JDIFF: Irish Film Review – No Limbs, No Limits

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Ailbhe O’ Reilly checks out Steven O’ Riordan’s documentary which tells the extraordinary and awe-inspiring life story of his sister Joanne O’ Riordan.

Joanne O’ Riordan first appeared on the national stage by confronting Taoiseach Enda Kenny about cuts to disability funding before the general election. Since then her positive attitude and eloquence has impressed people from Ireland to the floor of the UN. Joanne is one of only seven people who suffer from the physical disability called Total Amelia, which means she was born without limbs. Joanne’s brother Steven directs the documentary and it certainly benefits from his closeness to his subject.

The documentary has a very positive and uplifting feel to it, focusing on how Joanne has overcome her disability to live a life much like her friends and siblings. We see her day to day life living with her parents, eating breakfast, getting ready for school and all the while joking with her family and friends. Steven takes the time to film Joanne’s daily chores and how different daily tasks are for her. Joanne makes a visit to the UN to speak to a group of technology experts about how technology has helped her daily life; here we see her unique personality and power to capture an audience.

The familial connection helps show Joanne’s personality and captures why she has been such a hit and inspiration to many people. The most poignant part of the film is the interviews with Joanne’s parents. We hear about their anguish and fear when Joanne was born and their struggle to bring her up against the odds. We do not see if Joanne has bad days or worries much about her future, maybe this is because she is always positive or perhaps it is the chosen tone of the film.

Either way, No limbs, No limits is inspiring to anyone who watches it and it gives us a brief glimpse into how challenging some people’s lives can be.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

No Limbs, No Limits screened on Saturday, 15th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).

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JDIFF: Irish Film Review – Short Film

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Lynn Larkin checked in on the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival’s selection of  Irish short films.

Friday the 14th was all SHORT of romantic. Valentine’s day started with a selection of short films at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and I was romanced by not one, but eight fantastic Irish short films. Each short film had a wonderful scene of something much bigger than the tiny clip-it we were lucky to catch a glimpse of. They all left me intrigued and longing for more, perhaps a feature film in the making? Playing to a full house in the Light House cinema, filled with a sense of anticipation, the lights dimmed and a soft russell of popcorn munching began. Our Valentine’s treat was a quick romp with comedy and drama filled with a foray of emotion.

 

Breakfast Wine
Director: Ian Fitzgibbon
Writer: Kevin Barry
Running Time: 11 minutes
Starring Ruth Bradley, Dylan Moran and David Pearse. A young woman makes an appearance into a country town pub much to the pleasant surprise of two alcoholics who are solely responsible for keeping the small bar running. Boozing and chatting the night away revels her past is coloured with lifetime of experiences. This short feels like it was taken from a feature film and placed into the line-up. It’s an interesting place to start and finish a short and it definitely makes you wonder what happened next?

Atrophy
Director: Mairtín de Barra
Writer: Matthew Roche
Running Time: 13 minutes
Atrophy examines the sacrifices made in the name of development, and the effect they have upon people. A tale of old versus new, loss, friendship and an old farmer and his dog. I have to admit I had a lump in my throat while watching this film, meaning it was successful in tackling the topic at hand. This little film will pull at your heart strings and make you want to call your granddad more often, which makes things a little difficult for me, considering, they’re both dead.

Rúbaí
Director: Louise Ni Fhiannachta
Writer: Anton Beag Ó Colla
Running Time: 11 minutes
The First Holy Communion is fast approaching but as an atheist, eight-year-old Rúbaí refuses to be a part of it. Rúbaí faces emotional blackmail, religious and philosophical debate and out and out intolerance in today’s supposedly diverse and modern Ireland. Rúbaí is a super funny Irish short that deals with some real drama. Oh to be an eight-year-old atheist fuelled with wit and knowledge and a blunt tongue. I really enjoyed this film. I don’t know what else to say, other then go see this film, you’ll love it.

Morning
Director: Cathy Brady
Writer: Cathy Brady, Sarah Woolner
Running Time: 20 minutes
Mary wakes up on the sofa with a banging headache. Her morning routine is interrupted by a persistent reporter. She is a broken lost soul that has suffered a devastating life tragedy. But this morning is the morning she decides to deal with what has happened. Morning is a truly gripping drama. Brady has managed to give a sneak peek into a world no one would ever wish to experience.

Uisce Beatha
Director: Shaun O’Connor
Writer: Tadhg Hickey
Running Time: 8 minutes
Set in 1912, Uisce Beatha is the true story of Tom, a young man who leaves his home in rural Ireland to cross the ocean on the ill-fated Titanic. But a night of celebration beforehand results in a twist that will affect Tom’s fate drastically. Does everything in life happen for a reason?

