless, the Fleadh did not select it in the end. However, it went on to win many awards and got selected for festivals both national and international securing many nominations along the way.

I’m really pleased with Proclaim! and I think everyone who worked on it is too which is great. We worked so hard and I think it shows. No one was paid. It was all voluntary. Like the printers who printed the proclamation are legends, so too, the cast and crew who made Proclaim! are legends.

And I salute my cast and crew and thank them from the bottom of my heart. I hope anyone who watches it hereafter enjoys what we all worked so hard to make!


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Frank Shouldice, Director of ‘The Man Who Wanted To Fly’

Bobby Coote left school at 13 and spends most of his time in his back shed fixing clocks and making violins, but he has never lost sight of a lifelong dream to fly. He has cut a runway in a neighbour’s field and even built a hangar. And now he’s using his life savings to buy a plane! He gets no encouragement from his brother Ernie – another octogenarian in the Coote household, who thinks the whole thing is mad. But Bobby is determined to get airborne, even if it’s the last thing he does.

Director Frank Shouldice spoke to Film Ireland about his film, which is released in cinemas 29th March.

Dave Perry, the cinematographer, and myself have worked on a number of current affairs related programmes and we were looking for something outside of current affairs as a project of our own. Dave is very much into flying. He lives up near Bailieborough in County Cavan and was out flying one day in his paramotor. When he was flying he noticed this white dot in a couple of places underneath him. Later that same day, at home there was a ring of the doorbell. When he opened it,  there was an elderly man with a baseball cap standing there. He saw behind the man was this Suzuki IQ, a white one and he figures that’s the white dot. It turns out this man was Bobby and he said “was that you up there in the sky?” and he said yes and asked why. Bobby said “I want to do that”. That was his answer and that was the introduction to Bobby Coote.

The idea that this man in his late 70s at that point was having harbouring this ambition to do something that most people would deem was too late for him – it was something that got us thinking… could this be the story that we’re looking for. The premise was strong, the pursuit of a dream is always a romance in itself. But what really turned it for me was when I learnt that Bobby lived at home with his older brother, Ernie, and that the two were unmarried lads who lived in the same family house but had completely separate lives and separate front doors. That to me, if Ernie would come aboard and if Bobby was aboard, would open up a much richer vein that would be beyond the story of pursuing the flight, which would come off for not come off. It would open up into a lot of other more profound themes about isolation, ageing, love, family.

It was very much a generosity of spirit on their part that they were open to this and shared so much with us over such a long time. We ended up on a journey that from the first day of filming to the last day of the edit was five and a half years. It was inspiring getting to know these men now in their 80s – they have a full lived life experience. There’s a kind of wisdom and humour in the experience they’ve had of life. I think it is really key to the film that’s what’s there is real. It’s absolutely real. Some things just happened as they happened. When Bobby gets a very devastating phone call that brings home to him that his dream is finished… that literally happened as it happened. There was no rehearsal or preparation. It happened and actually it was quite difficult for myself and Dave to witness and almost not intervene – to throw an arm over shoulder and say don’t worry we’ll find a way around this or something. That was hard. We were literally watching someone’s dreams evaporating in front of their eyes. We had to remind ourselves we were there to make a film and not just simply to be friend.  

Five and a half years is a long time and before we showed the final cut to anybody, we showed it to Bobby and Ernie. We were a little bit apprehensive that they’d be comfortable in what they shared. Thankfully they were. They felt it represented them. If it hadn’t it would have been very uncomfortable for us because as true and close to the bone as it was, you’d like them to feel that that it does represent them rather than me exposing themselves emotionally in a way that they wouldn’t be happy with. It’s a credit to them for being so generous and it takes a lot of courage to open up and reveal the things that matter to them.

The film hangs on it being real, being genuine. We’ve just been in festivals so far but people are engaging with us. They feel that they get to know the brothers. From the outset, the ambition for me was that the audience would enter into their world for the next hour and a half. Let’s go into that world and stay in the world at that tempo, their tempo, their pace of life. It means slowing down, things don’t happen in a hurry. I hope that we have achieved this with the film. So far it seems to be happening. People accept the life and the community they see and they go with them and engage with it and support it. Maybe it’s an antidote to what else is on offer. This is the world we actually live in. It’s not a make-believe world. It’s out there… maybe we just didn’t notice it before.

 

The Man Who Wanted to Fly has a preview screening at the Odeon Cinema in Cavan Town on 26th March and opens in cinemas in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Cavan on the 29th March.

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Review: Vox Lux

Tom Crowley takes a look at Brady Corbet’s musical drama, which screened at the Dublin International Film Festival.

Actor-turned-director Brady Corbet is interested in what makes a person a leader. What makes one individual special to other people? His debut film, The Childhood of a Leader (2016), adapted from a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre, attempts to depict the early formative years of a future fascist dictator. In his new film, Brady explores the idea of someone born to be famous; this fact is clearly derived from the film’s philosophical voice-over, provided by Willem Dafoe, who delivers his dialogue as if narrating a fairy-tale.

