ADIFF Irish Film Review: The Judas Iscariot Lunch



Gemma Creagh was at Teresa O’Grady-Peyton’s documentary The Judas Iscariot Lunch, which screened at this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

The world premiere of The Judas Iscariot Lunch saw Screen 3 of The Lighthouse Cinema filled by 6:30pm, Thursday 25th February.  As the house lights went down, us audience members, ranging from 18 – 80, were greeted with an opening sequence of older gentleman, toasting wine, and chatting abstractly. This, in the same organic, gentle flow that would progress the whole piece, gave way to the exposition of who those men were growing up – and how they found they found themselves in their teens and studying at the Missionary Society of St Columban.

From the intimacy of their homes, thirteen Irish former priests – all quirky, chatty and charismatic characters from very different backgrounds – spoke frankly about how they came to be missionaries in East Asia, the Pacific and South America in the 1960s and ’70s and their struggles in adapting. This led on to the difficulties in their lives following their return. These men were among 200 priests who made the difficult decision to leave active ministry, many of whom ended up struggling to find their place in society again.

What is most striking about this documentary, and a testament to director Teresa O’Grady-Peyton, is the level of intimacy she reaches with these subjects. These are Irish men in their 60s, 70s and 80s who are chatting openly and humorously about sex – eliciting many a chuckle from this audience, mind you – as well as being honest about loneliness and loss.

Although not avoiding them for a second, O’Grady-Peyton, deals with issues of celibacy and faith within Catholicism, and does so with a surprising level of gentleness and understanding that doesn’t hijack the focus from these men and their stories. This may be in part with the fact Joe O’Grady, Teresa’s husband, was the inspiration for the documentary, after he left the church himself at aged 35.

Most of us left that evening, full of wine, nibbles and the feeling like we had just spent our time are chatting to close friends. These priests were branded Judas Iscariots by Pope Paul VI, and what haunted me for days afterwards is how they were, and continue to be, let down by the Church.


The Judas Iscariot Lunch screened on 25th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February)



ADIFF Irish Film Review: Viva



Deirdre Molumby headed along to Paddy Breathnach’s Viva, which closed this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

This year, the Audi Dublin International Film Festival closed with the Cuban-shot Irish-produced feature Viva. The screening had generated great anticipation as Viva was one of nine films shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, and it received critical acclaim at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival last September. Viva also won the Dublin Film Festival’s AUDI-ence award.

Set in Havana and directed by Paddy Breathnach (I Went Down, Shrooms, Man About Dog), Viva follows an eighteen year old named Jesus (newcomer Héctor Medina) who works as a hairdresser and make-up artist for drag performers at a local night club. With his mother deceased and his father in prison, the sweet-natured Jesus makes just enough of a living that he can maintain his humble flat but he dreams of playing a bigger role in the club – performing on stage as a drag act. When one of the show’s lead performers abruptly walks out, auditions are held for a replacement and Jesus gets his chance to shine. However, he is young and inexperienced, and is criticised by his mentor, another performer named Mama (Luis Alberto García), for not delivering feeling on the stage. But Jesus soon has something much bigger to worry about. His father, Angel (Jorge Perugorría), returns from prison, and is determined that Jesus will not perform.

At one point, Angel describes Havana as ‘the most beautiful slum in the world’, and indeed the film paints a beautiful portrait of the city. At the ADIFF screening, star of the film Luis Alberto García, who plays Mama, said the film ‘gave a dignity to poverty’, and this context is very much visible in the film as well. The world is both accessible and welcoming through its smart screenplay and colourfully drawn characters. It is also a relief that while the drag performers are fun and vibrant, they never become silly caricatures as one would see on something like TV reality show Rupaul’s Drag Race. In Alberto García, Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría, we get three strong performances and engrossing characters that keep the audience on their toes as their contrasting wills battle out.

Mark O’Halloran’s previous screenwriting credits include Adam & Paul and Garage, two critically acclaimed features directed by Lenny Abrahamson which did wonders for both their careers. Here, O’Halloran again looks at marginalised figures in society and exercises the minimalism he demonstrated in his previous work in this film also. Very little actually happens in Viva and there is a tangible sense of realism in this. We are given a real insight into the place, its characters, and are granted a much more satisfying cinematic experience which opposes escapist fantasy as a result.

At heart, Viva is an age old story about being true to oneself. But with its talented cast, stunning Cuban backdrop, and slowly enrapturing screenplay, it is one with a difference.