The Ledge End of Phil (From Accounting)
Writer-director: Paul Ó Muiris
Running Time: 6 minutes
An animation about a man called Phil who is forced to take a look at the life that he has been ignoring and neglected for so long. With nowhere left to turn he has no choice but to take a giant leap into the unknown. It’s fly or die.

Mechanic
Writer-directors: Tom Sullivan, Feidlim Cannon
Running Time: 15 minutes
A heartfelt story about a mechanic fed up with what life has dealt him but finds consolation and peace in ageing gracefully.

4 Bhanríon
Director: Vittoria Colonna
Writers: Vittoria Colonna, Eoin Rogers
Running Time: 15 minutes
4 Bhanríon (4 Queens) is a black comedy about four elderly sisters who play a game of poker to decide who will take care of their elderly mother. Proving that blood isn’t always necessarily thicker than water, not while one sister might get stuck looking after their wheelchair-ridden mother. However, sometimes life doesn’t work out the way it’s planned.

 

A couple of the short films that stood out for me were Louise Ni Fhiannachta’s Rúbaí and Mairtín de Barra’s Atrophy.

Rúbaí had an exceedingly good storyline entwined with some comedy and heartfelt drama. The acting was fantastic and the dialogue was very well thought-out. A definite must see for all age groups.

Mairtín de Barra’s Atrophy storyline is very current and one that I’m sure will resonate with a lot of people. The acting from Pat Deery is so expressive and endearing, proving the strength and talent of Deerly’s ability as an actor. De Barra made a fantastic choice in casting him.  The set captures the life of the old man perfectly. Everything about this short film was very well executed.  Another short to add to the list of must sees.

All in all it’s apparent that the Irish film industry is safe in the hands of the new and emerging Irish talent that are storming through the film festival circuits. And of course, they made my Valentine’s super pleasant and even managed to give my heart a little flutter.

 

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

JDIFF’s selection of  Irish shorts screened on Friday, 14th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).

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JDIFF: Irish Film Review – The Food Guide to Love

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David Prendeville chews over The Food Guide to Love, which screened at the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Oliver (Richard Coyle), a successful celebrity chef, is far less successful in his love life largely due to his treatment of women. He can never have a relationship that lasts longer than six months mainly because he is a selfish, shallow misogynist. After Oliver is thrown out of one relationship along comes fiery Bibiana (Leonor Watling). They begin a tentative relationship that eventually turns into something very serious for both of them. But can it last? While Bibiana is interested in politics and art, Oliver seems only to care about himself and food. Oliver encountering an old crush from primary school in Georgina (Jade Yourell) and Bibiana’s interest in a political activist (David Wilmot) adds further complications to proceedings.

This light, silly romantic comedy attempts to recall classic screwball comedies, not least, in the admirable feistiness of its lead female character. The film struggles tonally, particularly initially, as it attempts to translate this type of comedy onto its Irish setting. Early scenes between Coyle and Watling jar somewhat. The film’s major flaw, however, lies with the fact that the lead character Oliver is such a deeply unlikeable character. In a film with as broadly comic a sensibility as this there is something that doesn’t sit right about having such a deplorable male lead. To be fair, the film-makers do establish a certain depth to his character towards the end in an emotional scene involving his father, which is heartfelt and well-played. However by the end of the film you don’t really feel as if there has been any great change in the character’s outlook or behaviour. The film lacks the sardonic or cynical edge required to pull off having these sorts of moral complexities to its characters.

The dislikeable nature of the lead character and his actions lead to some bizarre, supposedly comic scenes such as him being tempted to cheat on Bibiana by a woman completely smeared in chocolate. The aftermath of this scene in which Bibiana discovers Oliver’s chocolate smeared clothes does not know whether it wants to be moving or funny and it ends up being neither. While the idea of consistently relating the film’s events and it’s themes to food, given that food is only thing Oliver possibly loves more than himself, is not a bad idea the film-makers struggle to use it in the right way. Is the food motif supposed to be comic? Or is there supposed to be some weight (pardon the pun) to the relating of Oliver’s obsession with food ton that of his love life? As the film progresses, food becomes a means of power struggle in Oliver and Bibiana’s relationship, with her becoming a vegetarian. Once again, while this could have been an interesting idea it ends up feeling forced and rather inconsequential.