Celeste (played by Raffey Cassidy in her teenage years and Natalie Portman as an adult), is a victim of a horrific and violent attack during her school years. Occurring early in the film, it is a genuinely heart-pounding cinematic moment. In a room full of people, she is the only one to try and take control of the situation. Many years later, she will make the Lennon faux-pas and compare herself to Christ.

Portman gives her best performance since her Black Swan Oscar win in 2010. Is there anybody better at playing a tortured performer? She gives Celeste an assuredness and a vicious streak in her public life, and a manipulative uncertainty in her private life, surely symptoms of megalomania which comes from being a worshiped celebrity most of your life.

Divided (as Leader was) into four stages, indicated by minimalist black titles cards with white text, which seemed perfect in the context of his first film and is brilliantly at odds with this one, Prologue, Genesis, Re-genesis and Finale, adds to the religious undertones (also present in Leader), which Celeste’s name suggests. Corbet has carefully structured a sometimes shocking, sometimes funny and always stimulating film about the modern world, a ‘21st Century Portrait’ the final tie-dyed title card proclaims. The film blends celebrity and terrorism on a wider scale while also creating an ambitious psychological character study which culminates in a Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) still comeback concert. The two films could not be more different. While Rhapsody insists on trying to shoe-horn in every heavily sanitised detail on Mercury and Queen’s careers, Vox Lux wants us to fill in the gaps for ourselves as we take a decade long leap from the inception of Celeste’s career to her ‘comeback’ concert in her home town. Corbet is earnest about his character study but mocks the ‘pop’ genre his character is associated with, in the same way Bradley Cooper does in A Star is Born (2018).

Corbet’s talents are not only in content but also in style. The piercing, unsettling soundscapes of The Childhood of a Leader return, with Corbet again teaming with composer Scott Walker. The soundtrack forces the viewer to feel that something of a significant magnitude is happening (even if it might not be). Corbet presents us with two sequences in fast-forward, a liberating if hedonistic trip to Stockholm by two sisters and a troubled stars hotel room drug binge with her manager. Both sequences are carefully staged by Corbet and shot by Lol Crawley, to speed them up is an indicator of vision. The hotel room sequence is reminiscent of Alex’s bedroom romp in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). At 30 years of age Corbet is already a unique cinematic voice and a director for the future.

Vox Lux screened on 28th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March)

In cinemas 3rd May 2019

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Review: Us

DIR/WRI: Jordan Peele PRO: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Nicholas Monsour• DES: Ruth De Jong  MUS: Michael Abels • CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

I’m still a bit miffed that Jordan Peele didn’t run with my super-cool idea for his film. Picture this: the movie opens with the title card for Us, except it’s obscured by some sort of spooky fog. Then, as the fog clears, the title card comes into sharper focus and – what’s that? Two dots have appeared! It’s not Us as we imagined, but instead U.S.! The United States! On the big screen! Who’d have imagined?! Aaaand, fade to black, the end. But Peele had his own ideas, just not quite as nuanced as my own, and I can respect that. And since Us turned out to be well paced, tense, and genuinely scary, I have to hand it to him: he did not need my help this time.

In Peele’s new horror, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is haunted by a trauma that has remained with her for over thirty years: as a young girl, she was briefly separated from her parents while at a beach-front carnival and only vaguely remembers what she endured while exploring an abandoned hall of mirrors. Returning to the same beach three decades later with her family in toe, Adelaide fears that whatever she has been trying to avoid all that time is about to catch up with her. It appears that her fears are not unfounded when four enigmatic figures, all dressed in red, appear outside their holiday home one night. When they break in and come face-to-face with the Wilson family, the Wilson family discover their doubles staring back.

While Us might not be quite as good as Peele’s breakout debut Get Out, it’s certainly the most immediately scary of the two (whereas the Sunken Place in Get Out had me feeling sick to my stomach, the cat-and-mouse games throughout Us had me watching through my fingers), and surely that is one reasonable metric by which to measure your horror. Starting off evocative of other terrifying home invasion narratives such as The Strangers and The Invitation, Peele’s second film, like Get Out, reveals its machinations originate in a landscape located somewhere between the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Not unlike the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, this enables Peele to explore the implications of the surface of society in comparison to what remains unseen.

Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic as both versions of Adelaide: both the socially awkward loner and over-protective mother protagonist, and the terrifying crack-voiced double who appears to be spearheading the doppelgänger attack. Winston Duke plays Adelaide’s husband, Gabe, a likeable if somewhat bumbling boat enthusiast. What with his square glasses, beard and comic relief, he comes across as something of a Peele-a-like. If I were to fault the casting in any way it would be a criminal under-use of the incredibly funny Tim Heidecker as the father of a fellow vacationing family and frenemy of Gabe (that’s right, I’m taking no prisoners here).