Viva screened on 28thFebruary 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February)




ADIFF Irish Film Review: Atlantic



Katie Kelly casts a net over Risteard O’Domhnaill’s documentary Atlantic, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.


If you have any sort of an interest in Ireland and our great natural resources, Atlantic is an absolute must see, which will have your blood boil, and make you feel impassioned by an often over-looked issue.

Narrated by Brendan Gleeson, beautifully shot and directed by Risteard O’Domhnaill, this documentary offers an impreccably presented insight into the lives of three  fishermen, in Ireland, Norway and Newfoundland.

Having no experience of fishing, and not knowing anyone from a fishing community, I did wonder would Risteard O’Domhnaill’s second offering would interest me. I watched his debut doc The Pipe because of the media coverage surrounding the Rossport 5 and Shell to Sea. I went into Atlantic, however, fairly clueless to the scale of the issue. But from start to finish I engaged with these men and their communities as if they were friends. I was outraged at the injustices, pleased about their successes and generally felt a a real sense of comradery with all of them. They are all real hard-workers that deserve success, and not to struggle despite having an amazing resource on their door-step.

These are three massively contrasting stories with one thing in common – the Atlantic Ocean.

In Newfoundland, we see the struggles fishermen have had because of over-fishing for many years that resulted in an eventual ban. In Norway we see the success and conservation of their most important natural resource. Back home in Ireland, we meet fishermen in Arranmore, a tiny community that has been devastated by Ireland’s fishery policies, and its massive EU quotas. Massive trawlers eclipse the tiny fishing boats indigenous people depend on to survive. The whole issue has also been over-looked, and I certainly found myself asking why.

Atlantic offers an insight into the importance of the sea, at home and abroad. Not just for fish but for gas and oil, the real profit-making and enviornmentally precarious commodoties.

The emphasis for many traditional fisherman has shifted from fish to oil. Many fishermen in Newfoundland and Norway have switched profession. However, in Norway, scientists have been studying the effects of oil drilling on the sea and its very important inhabitants. The results have been taken on board (excuse the pun). Oil drilling has ceased in certain parts because it was disrupting marine life. It seems the Norwegian government actually cares about this resource. It is this legislation that maintains Norway’s high standard of living.

Newfoundland’s story is a warning of what can happen when fish stocks are abused, and alternately, Norway is an example of successfully managing both fish and oil. Perhaps Irish people can learn a little something from both countries. The sea and its vast resources could build and strengthen our economy, and change the lives of many of our coastal communities for the better. For decades this great resource has been ignored and now it is time to pay attention.


Atlantic screened on 25th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February) 




ADIFF Irish Film Review: Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future



June Butler takes in Johnny Gogan’s documentary about Irish essayist Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Born in 1900 to a family that could trace their roots to the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, Hubert Butler thrived on the peaceful existence of a life that included a zest for growing apples in his own orchard. Not being without a robust sense of humour, Butler was oft heard describing himself as a writer and market gardener.

His fluency in Russian enabled a translation of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard (1904), which is still in use to this day. He loved the slow pace in his ancestral home of Maidenhall and was a popular figure in the local village of Bennetsbridge, Co Kilkenny. Despite having travelled extensively throughout the Balkans in his early life and learned multiple languages along the way, Butler’s heart first and foremost, lay in the land where he was born and he maintained the mantra that local history was eminently more important than national history. Indeed, Hubert Butler went so far as to insist that ‘where life is fully and consciously lived in our own neighbourhood, we are cushioned a little from the impact of great far-off events which should be of only marginal concern to us’.

Butler was passionately committed to verbally defending Ireland both within and without from forces that at times threatened the integrity and stability of the nationalist core he strove to protect  – sometimes even at great sacrifice to his own mental and physical wellbeing. On more than one occasion, Butler held forth on matters of great portend to a disbelieving public who aimed derisive criticism at this man of letters when the opposite should have been the case. While he may have appeared mild-mannered, when circumstances dictated, Butler had a firm grasp on the subtly of politics and could deliver stinging rebuttals as his rivals all too humiliatingly became aware.

Ireland was, and remains, deeply indebted to Butler’s unwavering morality and nowhere is it more evident than in Johnny Gogan’s in-depth and soulful film on Butler’s life ‘Hubert Butler; Witness to the Future’. Aided by poet Chris Agee, Gogan ably narrates Butler as an expert essayist and considers him to have been at least fifty years ahead of his time when it came to summarising events of national and international importance.