The emphasis on food also lead to some scenes which simply misfire- a recurring joke about Oliver’s father’s coddle- is more disgusting than it is funny. Nevertheless there are things to commend in the picture. Dublin is beautifully photographed throughout. The directors Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri bring a foreign eye to the city and it’s nice to see such a modern, progressive depiction of Dublin on screen. There are some enjoyable supporting turns from Wilmot, Simon Delaney and Bronagh Gallagher. It is also pleasing to see that in an age in which the romantic comedy is such an unfashionable genre in the cinema that filmmakers are, at least, attempting to go back to basics and call to mind a style of filmmaking in the screwball comedy that is all too rarely visible in the modern era.

For viewers hungry for something substantial this film is unlikely to satisfy but it has the odd ingredient worth savouring.

 

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The Food Guide to Love screened on Monday, 17th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).

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JDIFF: Irish Film Review – Stay

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Stacy Grouden reports from the screening of Wiebe von Carolsfeld’s latest drama Stay.

The title of Wiebe von Carolsfeld’s latest drama Stay suggests a longing, a desire for stasis and stability, and follows its cast of characters as they seek to get somewhere they can comfortably remain. If your gut reaction to this is that the quest for equilibrium for the sake of equilibrium seems antithetical to drama, you might be on to something.

Adapted from Aislinn Hunter’s 2005 novel, Stay opens with Abbey (Schilling), a young Canadian ex-pat, who lives by the sea in Connemara with her older lover Dermot (Quinn), a former Archaeology professor with a troubled past. When Abbey discovers that she’s pregnant, she returns to her native Montreal to reassess her life, uncovering some painful truths about her parents in the process. Meanwhile, in his ‘home at the end of the world,’ Dermot, an unwilling candidate for fatherhood, distracts himself by helping a recently-returned single mother (McGuigan) adjust to her new life, as well as enlisting a mitching schoolboy (Keoghan) to build him a fence.

While this is very much marketed as a drama about a May-December romance in crisis, writer/director Von Carolsfeld has described this as more of a story about a number of the residents of this barren Connemara periphery looking for a place to stay, to call home.  Indeed, the subjects of this introspective epistemological quest are well-chosen; along with the clichéd ‘man in his 50s having a mid-life crisis,’ shifting the focus to a pregnant 30-something, a teenage boy, and a mother of a newborn potentially offers a variety of interesting results and opposing perspectives as to where each character sees themselves going – or staying – in life. The fact that they all come to seemingly very similar conclusions, however, is disheartening. It feels more like a generic narrative wrap-up than a fully-satisfying conclusion.

Von Carolsfeld does some interesting things with language and geography, neatly contrasting the chic urban French-Canadian Montreal with the Connemara Gaeltacht giving each locale a separate, multi-sensory identity. Yet this representation of Ireland, while thematically connected with Dermot’s narrative, is questionable at best. Even as the romanticisation of this bleak rural landscape is mocked within the world of the film itself – as Dermot expresses his disgust at the ‘Idyll by the Sea’ cottage development proposed by his neighbour – it clings to the rustic, outdated view of Ireland, at least this part of it, as a retreat from modernity. While Dermot’s self-imposed exile from Dublin is certainly complemented by his surroundings, details like JFK paintings in badly-weathered houses where the dead are waked in their own beds clutching daisies give the film a stage Irishness that is not altogether comfortable for a contemporary Irish viewer to experience.

The performances in Stay are rather uneven. The most convincing come from the young Irish cast members, Barry Keoghan and Nika McGuigan, who subtly infuse their light and aimless conversation with a keen sense of how lost and adrift youth make sense of the world. While leads Quinn and Schilling have both proven capable of low-key performances in the past, and each have quiet, graceful moments in this film, there are times when conversation between the two sounds less like a call-and-response, than two actors merely reeling off their learned lines. This hit-and-miss chemistry expends to most of the rest of the cast, with even the father-daughter relationship enacted by Schilling and Michael Ironside appearing even more strained than that between their characters. Some weak scripting and awkwardly-forced exposition only further detracts from the naturalistic tone a modernist film like Stay – heavy on personal relationships, light on plot – requires to work.

Taking an interestingly decentred approach to some complex themes of intimacy and belonging, Stay undoubtedly has its moments and great potential for something more, but ultimately doesn’t build a world in which one would wish to linger.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

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Interview: Donal Foreman, writer and director of ‘Out of Here’

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Tony Tracy sat down with Donal Foreman to discuss his debut feature Out of Here, which screens at the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Donal Foreman’s debut feature Out of Here opens on twenty-something Ciaran (Fionn Walton) returning home to Dublin from travels in Asia and follows his experiences over the subsequent days and nights of reconnecting with people and places once familiar. Displaying elements familiar from American ‘mumblecore’ cinema, it shares a kinship with films such as Tiny Furniture, Uncle Kent and Francis Ha (among others) in its sense of liminality – its  POV controlled by a central character at a threshold moment in his life and a loose-limbed, largely plotless narrative of mood and situation. In addition to such comparisons, the film is also an entirely consistant development of stylistic/formal and thematic concerns evident in Foreman’s earlier short films and exhibits filmic properties espoused in his considerable and intelligent written reflections on cinema (see donalforeman.com).