While Us couldn’t really be said to be a sequel to Get Out it does still tackle many of the same ideas, particularly in relation to the commodification of the (both African and non-African) American body. I am already anticipating plenty of discussion regarding the significance of the doppelgängers’ red costumes, for starters. Beyond the immediate nail-biting horror there is plenty to mull over, and indeed it feels like a movie that will reward repeat viewings. All I can say for now is that, after one viewing, Us feels like a puzzle that disconcertingly doesn’t seem to quite fit together: maybe you’re not looking at it the right way up, maybe there’s a piece missing, or maybe you’ve just realised your double is hiding under the table and is really putting you off. Whatever the reason, Us remains disturbingly oblique and is probably all the better for it.

Sarah Cullen

116 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Us is released 22nd March 2019

 

 

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Watch Irish Short Film: Pernicio

In Pernicio, a young man explores his attitude towards life and death when his suicide plans are interrupted. David Fox tells us how he made the film.

Pernicio is my grad film from my final year in the National Film School in IADT, Dun Laoghaire.

The idea for the white ‘execution room’ sprung to my mind some time in 2014. I think there had been a lot of debate surrounding assisted suicide at the time, and my mind began to wonder what it would look like if it was a walk-in clinic and you could kill yourself as easily as buying a Big Mac. The idea began to snowball and dragged capitalistic ideas with it with the multinational corporation that would make money off people’s desires to kill themselves, and lo and behold I had the basic idea for a film.

I sat on the idea for about two years before I put pen to paper, a process which I think worked in my favour on this project. It evolved and developed in my mind for those two years, and when it came to pitching for my final year project in college, this was the idea that was itching to get out.

I finally got on to developing the script in early September 2016. I knew the theme of suicide had been overused and almost trivialised in student films, so I wanted to stray away from those clichés as much as possible. I think I went through 11 drafts of the script in the end.

Dave Fox, Director

The way it works in the NFS is that you get allocated a week to shoot your Grad film at the start of the year, anytime between late January and late April. We were allocated February 6th – 12th. We had one week to shoot it and maybe a couple of days here or there to get pick-ups if we needed.

We held open auditions just before Christmas 2016 and my leads walked through the door and sat down in front of me, something which I genuinely did not expect to happen, but each one of them struck perfectly in-line with the characters. I met with Eoin O’Sullivan (Gary), Danielle Galligan (Sam), Mark Lawrence (Doctor) and Aidan J Collins (Receptionist) about half a dozen times before the shoot. We rehearsed scenes, explored different routes and found our favourite direction before began shooting. That was something that proved to be invaluable to me; I did most of my directing off-set. Two weeks before the shoot I locked the script – finally.

Cast & Crew

We shot 5 days over a week-long period. The big white ‘execution room’ took a full day to build and light properly and we had about 8 hours to shoot everything and tear it down again the following day, which was terrifying and exciting.

Alfie Hollingsworth was my cinematographer and we clicked really well on this shoot. I asked him about the room, how we would light it properly, how to not make it look like a student-film-looking set and how we’d avoid shadows in the jib shots. He came up with the idea of lighting the room through a 16X16 silk which we hung over the set, a brilliant idea. This, coupled with the brilliant production design of Fiona Mitchell gave us the ethereal white light in those scenes that I wanted.

We actually pimped out a super old sound editing hardware that we found in the film school and put some tubes and lights on it for the machine in the middle of the room. If you look closely at the close ups of the machine you can see ‘treble’ and ‘bass’, something which became a lot more apparent when we were screening in cinemas, but I’m hoping no one notices on their first watch.

Our other locations included my bedroom, The Dublin Dental School (the reception scenes), Dollymount Strand, the Dart, and the Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire, all secured by my producer Laura Gaynor. The Lexicon was a brand new building at the time and I thought it had a real retro-futuristic look to it. We VFX’d the Pernicio ‘P’ on the side of the building, with the help of Robert Gaynor. The shoot went very smoothly overall, except for leaving our Data Wrangler behind in the Golf Club on Bull Island, who we only remembered when we had gotten into town – sorry Robyn.

Dani during final scene

Conor Donoghue edited the piece, and did an excellent job doing so. I sat back from the project for about a week and let him do an assembly cut of his own accord. We knew soon after that we had a film. We got really lucky with the sound mix, as our mixer Janneke van Nijnanten was doing work experience down in Ardmore studios on the sound stage. She showed Steve Fanagan what she was working on and he said he would be help us out with a 5.1 sound mix, and generously he gave his time for free. Not many student films can claim to have a professional surround-sound mix so that really adds a whole other dimension to the film when it’s screened in the cinema. Darius McGann put together a brilliantly emotional and poignant original soundtrack too.

Everything came together well in the end. We were well organised, believed in ourselves but also, we got really lucky with a lot of things and a lot of people helped us out on this film, to whom I am extremely grateful.

Student films are hard, everyone is learning, people can be unsure of themselves, and other people can let you down. I’m happy to say no one let us down with this film, everyone outdid themselves. We set ourselves a goal to make a student film that didn’t feel like a student film, and I think, and hope, we achieved that.