Gogan claims that Butler was able to predict with unerring accuracy future happenings in the volatile arena of pre and post-war Europe. It is testament to the level of investigation into Butler’s life that his writings are mentioned throughout the documentary with such affection and to such a relentless level of detail. Gogan has literally left no stone unturned.

In my interview with Johnny Gogan, he took into account Butler’s devotion to the country life and in no small way, Gogan has included the orchard at Maidenhall where Hubert Butler spent so many happy hours, almost as an expert witness but equally silent additional cast member. When discussing Butler’s impact on modern history, Gogan said one thing that above all made him feel he was in the presence of greatness – Butler he averred, wore his learning lightly and with humility. The magnitude of knowledge he possessed was vast and yet Hubert Butler was a model of reservation and sincerity – unless his conscience was piqued in which case, Butler’s righteous rebukes were remorseless and acerbic. Gogan goes on to prove his words by stating Hubert Butler travelled to Austria at his own expense in 1938 and rescued Jews who were almost certainly due to be transported to work camps prior to the outbreak of WWII. There are dozens of Jews who could place the claim of survival firmly at the feet of Hubert Butler and his wife Peggy.

People often made the point that Butler’s writings could be compared to those of George Orwell. I would go a stage further and suggest that Butler’s writings were unique and comparable only to one – that of Hubert Butler himself. It is right and fitting that through the remarkable vision of Johnny Gogan, Butler has finally come to our attention for his supreme acts of humanity and recognition as the man of learning he truly was. Generations of Irish will have much to thank Johnny Gogan for this wonderful film.


Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future screened on 22nd February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February) 


ADIFF Irish Film Review: Staid


Conor Dowling checks out Paul O’Brien’s debut feature Staid, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.


Before anything else it should be noted that Staid is remarkable simply for existing at all. Made for the almost ludicrous sum of €300, writer and director Paul O’Brien has helmed what is basically a community production, with cast and crew sourced from his hometown of Wexford. At a moment when there seems to be something of a contest in Irish cinema to test how little finance a good film needs, Staid boldly, and largely successfully, undercuts much of the market.

The story deals with Baby (Adrienne Meyler), a middle-aged bar-owner in small-town Ireland struggling against the dreary prospects life seems to have left to offer. Trapped in depression, Baby finds relief in flirting with barman and small-time musician Finn (Paul Creane). Finn dreams of going out into the world and is only held in place by his own feelings for Baby, who seems resolute in going nowhere. Ineptly trying to tie the pair together is the elderly Lar (Phil Lyons), an old soul whose life revolves around his dog and whose would-be wisdom provides much of the film’s comedy. Set mostly on a single day, as Finn prepares to leave, the trio are challenged to make the decisions that could lift them out of the mire.

Lives weighed down by fear, characters who find it easier to sink into old memories than go out to create new ones, are common enough themes to Irish narratives, and as a story of small town paralysis, Staid risks moving into familiar territory. With this in mind, it is to O’Brien’s credit that he finds ways to make this vital. The kitchen-sink realism the story demands is grubby in its precision. Overcooked eggs are poured into the sink, a bottle, picked up as a weapon, drips onto the floor. O’Brien has a keen sense for the real and his detail moves between grit and comedy – a door marked ‘push’, for example, is always pulled.

Set against this dirt, however, is one of the film’s real distinguishing features: its music. Creane is one of several musicians in the cast and O’Brien is bold enough to just allow them to perform when the moment demands. While not a musical, key moments in the story arrive through song rather than dialogue, with these lighter moments throwing the misery of the kitchen sink into greater relief.

For all the music, however, the film’s ace-in-the-hole is Adrienne Meyler. As Baby, Meyler delivers a genuinely nuanced performance. At the same time as she provides the pillar her male friends lean on in difficult moments, she fights to not break down at the prospect of what has become a joyless life. It is Meyler’s inhabiting this space between two extremes that carries the film.

Staid seems to invite comparisons with Gerard Barrett’s Pilgrim Hill, another micro-budget film dealing with life wasting away unnoticed. Like Barrett, O’Brien makes a virtue of his restraints and turns what assets are available – most notably the musicians at his disposal – into the film’s distinguishing qualities.

Music, indeed, is just one part of the optimistic vision that O’Brien brings to what is often very heavy material. Even if it deals with depressed isolation this is, basically, a comic film. Indeed, its most positive quality may be that it exists at all; at the same time that it worries about the deadening effects of rural life, this small-town film proves that there’s energy in those places yet.