Out of Here marks a considerable contribution to contemporary Irish cinema on a number of levels. Its rejection of traditional narrative practices (particularly ill-fitting genres), its cosmopolitan tone, its sensitive and fresh portrayal of masculinity and relationships, and its use of locations that ‘re-map’ cinematic Dublin, all contribute to a film less defined by a sense of national identity than a sense of place.  Nevertheless, while it avoids being explicitly ‘Irish’ cinema in any narrow or prescriptive sense of that term (beyond its setting), the film’s tentative, only half recognised sense of home seems both specific to the wandering, cosmopolitan Ciaran (a post-modern Stephen Dedalus) and a tonally apt encapsulation of the dazed and confused national condition as we emerge from a decade of awe, then shock.

In the year that the IFB celebrated it 20th anniversary, the conditions of the film’s production – crowd-funded (without development but with some completion funding from IFB), shot on the RED EPIC with a tiny crew but great skill and edited in New York (where Foreman now lives) – also sets it apart from earlier practices deemed essential to the development of a national cinema, while linking it to micro-budget digital narratives from a new generation of feature writer-directors such as Rebecca Daly, Ivan Kavanagh and Mark O’Connor among others. Regardless of its status as a debut feature, Out of Here feels remarkably assured and engaging, suggesting that Donal Foreman will be a film maker to watch in the years ahead.

 

How far back does your ambition to make films go?

 

I started when I was 11. It was a very intuitive kind of thing where one of my friend’s Dad had a video camera and we were playing around with it, making little movies and we just got obsessed with that. So it started as a social activity and after a while we found our roles within that. I became the cameraman and I suppose parallel to that I was starting to watch more films and get interested in them. So at 13 we put a film into the Fresh Film Festival (www.freshfilmfestival.net) and that really ignited our focus to keep going. At 15 I figured out how to edit the films with a VHS recorder instead of just stopping and starting the camera. So that just kept going forward technically.

 

I guess I also had a curious mind about film history and one thing would lead to another. Tarantino was probably the first one who made me think of individual shots and the director’s vision. Then I heard he was influenced by Scorsese, who was in turn influenced by Cassavetes. So I think I was around 15 or 16 when I started reading more film history and criticism like Ray Carney (editor of Cassavetes on Cassavetes), who introduced to me the idea that film could be a way of challenging yourself, exploring the world and figuring out things you didn’t understand. From then on I had a real urge to try and do something more serious that would actually reflect the world around me and my friends.

 

In my early teens, I also got really into writing scripts, initially just because I liked how they looked! I wrote about four ridiculously surreal feature scripts, and then in my mid-teens I started getting into more personal scripts, where the main character would usually be me while all the other characters would be these one-dimension ciphers. It was later on, working with actors, that I learned to put myself in the shoes of each character, no matter who they are. It becomes a necessity because you need to talk to each actor in terms of their character’s point of view. I still think I need to put some part of myself in each character, but it’s actually a lot of fun when there’s differences too, and you’re forced to step outside yourself a bit.

 

Those short films – and now Out of Here ­- tended to leave out a lot of exposition and make the viewer work with the film.

 

I had a sense early on that what I preferred in films were the gaps where things were left to the imagination – like Kiarostami’s idea of an ‘unfinished’ cinema. I try to follow those principles. I’m more interested in images and moments than storytelling per se, so I had no interest in having a moment of exposition which would disrupt the form. I had more of these dilemmas making a feature film. Say someone gets a text message and you cut to a close-up of the text message so that the audience can read it. There’s no real aesthetic value in that. It’s just this ugly totally functional shot there to give you information – I felt more committed to the image… I was like I don’t care if you need to read that text message, I’m never going to put it in!

 

I like the fact that his family aren’t at the airport to meet him when he returns.

 

That’s an example of where the image comes before the narrative. I wanted the scene of him alone at the airport, and getting the bus into town by himself. I didn’t want the sentiment of the homecoming greeting. Once I had the image, I started figuring out how to make it work for the characters and the narrative.

 

I know the screenplay was in development for quite some time. How did you finally get it to production? Did you apply to the Irish Film Board?