 

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The Movie Brothers – Part I: John Houlihan


John and Patrick Houlihan at Newsman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios (pic: John Houlihan)

 

The Movie Brothers – Part I: John Houlihan

By

James Bartlett

 

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, we interviewed two brothers – John and Patrick Houlihan – who not only both live in Southern California and both have the same job as a music supervisor, but they also both work at 20th Century Fox film studios.

As the oldest of the two, we chose John to go first. Like Patrick, he is Senior Vice President of Music at Fox, and his credits include John Wick 1 and 2, the Deadpool and Austin Powers movies, Atomic Blonde, The Shape of Water and many more movies and television shows. He’s also the co-founder and past president of the Guild of Music Supervisors.   

He was born in upstate New York, “just a couple miles away from where my Great-Great Grandfather lived when he arrived from Ireland in 1867.” In the 1970s the family relocated to New Jersey, which was where he mainly grew up and graduated High School. “It was a rowdy upbringing, being one of five siblings with awesome parents,” he remembers.  

He now lives in Studio City, California, with his wife of 20 years Julie, and three teenage sons. “Daily life is like a sitcom without cameras,” he says, then admits that his official press-release age will stay “mid to late 40s” for as long as he can manage it.

John noted that the Houlihans “are a part of the great Irish diaspora: out of sight but not out of mind,” and that everything has changed in recent years.

“I’ve become obsessed with trying to confirm the Irish towns, churches and neighborhoods where my ancestors once dwelled – it seems around Tipperary. Fortunately for me and my brothers I’ve hit a research wall, so it seems like we need to travel over for a pub crawl across Ireland in order to find the original parish records that hold our family origin story. We’ll bring my 13-year-old son to be our designated driver!” he laughs.    

Both brothers have visited Ireland before, and John’s first trip was part of his honeymoon. “We both fell in love with the people and the land,” he says.

A few years later in 2004, John returned to Ireland – this time thanks to his career. He was working with legendary Irish writer-director Jim Sheridan on the biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was partially edited in Dublin after shooting in Toronto.  

But what does a music supervisor do? In brief, they get a script and asses the music needs for the story; what the composer might produce, what songs should be used in the background, or in montages, or even sung by characters.    

“There is no such thing as a typical day,” said John, “and that’s why it is a dream job for us.”

Explaining further, he said that they “do the craziest things behind the scenes to help the vision of filmmakers and musicians come true. We jump into the fray and help a dozen different creative people agree on the best music approach for a film when everyone has their own highly subjective take.”

A large amount of time is spent on the business side of things too. Permission and (sometimes large) payments are necessary to use any song that’s still in copyright, but countless other factors can come into play and change everything. As a rule, the more famous the song, the more expensive it will be to use.  

“We can’t just think of music ideas; we need to deliver those ideas by creating new recordings that make movie magic, oversee the formal copyright clearance deals and manage limited budgets.”

John remembered helping a director get $2,000,0000 worth of licensed music choices into their final film on a music budget of $500,000, and said that there have been some strange moments too.

“I was tip-toeing down a recording studio hallway past two snoozing, 300 lb., 6 foot 6-inch-tall, bodyguards so I could crash a recording session and close a song deal with a famous rapper,” he remembers, adding that he even once meditated himself into a deep trance to send a beam of energy across America to Aretha Franklin so she would approve use of one her songs.

“And it worked too!” he laughs.

John – or his brother – can be working on up to a dozen movies simultaneously, “and sometimes we’re juggling 101 problems. We try to flow with it all, and be like improvisational jazz musicians. Coming from a big family was good practice,” he says.  

Though the world of the movies might be a secret to many of us, there is one thing professionals and public alike can relate to: how music has changed from being a physical form (vinyl, cassettes, CDs) to online streaming and computer files.

“I’ve received well over 100,000 CDs over the years from companies and artists pitching their music for use in film and TV,” says John, admitting that he occasionally had joyful clear-outs, junking countless silver discs.

Nevertheless, he’s been unable to go entirely cold-turkey. He tries to be as online and digital as possible in his day-to-day listening, but he and Julie (who, unbelievably, is a music supervisor too) still have some 40,000 CDs in their garage.

He half-jokingly says he expects to end up on a “Hoarders” reality television show one day, “clutching a David Bowie CD set as their psychologist tries to talk me into finally throwing everything away.”

More seriously, he notes that while a large majority of the history of popular music is available online, around 15% or so has not yet – and may never – make the migration to digital, so having as much available as possible gives him every opportunity to find that “homerun” song.

Talking further about work, it was impossible not to ask John about the pros and cons of working with his brother Patrick every day.

John wonders if their boss was “out of her mind to hire two Houlihans,” but then admits that it’s “definitely is fun to see my brother every day, and get the chance to collaborate with him on major film projects.”

Then came the inevitable sibling joshing.

“Patrick himself will tell you that I’m absolutely the smarter, funnier and clearly more handsome of the two of us – not to mention my athletic superiority!” boasts John.

John worked in the industry from his early days – booking bands for school festivals and working as a college radio DJ – and then, after graduating college, he started an artist management company and independent record label in New Jersey.