Staid screened on 27th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February) 

Irish films at ADIFF






ADIFF Irish Film Review: Further Beyond


Chris Totzke journeys into Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s Reel Art documentary Further Beyond, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Filmmakers Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor debuted their documentary Further Beyond at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival, the story of Sligo man Ambrose O’Higgins and his treacherous journey from Ireland to the mountainous terrains in Chile in the late 1700s. Molloy and Lawlor’s experimental approach to this documentary was nothing short of original. The movie opens with voice actors Alan Howley and Denise Gough speaking for filmmakers Joe and Christine in what ends up being a humourous approach to narrating such a moving story about one man’s journey to a new unforeseen world across the Atlantic in Chile.

The prologue was very detailed, picking the brains of both filmmakers on where they were setting the scenes, who they were going to cast for Ambrose, and even down to the mistakes in the narrations; which came off as quite humorous. If anything, it almost seemed like the entire film was the prologue to the documentary itself.

Narrated from the filmmakers’ point of view, the film takes in the challenges of its own making, while still incorporating the story of Ambrose and introducing a new character into the proceedings, Joe Lawlor’s mother, Helen. While her story occurred generations after Ambrose’s journey, put together side by side, the similarities in the struggles they encountered were evident.

The documentary sends a powerful message from the eyes of an immigrant adjusting to the cultural changes of the new world and the struggles they face as second class citizens while trying to make something of themselves in their new world. Ambrose, who left his safe haven behind in Ireland to eventually become a captain general in Chile, became an inspiration to many. Helen moving to the Big Apple in the early 20th century in pursuit of the American Dream leaving Ireland behind her. Their stories of immigration and displacement forge a connection between the two.

Beautifully shot, Further Beyond pushes out of traditional narrative opening the audience up to the creative process of planning, filming, and narrating this experimental documentary approach to storytelling – something that was summed up by co-director Joe Molloy in the Q&A that followed the screening. “The story was not the most important thing, it was the form of the film as well, and no more that 50 percent of the experience was the story. We were cooking with different ingredients to see how they would come together.”


Further Beyond screened on 22nd February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February) 



ADIFF Irish Film Review: Fís na Fuiseoige / The Lark’s View

Fís na Fuiseoige

Sean Finnan gets the lay of the land at Fís na Fuiseoige, Aodh Ó Coileáin’s documentary which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Something that often gets forgotten about in the constant discussions of the Irish language is the wealth of history that it carries. The educational system and government policies certainly hasn’t helped this in turning the language into something of a bureaucratic necessity, a means of being employable in various civil service jobs, in the educational system and the fact that every legal and bureaucratic document has to be translated into Irish. Not to mention signposts. The language, in this way, has been pushed into a state of stasis where much of its emphasis on its value in the educational system is placed on offering students a means of employment in a field of tedious translation in the depths of meaningless bureaucracy.

Fís na Fuiseoige, the directorial debut by west Kerry man Aodh Ó Coileáin brings to the fore the voluptuousness of the Irish language in both the history it carries, its connection to place and the differing understandings of life that it carries. A far cry from the state supported life support it has been placed upon. Using the ever increasing quality of drone technology, Ó Coileáin offers us a slow contemplative picture of the Irish landscape seldom captured so evocatively before. With such stunning aerial cinematography the timelessness of the Irish landscape is evoked as the camera reflects over places as diverse as the Iveragh Peninsula, the Donegal Gaeltacht, Glendalough amongst others. In each of these various locations, a contributor guides us through the connection of the strong links between the Irish language and place, a connection so strong that in ancient Ireland it even inspired its own literary tradition, ‘dinnseanchas’.

This literary tradition still exists on the fringes of Irish literary life as highlighted by the contributions by the Irish language poets in this documentary, who continue to pursue a knowledge of the land’s relationship with language. In their contributions, the Irish language is associated with a reverence to place itself that pays not only homage to the land but evokes a sense of this land as being timeless, as if its history is ever recurring.

Professor Nuala Ní Dhomhnail’s contribution highlights the different way in which people conceived of themselves as a result of a habitat within a language that, quite literally, gave every surrounding a story and a history based on a tradition.