 

I never actually applied to the Film Board because I never wanted to do script development with it. I was in an international script workshop called ENGAGE with it shortly after I graduated. It was for writers, directors and producers graduating from Screen Academy Scotland, the National Film School at IADT and the Baltic Film & Media School in Estonia. You’re taken to workshops in each country, and you go in with a project and they try and team you up, and prep you for assembling co-productions. I went in with this project Out of Here and half way through I swapped it and pitched a sci-fi kids escape movie instead, which I felt would be more productive in that context. I felt my project wasn’t going to be helped by pushing it in that forum because there wasn’t much room for co-production unless I filmed his travels or brought in a bunch of foreign characters just for the sake of it. Also a lot of the notes I was getting on it were ‘you need more plot’, ‘the character needs to do this’ – pushing for a stronger narrative structure to the whole thing. That there should be a deadline and a clear tension like ‘is he going to get on that flight to get out of the country…’. I wasn’t interested in fighting those interpretations so I didn’t pursue it.

 

I felt the only way I would do it with the Film Board was if they would not go through the years of script development, which I have seen hurt a lot of projects and filmmakers. I didn’t think I had a chance at bypassing that process without a big company backing me, and I wasn’t having any luck on that front. I was also thinking that if one of my shorts got into one of the bigger festivals that would give me a legitimacy to move it forward. But that didn’t really happen. After pitching it to a few established companies, I tried to find a producer but it was tough because there were no strong independent producers looking for first time writer-directors without a track record. At one point I was thinking I would even try and produce it myself, but that would have been an insanely bad idea because it was already a difficult story for a micro-budget. Eventually I came across Emmet Fleming, who already had some experience with this kind of budget and totally got what I was trying to do.

 

How did you raise the budget?

 

Emmet had the idea to do a crowd-funding campaign based on this investment model that he had seen a Belfast company, Manifesto Films, use earlier that year. We had the option to donate and get a gift in return, as you would with Kickstarter, but we also had a second option where for €150 you’d get a share in the future profits of the film, and that’s where most of the money came from. I put in some cash as well but most of it was from people buying shares. The investment model works well I think because there is a greater sense of ownership for investors and a greater impetus to help the project to succeed.

 

So was the script pretty much there at this stage?

 

Not completely. We started fundraising with a detailed treatment and began casting and then we did two weeks of rehearsals. I wrote dialogue in rehearsals. I would give the actors the premise of the scene and see where it went. So we would workshop like that and then I would write the scenes in the evening. Then we would rehearse the written version and see how that worked. So by the end of rehearsals we had the full script.

 

So you began with a scene by scene treatment?

 

Yes. I had a detailed 30-page treatment which described most things in detail except for the dialogue. I also had older drafts of a full script to draw on, as I had been developing the project over a five year period.

 

What was the starting point of the story?

 

From the very start it was the idea of this guy’s return to Dublin after a time away. The thing that excited me most initially was the shift in his perception of the city on his coming back, that it would be so familiar to him and have all this history, but him stepping away and then coming back would create this sense of estrangement. Like if you walk the same way to work everyday you stop seeing the details around you, but if you were to go away for a year and then come back, all of a sudden it’s a new street.

 

By the time it was in pre-production I had already lived in New York for a year and so I was perfectly poised for it. That first month back after New York, I was finding new ideas for the film everywhere and everyday.

 

Lets talk about casting. How did you find your actors?

 

I had a few people in mind already. I had a whole database of actors in my head of who I would like to work with. If an Irish actor has a showreel online I have seen it at this stage. Part of it was how the characters were going to interact together, but mainly it was the traditional way of seeking out actors from what we had seen them in. Then there were people I knew in Dublin who had never done any acting but who were just characters who I know would be really interesting within a certain scenario. And I tried to collect people from the different worlds in the film like some people from art school and so on.

 

And what about the central character – played by Fionn Walton?

 

Fionn came out of the Actor’s Studio in The Factory. So much of the casting came together quite easily but the lead was the hardest thing by far because he carries the whole film. I wanted someone with a certain kind of charisma who would be compelling to watch. It had to be someone who you would just want to watch even if they weren’t doing much anyway, that they would hold the screen but without being a “pretty boy” or a macho actor. I wanted someone who was still a little bit awkward and boyish. So just finding that balance was tough.

 

What was your experience of the shoot?

 

The shoot was by far the most challenging thing I have ever done, most of all because of the time pressures. It’s not obvious, in the middle of things, what you sohuld compromise on and leave out or what you’re going to regret later. We had 20 days to shoot something that had way more characters, crowd scenes and location changes than is ever advisable for a micro-budget project. We didn’t have a lot of money to throw around so we were often at the mercy of other people’s commitments. As a result, we shot ridiculously out of order in terms of continuity, mainly because of location availability and actors’ schedules. Aoife Duffin, for example, was shooting the second season of Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy throughout our production, and was only available on weekends. It was really not ideal for the story, but I think we managed to pull it off, and having rehearsals definitely helped.