The two brothers have also worked together for many years; John was manager of Patrick’s indie rock band Daisyhaze in Washington, DC, though in 1992 John was the first to move to Los Angeles with the express purpose to get into music supervision.

He had just $200 in his pocket then, but in time he hired Patrick at a small company he co-founded, and the story continued with Julie and yet another of their brothers, Kevin, joining them (his expertise being in music licensing).  

As John says, “there must be a music secret sauce recipe in the Houlihan’s!”   

It could have been very different, though. John says that when he was in college, he started a house-painting company during summer vacation, and found he had a real knack for it.

“I am at inner peace when I’m painting a house, especially the windows and trim,” he said, adding that his work once moved a watching woman to tears. “I’ll admit she possibly had a drinking problem, but it was still a nice compliment!”

It seems that ultimately then he took the right path, but as for the future, he has an Irish dream that’s not related to music:

“To buy a home on the water in Kinsale. So, if in 20 years you see an old guy in a beat-up fishing boat puttering around the River Bandon before heading to the pub, that will be me.”

Next we talk to Patrick and learn his story…

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Floating Structures

June Butler takes a look at Fearghal Ward and Adrian Duncan’s Reel Art film, Floating Structures, which shines a light on buildings and structures that seem as though they have emerged from another world. 

Floating Structures is an ambient architectural feast that focuses mainly on edifices where glass is considered an essential part of the project.

It follows a narrator as he travels to investigate the creation of German civil engineer Heinrich Gottfried Gerber. Gerber conceived of, and designed cantilevered bridges over the Regnitz at Bamberg and traversing the Main at Hassfurt. Elements of both conduits were then ably used by Peter Rice, an Irish structural engineer in the construction of a number of notable landmarks.

The audience is brought through the assembly of such buildings as the Pompidou Centre (1971), and La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Villette (1986) – both in Paris. However Rice can also lay claim to working on construction of the Sydney Opera House roof (1957), the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield (1967), and Pabellón del Futuro, Seville, Spain (1992). Rice integrated Gerber’s structural concepts and incorporated them seamlessly into the buildings he worked on. La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie featured three greenhouse spaces in the façade which were deemed to be the first glass walls positioned without a frame or supporting fins. Footage from the time of assembly shows Peter Rice putting the glass in place.

What follows is a beautiful journey into the marvels of creation narrated easily in lay-person’s terms – a passage to unfettered imagination. The documentary encourages an interest in maps of the mind and lends visual meaning to the concrete landscape surrounding city dwellers. Both the old and the new are investigated – parallels are drawn between Chartres Cathedral and more modern buildings, concluding that while materials used on recent constructs differ, the overall supposition is that the law of physics remains the same.

Floating Structures is a quiet and unassuming foray into celebrating the genius of Peter Rice and well worth viewing.

 

Floating Structures screened on 25th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March). 

 

 

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Nick McLean

The legendary cinematographer Nick McLean is currently in Ireland for a series of events honouring his work.  We were fortunate enough to have Nick join us to chat with Paul Farren about his illustrious career. Nick is joined by film historian Wayne Byrne, who co-authored a book with Nick which details McLean’s life and work on some of the biggest films and television shows of the past fifty years.

Nick takes us inside Hollywood and shares some fabulous stories, working with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman, Vilmos Zsigmond, László Kovács, Brian De Palma, Burt Reynolds, Warren Beatty, Hal Ashby, Clint Eastwood, Mel Brooks, Richard Donner on The Goonies and Superman and working on Friends.

 

Events

March 8 – Triskel Arts Centre (Short Circuit film screening + Q&A; Cobra film screening + Introduction)
March 9 – The Harbour Hotel (An Audience with Nick McLean Masterclass)
                – Palas Cinema (The Goonies film screening + Q&A)
March 11 – The Sugar Club (Spaceballs film screening + Introduction and Q&A)
March 15 – Naas Community Library (An Evening with Nick McLean)
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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Gaza

Irene Falvey reflects on Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s documentary, set among the communities who live in Gaza.

 

Gaza, a documentary portraying the reality of people’s lives in Gaza, is introduced at its screening during the Dublin International Film Festival by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell who worked on this documentary together. It is clear from their introduction that this joint project required commitment as the production spanned from 2015-2018. The filmmakers’ perseverance was not in vain as this documentary provides an eye-opening insight into the world of everyday people living in Gaza.

In place of documenting the relentless political turmoil in this location, Keane and McConnell’s documentary looks at Gaza from a personal rather than a political point of view. It successfully encapsulates the human response to living in this conflicted space, revealing both defiance and uncrushable human will alongside frustration and fear. Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers record a collection of people from different walks of life, all sharing the same land and the same seemingly hopeless situation. The viewer witnesses a mixture of responses and coping mechanisms that the civilians assume, with an emphasis on humanity and understanding.

To commence the documentary we are given a synopsis of the situation in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land, with closed borders on either side. While there is a long and tense history to be examined here, the film focuses instead on those that are really affected by these events – the people. With this context in mind the documentary can be viewed as an examination of survival, both physically and mentally. How can a community carry on when their basic human needs aren’t being met? How can a community live in a space that is constantly inflicted by war? While the documentary doesn’t shy away from these subjects, it concentrates more closely on the coping mechanisms of the people themselves living in Gaza; it is clear that this is all the civilians can do, to aspire to cope rather than to live.