 

Was it an obvious choice to shoot on the RED EPIC camera?

 

Yes – that’s the camera my cameraman Piers McGrail owns. He’s shot all my fiction shorts since film school and I knew I wanted to work with him. But the EPIC didn’t make life easy. Sometimes it might take two hours to light and I’d get 10 minutes to do the scene because the EPIC requires more lighting, more equipment and expense in general than the RED. There is so much lighting in the film – apart from the exterior daytime stuff, everything in the film is lit. And it is very exact, so while the film looks fairly natural it is actually quite contrived.

 

Given that stylistic commitment to naturalism, how did you manage sound?

 

For the most complex scenes, we used 2 boom mikes and 4 radio mikes: I wanted these people to be free to interrupt and talk over each other. And we deliberately have no score but there’s quite a bit of diegetic music from local bands at various points. Some people find the lack of a score a bit difficult but there’s a whole visual arc to the film that goes from a cluttered, claustraphobic feeling to a more open, lighter sense and I wanted to reflect that in the sound design imposing it through musical cues.

 

Lets talk about the edit and arriving at your final cut

 

I edited by myself in New York over about six months. The main challenge was that there was a lot of material—30 hours in total. The first assembly was 3 hours and the first watchable cut was 110. I thought I’d never get it down to 80 mins. But the first time I did a test screening (to a group I’m part of in New York, the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective) I cut 20 minutes out the next day. I hadsuch a better understanding of the pacing of it, just from watching it in a room with other people. I could feel people just waiting for the end at a few different points—even I was.

 

The film’s use of location is striking – you manage to add to the cinematic city of recent Dublin-set films like Adam and Paul, Kisses, Once and What Richard Did.

 

I always saw this character and his return as vehicle for exploring the city and explore the different aspects of it. I was asking myself, if you were in Dublin in your early 20s, what possibilities are open to you? What social spaces, domestic spaces, and how do you express yourself in different spaces like the pub, or at dinner with your family or wandering around by yourself. So I was thinking about locations that would help explore those different facets. I also had a bit of a thing about how the city has been represented cinematically – that there has been generally been a failure of representation – with the Dublin often functioning as a backdrop rather than a character. Obviously there are exceptions to this but I wanted to be attentive to the spaces of the city and so I very deliberately mapped the action to reflect that.

 

www.outofherefilm.com

Tony Tracy lectures in film at the Huston School of Film and Digital Media, NUI Galway.

www.filmschool.ie

 

Out of Here screens on Saturday, 22nd February 2014 at 8:30PM in the Light House.

Click here for further coverage of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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JDIFF Review – The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Stacey Grouden checks in to Wes Anderson’s The Budapest Hotel, which had its Irish premiere at the weekend as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

In an early scene in Wes Anderson’s latest film, a girl admires the stone bust of an author, famous for his book, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Through a series of flashbacks to 1985, 1968 and the 1930s, broken into chapters, we uncover the colourful story of its past, as told by its eccentric owner and former employee, Zero Moustafa (Abraham) to the author of the novel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, a lush Alpine resort in the fictional European nation of Zubrowka in an alternate 1930s, is run by the gently flamboyant concierge M. Gustave (Fiennes). A hit with the establishment’s more mature female guests, Gustave’s relationship with one particular lady, Madame Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Swinton), comes under close scrutiny when she is murdered and her will bequeaths to him a priceless painting, ‘Boy with Apple.’ Together with his loyal lobby boy, Zero (played as a young man by Tony Revolori), Gustave takes the painting and flees, desperate to clear his name and avoid the same fate as his late former lover.

Fans of Wes Anderson’s characteristic style won’t be disappointed as it retains the same storybook aesthetic for which he has been variously praised and criticised. The characters are lavishly costumed and the world beautifully realised in a series of decadent sets. Similarly, the film is divided into chapters, not only recalling his use of the same technique in The Royal Tenenbaums, but reminding the audience that we are hearing this story from the author, as told by Zero, to the author’s younger self. This structure – a frame within a frame within a frame – is often echoed in the composition, with deep halls, twisting staircases and rows of balconies outlining the characters in action.

But while a common argument about his films is that this quirky, distinctive style comes at the expense of substance, the narrative and thematic content here is deceptively rich. Ostensibly, The Grand Budapest Hotel sees Anderson presenting a postmodern and very entertaining twist on the 1930s-style detective story. But this structure, along with quietly elegant performances by Abraham and Revolori as Zero, see it elevated to a poignant memoir, an ode to times past, and to dearly-departed mentors. This can be seen not only in how the film presents M. Gustave as a long-passed, old-world gentleman, but is also perhaps a nod to old Hollywood, to Hitchcockian escapades on trains, Great Escape-style prison breaks, and the artisanal glamour of a well-designed, densely-detailed set-piece.

But the introspection offered by this many-layered approach would fall flat without the strength of its central performances, and while a number of Anderson’s staple actors make appearances – Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, among others – Ralph Fiennes steals the film as M. Gustave H. Achieving the subtle distinction between delivering a huge performance without being over-the-top, Fiennes balances his theatrical gravitas with his rarely-executed gift for comedy, making it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Just like a concierge, his performance adapts to every new situation with aplomb and never misses a beat.

Lively, but with moments of unexpected darkness, tension, and poignancy, The Grand Budapest Hotel is well worth a visit.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

 

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Interview: Dawid Ogrodnik

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Anna Pospieszynska met with Polish actor Dawid Ogrodnik, who stars in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida and the inspiring Life Feels Good by Maciej Pieprzyca, both of which are screening as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Irish audiences will have a chance to dive into two beautifully crafted stories, which are great examples of the “journey” cinema, so intensely focused on self-discovery and pursuit of a character’s own identity. So lets start from the beginning and your journey into acting.

My road has led me to confrontation with myself and defining what I want and how I can get there. I realised I had to stake everything on one card to reach my goals. Undoubtedly, it was a very difficult decision to make, particularly if you are 12 years old. Nevertheless, there was that nagging feeling of something awaiting me and I did need to see it. So I sold everything I owned and left thome to realize my dreams. There was definitely a lot of luck involved as I met many really good people on my journey, first in music and then at acting school. As a result of my decisions, I am here. The funny thing is that even now my intuition tells me there is more for me to discover so I needed to keep moving ahead.

Every journey might make you weary. Could you count on an emotional boost to push you forward?

I think each project I got involved in drove me significantly forward. Definitely one of the first key people I met was the director Leszek Dawid with whom I worked  on I am the God (Jestem Bogiem). Thanks to him I learned to be honest with the camera and that to pretend emotions is your worst enemy.  You have to really feel it regardless of how many times you have played it. Never try to ‘rewind’ feelings, as you would lose your realness.  Life Feels Good, with Maciej Pieprzyca, was the biggest challenge of my life and taught me a lot about humility and helped me see an actor’s work from a different perspective. Suddenly you dedicate your whole life to one project and it becomes your objective.

You have been presented as an actor who fishes for roles of the outsider, which places you in the great company of Dustin Hoffman, Johnny Depp or Christian Bale. At the same time it requires a lot of effort, time and energy. What makes them so appealing?

It is both challenging and inspirational. After some point you realize that the brain acts as an extremely absorbent sponge. It enables you to readjust and engage with a huge variety of elements and particulars, which brings you eventually to the stage of metamorphosing into a character you are to play. And this is what fascinates me in this job. On the one hand it creates a comfort zone as you are creating a persona you have nothing in common with in real life. On the other, there is a danger of the pastiche and grotesque sneaking into your work if you do not do it right. It is a risk you need to take but you need to get ready and be responsible for all pros and cons that go with it.

Looking at your character in Ida, I see his symbolic weight that enriches the life of Anna, the female protagonist. Like metaphysical doors, she has to enter through them to continue her path to self-discovery and change. How did getting involved in this movie transform your life?

The script was one of the reasons why I decided to take part in it.  Then there was my love of the saxophone and music. As the movie takes place in the ’60s, it was a very special time for Jazz, especially on the Polish scene. The director, Pawel Pawlikowski, wanted the soundtrack to reflect the movie’s ambience, which just added extra value to the project. In regards to my character, there was nothing extreme about him. However, what mesmerized me was the inner world he shared with the Anna, expressed by gestures, tunes and a desire to find an understanding, kindred spirit.

Polish Cinema is showing a new face, highlighting its more universal line of storytelling. We can see it in freshly produced pictures, such as Life Feels Good, Imagine and Lasting’ As a young actor attending international film festivals, how would you describe the audience’s reactions to this change? And what else would you like to see?