One of the main themes threaded throughout the documentary is the sea. Initially the sea is depicted as a symbol of freedom. One participant in the film, an educated fourteen-year-old girl called Karma, sees the hopelessness of her situation but says that the sea provides some solace. The sea in the context of this documentary can be seen as a horizon, that there exists a more free life outside of this trapped state. However, the horizon here is a conflicted one; it is an unreachable horizon, a horizon that is off limits. This unattainable border is both symbolic and real – there is a 3 mile border limitation on this sea front.

One of the first people we are introduced to in the film is a young fourteen-year- old boy whose greatest dream is to one day own a fishing boat and be the captain. His life expectations demonstrate that the sea is a barrier rather than a symbol of freedom. Growing up in the context of Gaza, how is an uneducated boy to imagine anything greater on his horizon than captaining a ship that can go no further than three miles?

In the face of adversity one of the most common human reactions is to take action. In the context of Gaza, however, the film portrays this being an unwise choice. Young frustrated men make violent attempts to bring about change with gunshots and stone-throwing, only to end up injured and feeling even more ineffectual.

For several people in the film they fight against the adversity by expressing their emotions through music instead of violence. Karma, a fourteen-year-old girl who dreams of winning a scholarship, finds escapism through playing the cello. While music won’t lift the barriers or stop the difficulties of life in Gaza, it manages to bring some peace and harmony to those that must endure their lives there. We witness an injured young man who becomes a rap artist,  to ensure that he isn’t “a burden to society”. A taxi driver, whose life we follow, sings with many of his passengers, using music as a universal language to strengthen the spirits no matter what strife they must struggle through.

In a place where a community can’t freely come and go as they please, the idea of Gaza as a prison is clearly established within the documentary. The people within Gaza could be viewed as innocent prisoners sentenced and confined, despite not being guilty of any crimes. In a place where education, jobs, electricity and food are in short supply there is a sense of a frustrated acceptance – while the people are resilient, they are also  aware that their situation isn’t going to change any time soon.

While the documentary successfully reveals the strength of these people in the face of hardship, the desperation of the situation they are going through remains constantly present.

The film creatively switches the context of the current situation in Gaza from the political to the personal to show the real effects of the relentless conflict. We witness a people and place that are trapped and frustrated yet ever on the verge of turmoil. Despite the severity of the situation, the documentary shines a light on the pervasive sense of humanity of those that are striving to survive in Gaza. With understanding and sympathy the filmmakers have managed to capture how the toils of war shape the lives of people who are trapped by it.

 

 

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

 


 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dark Lies the Island

Stephen Porzio takes on the Mannions in Dark Lies the Island.

Martin and John Michael McDonagh better watch out. Another Irish literary figure has made the jump to the silver screen, bringing something fresh to the country’s trademark dark comedies.

Dark Lies the Island sees author Kevin Barry (City of Bohane, Beatlebone) team up with Irish directing old pro Ian Fitzgibbon (Moone Boy, Perrier’s Bounty) for a pitch-black comedy drama based on characters which appeared in various of the writer’s short stories. Charlie Murphy’s Sarah narrates. She is a bored, checked-out housewife to the much older and rich Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt). Through a chain of businesses, he pretty much runs the sleepy town of Dromord in which the action takes place.

Daddy has two kids from his first marriage. There’s Martin (Moe Dunford), a weak womaniser filling the Fredo role and Doggy (Peter Coonan), someone who went from having a bright future to being an agoraphobe running a dating service from a caravan in the woods. Throughout the drama, these characters – along with Tommy Tiernan’s mysterious newcomer to Drumord and a pair of cousins in debt to Doggy – all converge in a climax where past histories and repressed trauma come to light.

At first, Dark Lies the Island feels like another Perrier’s Bounty, an enjoyable if forgettable sub-Tarantino comedy noir given an Irish flavour. After all, the ingredients for such are in place – pulpy narration, a seemingly scary psychopath in Doggy, eccentric locals.

Yet, as the movie continues and the plot gets increasingly bizarre and dark, one realises that Barry is doing something truly different. He is taking fantastical, heightened tropes that film fans like but is using them to explore contemporary themes like mental health and how patterns of emotional abuse develop within families.

Shot dreamily by terrific cinematographer Cathal Watters, the fictional town of Dromord (its palindromic spelling reflective of its purgatorial nature) is not meant to be interpreted as a real place. Neighbouring a lake – in which we often see ominous fog rolling alongside – it’s symbolic of Doggy, Martin and Sarah’s mental state. These are people living under the dark cloud of the sinister tyrannical Daddy, a nasty weak man who gets his kicks making others feel small.