It is a very interesting direction. You can see how well received our movies were in 2013 and how many festivals have already included them, e.g. Montreal, Berlin, or even now in Dublin. I believe it is just the beginning. We might lack a directing personality that is not afraid of pushing it forward and embracing all new elements and themes that this trend can offer but we are definitely getting there. Also in terms of acting, Polish Cinema is very much rooted in a script which can focus on following a word-by-word structure, which definitely keeps us different, and it is great. However, maybe there should be just a bit more space for improvisation. You can see in American films that many directors give actors more freedom. Of course you don’t want to have it overdone across many scenes as often happens in such movies, but it might give us an opportunity to react to some situations more organically. Plus, we shouldn’t be afraid of experimenting as well as introducing new topics. Film is a limitless form of art and shouldn’t be confined or restricted by social taboos or difficult subjects such as homosexuality or transsexuality. I hope one day our cinema will be full of amazing scripts that give us a breath of fresh air, directed by young minds behind the camera, ready to steer us to new cinematic waters.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival runs 13 – 23 February 2014,


 

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JDIFF: Irish Film Review – Calvary

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Donnchadh Tiernan checks out John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, which opened the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The opening line of John Michael McDonagh’s sophomore effort packs such an almighty punch it would be a shame to divulge it here. As a quote from Saint Augustine on the poetic implications of the titular hill fades to the candlelit visage of Brendan Gleeson’s central priest a line of dialogue is delivered with enough weight to shake any audience of expectations for a would-be sequel to 2011’s The Guard. The dialogue of the anonymous confessor continues to outline what will be the framework within which the film will play out; in seven days, having spent their childhood being raped daily by a priest, the faceless victim will shoot Gleeson’s priest, plainly because he, a good priest, being murdered will send a greater message. When Gleeson leaves the booth he seems to know who has threatened him. We, however, do not, and the film commences.

The prime action of the piece is made up of Gleeson’s interactions with locals; characters played by the greatest assembly of Irish and British acting talent since Intermission: Pat Shortt as a Buddhist publican; Dylan Moran as a socially estranged property developer; Chris O’Dowd as the butcher; Kelly Reilly as Gleeson’s suicidal daughter from a pre-orders marriage; Aidan Gillen as an atheistic, nihilistic doctor. The list actually does go on but to give everyone worthy of shout-out here their just deserts would evolve this review to a novella. Everyone available seemingly wanted to appear in this film and once one sniffs out the marrow of the meandering plot it is easy to see why.

The first act of Calvary is the segment that requires the most salt in viewing. What might be biting satire or critique is diluted with Fr. Ted jokes as they might have been written for HBO. McDonagh being cut from the cloth he is the dialogue and structure is ever a comment on the medium and genre itself, in this case such thematic stuff as Song for a Raggy Boy or Sleepers, but considering both the setting and the opening this does not seem enough. As a matter of fact, until Gleeson’s church is burnt to the ground midway through (as seen in the trailer and on the poster), it seems as though the writer-director is shying from the route he initially gestured towards. Then, as flames flicker against the night, the second act reveals a darker side of The Guard’s wry wit and the film dives headlong into murk the previous film only hinted at.

What transpires in the film’s remainder is often heavy drama and is a credit to its cast, particular credit due to Domhnall Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd, the former stepping out of his father’s shadow while sitting across from him, the latter whom will surely be hearing meatier dramatic scripts whacking his hallway floor more regularly in the coming months. This film’s heart, soul and muse, as with The Guard, is undoubtedly the masterful Brendan Gleeson, who communicates the bitterness and flickering hopes of a dying faith with dark weary eyes and reserved gestures.

Any flaws here are minor and aesthetic. The rent-boy Lucky Leo is one caricature too far and Dave McSavage playing a bishop carries too much weight as a cultural reference to work alongside the more serious tones surrounding the role. The cast of characters is, overall, too large to justify and trying to keep up with them at times muddles the plot. Thankfully, McDonagh’s agenda is so potent and engaging that its confidence propels viewer attention along with it at far too ardent a pace to linger on such minor foibles.

With Calvary, McDonagh has completed the sentence he began to utter with The Guard. As an already evident auteur, he loves Ireland (as clearly evidenced by the glorious landscape shots throughout) and despises such Irish institutions as middle-management, bitterness and mob-rule. Were he a pamphleteer, which on a certain level he undoubtedly is, his prime target would be Joe Duffy’s listenership and high-ranking church officials in equal measure. In fact, there is such ample critique of Irish society in the third act it feels as though two films in he may have made his magnum opus. On immediate reflection, not only do I wish to re-watch Calvary soon but I believe it will prove as much of a necessary watch for at least one generation to come as it will be a gripping, funny and moving one for audiences this year. Once again, McDonagh has produced a work impossible to pigeon-hole into any genre, except perhaps “Essential Viewing”.

 

 

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Calvary screened on Thursday, 13th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).

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