While these characters all seemed like clichés at the beginning of the film, Barry’s script thoughtfully, as it continues, explores why these people have taken to these almost assigned roles, touching, at the same time, upon sins of Ireland’s past. While the climactic event is somewhat inevitable and all the characters outside the Mannion’s immediate circle feel slightly extraneous, it’s to Barry’s credit that by the end of Dark Lies the Island, the movie feels far less Grindhouse than it does Gothic. This reviewer wouldn’t be surprised if the writer eventually makes the transition to director.

 

Dark Lies the Island screened on Wednesday, 27th February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

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Director / Co-Writer Lee Cronin & Actor Seána Kerslake, ‘The Hole in the Ground’

One night, Sarah’s young son disappears into the woods behind their rural home. When he returns, he looks the same, but his behavior grows increasingly disturbing. Sarah begins to believe that the boy who returned may not be her son at all.

David Prendeville chats to director / co-writer Lee Cronin and actor Seána Kerslake about their horror The Hole in the Ground.

 

Lee, can we start with where the idea for the film came from?

Lee: It wasn’t a lightbulb moment. It was a combination of things. The first little scene of it all was a news story I read about a man sitting in his armchair in Florida. A sinkhole emerged and took him in and he died. I thought that was terrifying, to have the rug pulled in such a fantastical way. That spawned the title The Hole in the Ground which was then rolling around and around in my mind.

At the same time I was developing a story about a mother and a son and a situation of doubt between them after a trauma in their lives –  it was more a concept. The combination of these things over a number of months came together. It felt like the sinkhole that was rolling around my mind would be a great metaphor for the situation that this mother and son found themselves in. The actual development of the film was kind of a slow. Sometimes you have these lightbulb moments when an idea comes fully formed. With this one, it was more a kind of slow creep of different things coming together.

 

Seána, what was it that attracted you to the role?

Seana: I think the challenge of being in a horror movie but to make it feel real to me and real to the character – that challenge was attractive and one I thought that we could rise to. As well, a lot of the physical stuff was a huge draw, like having to be physically ready to go underground and do the fight scenes… They were huge pulls for me. And, of course, the story. I was always interested in that kind of concept of somebody you know not being who you think they are, or slightly off. There’s the idea there – do you ever really know people fully.

 

Were there other horror films you were looking at as reference points – either directorially or performance-based?

Seana: Lee had given me a list of some stuff to watch, but I did steer clear of it because there was some female performances that I knew if I watched then I’d feel maybe I’m going to take from those performances. For me, I just had to be totally emerged in this script rather than other ones.

Lee: We had our  influences and we discussed them, but we didn’t do a deep dive where we were trying to necessarily analyse other work in any way and emulate that. We were trying to be as fresh as we could be in our own way. The reason I wanted Seána in the role was because she was very different to what I had imagined this character would actually be from the get-go. I wasn’t trying to impress upon her or anybody else’s performance necessarily. It’s a case of what I saw in Seána I thought was going to challenge me and challenge the character on the page. That was the way to go about it. We just jumped in and went for it.

 

How did the casting of James [Quinn Markey] come about?

Lee: When I met Seána, she was the first performer that I met for the role, we just stopped the hunt right away. We sat down, had a coffee and decided it was right and offered her the role. But when you’re working with young performances you have to do a greater due diligence. You’re not just getting to know them, you’re trying to understand them a little more, meet their parents, get a sense of how this will all work. Especially you have a sudden responsibility when you’re making a horror film and you’re bringing an 8 year-old out on set to be part of that and to be an object of fear in the movie. So the process was a slower one. You have a casting agent that goes out and looks at a lot of different performers and then makes shortlists. You’ll see someone on the shortlist you’ll like and make mental notes. You might dig back into the longlist and look at someone else. You build these little groups and you’re always analysing and looking at what it is you want. What’s really interesting about James is that he’s not in any way a creepy kid at all. He has this ability to just step into different subtle places. But yeah, it was a long process. We did chemistry tests with Seána with a couple of different young actors. We definitely went through it. It’s the one decision, when you’re casting someone that young, that you can only make with so much confidence until you turnover and roll camera on the first day – despite all the rehearsals, because it’s a different environment once you’re on the set, so you are kind of slightly crossing your fingers. Thankfully it worked out great – he’s a little superstar.

 

Seana, the physicality of the role that you mentioned earlier, how did it compare in reality to what you imagined it to be like?

Seana: It was pretty spot on! It was tough. Brendan [Byrne – sfx coordinator] and his whole team were so amazing. It was exciting to be part of that, but tough work.

Lee: I had said to Seána in advance that it was going to be tough. We didn’t pretend that it wasn’t going to be very physically challenging – that it would be something very different for her to do. Seána had to dive in and do some pretty serious stuff. I don’t want give away any spoilers but later on in the film there are certain physical challenges that are done for real. There’s no hiding.

Seána: I think in hindsight I go “yeh, that was fine” but in the doing off it there were certain moments where I was like ‘suck it up and do it’ or else there’s moments where I’m feeling a little wary –  not so much scared – I’d never say it because I knew Lee wanted me to be scared in parts of it!

Lee: Show no weakness.

Seána: Yeh. I’m like, I’m not giving him that! So in my head, I’m thinking ‘go for it!’ But it was a lot of fun – hard work, but a lot of fun.

Lee: Good hard work.

 

The Hole in the Ground is in cinemas from 1st March 2019.

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Hole in the Ground

Dir: Lee Cronin  Wri:Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet  Pro: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland, Ulla Simonen  DOP: Tom Comerford. Prod Des: Conor Dennison  Ed: Colin Campbell  CAST: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo, Simone Kirby

 

Sarah (Kerslake) moves to rural Ireland with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Through conversations between mother and son, we get hints at Sarah’s past abuse at the hands of Chris’ father with oblique references to an “accident” which left Sarah with a scar on her forehead. One night when Chris runs off into the forest and near a bizarre, somewhat otherworldly sinkhole, Sarah starts to notice strange changes in his behaviour. Her anxieties aren’t helped by a mysterious neighbour, considered crazy by the locals, Noreen (Outinen), who screams at Sarah that Chris is “not your boy”. It is revealed that Noreen rejected and possibly even murdered her own child decades before, under a similar idea that he had been replaced by an evil force.

Having received rave notices at its premiere in Sundance and having been picked up for US distribution by the mammoth A24, Lee Cronin’s supernatural horror and feature debut arrives for its homecoming with much fanfare and is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre. It draws on horror tropes of creepy children and the fears of parenthood to consistently entertaining effect. It’s a film that touches on some dark ideas and resonant themes but is also keen to deliver a rollercoaster ride for the audience. Cronin and his editor Colin Campbell ensure there’s not an ounce of flab on this taut, decidedly effective genre-piece.

Seána Kerslake reaffirms her status as one of Ireland’s biggest acting talents with a performance of complexity, subtlety, charisma and no shortage of physicality. This looks like another step on her way to inevitable international stardom. She is ably supported by Markey who strikes just the right note of sinister unreadability. There are also fine, nuanced supporting turns by Outinen, who makes something more of the creepy neighbour character, and Cosmo, who essays a lifetime of confliction and tragedy in tremendously naturalistic terms.

Tom Comerford’s murky cinematography perfectly captures a sense of the alienation of rural isolation. There’s also terrific use of music. Indeed, the superb opening credits sequence, with a neat nod to The Shining, set up an overwhelming sense of dread from the get-go through the superb camerawork and Stephen McKeon’s deafening score. Cronin also bravely refuses to unwrap all the films mysteries, retaining an ambiguity that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

A superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin.

 

David Prendeville

89 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Hole in the Ground is released 1st March 2019

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dub Daze

Dakota Heveron reviews Shane J. Collins’ take on modern Dublin in his comedy-drama feature, Dub Daze

Director Shane J. Collins has hit the ground running with his first feature length film Dub Daze, which premiered at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Saturday. There couldn’t have been a better place for it, as it became clear right from the opening scenes that the film was an open and honest love letter to Dublin, written by one of the city’s own.

The film weaves together three discrete but connected narratives of young adults all trying to make a place for themselves in the city, each faced with their own particular obstacles. Dan (Ethan Dillon) and Baz (Sam Lucas Smith) are two friends looking for a way to celebrate their last day of school, but Baz’s recklessness ends up getting them in trouble with a local drug dealer named Petal (Clide Delaney). Sean (Shane Robinson) and Jack (Nigel Brennan) are medical students from Cork looking for a place to stay in Dublin. Sean is quickly accepted by a group of well-off Irish students who make Jack the butt of their ‘fresh off the tractor” jokes, causing Sean to question just where his loyalties lie. Fiona (Leah Moore) has dreams of making it as a musician, but she is forced to contend not only with Dublin’s cutthroat music scene, but also her father’s alcoholism.

It is to the film’s credit that despite the multiple plotlines and numerous characters scattered across its landscape, it manages to avoid becoming confusing or convoluted. The characters are so distinct and well-formed that we as the audience always know exactly who we’re with. This is due in large part to the film’s editing (done by Collins himself), as well as the incredible talent of its cast. There is nothing exaggerated or put-on in the actors’ deliveries; their performances are down to earth and strikingly realistic.

There are moments when the film itself feels like one long session, an unpredictable and turbulent night out in Dublin, punctuated by genuinely poignant moments that emphasize the incredibly three-dimensional emotions and realism of the characters. Scoring this night out is a well-chosen mix of songs largely featuring Irish musicians including Bantum, Majestic Bears, Indian, and This Side Up.

Also central to the film is of course Dublin itself. Dub Daze is clearly a labour of love, and Dublin is the focal point of its affection, the camera lingering just as lovingly on a graffitied wall as it does on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. The film makes a point to bring together its three narratives, connecting the city’s north, south, and center. There is a sense of intimacy in this connectedness, and in the consistent banter and comradery between its characters, painting the picture of a city where, despite its urbanity, ‘everyone knows each other’.

Deadly.

 

Dub Daze screened on Saturday, 23rd February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

Shane J. Collins, Writer/Director of ‘Dub Daze’

 

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