Such reflections abound in this documentary and offer the viewer another way of understanding the importance of the Irish language that has lost in its bureaucratisation this intimate connection with its surroundings. As Declan Kiberd points out, the loss of the language is something like a forgetting and if the Irish landscape is a manuscript of meaning, we are quickly losing the codes of reading it. In this centenary year, Aodh Ó Coileáin’s beautifully intimate portrait of language and place is a reminder again of the importance of the language in the Gaelic Revival, the cultural rebellion that was the catalyst for the later rebellion. In serving as a pool of traditions that were lost under anglicization, the language was used as a means of re-imagining, of conceiving of a new identity.

Serving as such a reminder, Fís na Fuiseoige is a documentary to be treasured. Few others have made the argument of the importance of the Irish language’s survival in such a subtly celebratory manner while in the process highlighting its absurd vacuous place in Irish official life.

Fís na Fuiseoige screened on 24th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February) 

Irish films at ADIFF


ADIFF Irish Film Review: We Are Moving: Memories of Miss Moriarty



Grace Corry glides through Claire Dix’s portrait of Joan Denise Moriarty, who fought to bring ballet to all corners of Ireland. We Are Moving: Memories of Miss Moriarty screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.


There are several culturally expressive art forms unique to Ireland, art forms that tell tales of our past, inspired by everything from mythology to politics, past and present, their methods and disciplines tied to definitive historical tradition. In its aspirations, Irish dancing was one such practise, created and performed by peasants, its style ancient and ritualistic, coveted by the people for centuries.

Ballet, however, had no such gravity in Irish. Ballet, far outside the parameters of a conservatism which dominated the artistic landscape of twentieth century Ireland, communicated a freedom of sexuality, in its inherent celebration of the human body, performed in scenes of love and life which were alien to a young, new State. Not forgetting, it was an art with all the appearance of the ruling class, decadent in its style, movements and gestures, all of which led to a general feeling of hostility upon its introduction, from not only the Irish dancing community but the whole country. The enigmatic subject of Claire Dix’s latest film sought the redefinition of dance in Ireland by bringing a new form of expression, and controversially, by fusing Irish dance and with this strange thing that was ballet.

We Are Moving: Memories of Miss Moriarty tells the story of Joan Denise Moriarty, a radical and prolific figure in the dancing community who sought to revolutionise the Irish dancing tradition that she had been so devoted to. After studying at the Rambert School of Ballet in London, she returned for a holiday to Mallow in Cork, a place she considered home, with her dream of introducing ballet in tow. After a chance meeting with an old friend and sceptic, her dream was prompted into action. “I can’t stand it!” he told her, “Well, what is it? A man chasing a woman around the stage”. From there it was decided. “I remember thinking – I’ll make you eat those words yet. I’m going to one day come back home and I’m going to start a ballet school and a ballet company and you’ll all accept it”. So it began.

What is noted quite early in the film is the economic state of Ireland at the time. WW11 was still in the air, and for the first six months she had not one single student. Undeterred and with curiosity growing in Cork, things were soon underway in a city where there was little to do for idle hands. One by one, young girls and grown men came, her school becoming both a place of learning and a place to escape the realities of unemployment. Revered and feared in equal measure by those she taught, the most important lesson to Miss Moriarty (as she is referred to throughout the film) was teaching the joy of movement, survived by each of the students that shared their memories, and shared some moves. “I’ll die dancing” laughed one eighty two year old friend, twirling around a studio.

Against the odds, Moriarty continued the pursuit of her dream and eventually brought ballet to every corner of Ireland, including the North during times of trouble. The school became the Cork Ballet Company, and with enough members became Cork Ballet Troupe, Moriarty collaborating extensively with Irish composer Aloys Fleischmann and touring the country. This improbability eventually landed the troupe New York with an interpretation of Playboy of the Western World, accompanied by The Chieftains. But this great success, sadly, marked the beginning of the end for Moriarty. On a world stage, her teachings came into question. The Brinson Report, commissioned by the Arts Council in 1985 concluded that her training was not as substantial as she had claimed. After calls for her resignation from the company she had founded, Moriarty reluctantly conceded, falling into a deep depression and all but vanishing from the scene. She died in 1992, having led a life shrouded in mystery, with no evidence of where she really came from, what year she was born, or of any family save her mother, although it is believed she was born illegitimately. Suggested years for her birth have been 1912, 1916 (which her driver’s license says) and 1920 (according to her passport). She never married despite plenty of opportunities, dedicating her whole life to her work, a fragmented lonely life epitomised by her dying will which stipulated that none of her dances ever be performed again, having never properly said goodbye to those who danced them.

Director Claire Dix makes great use of montage in this film, layering music, old show footage and tape recordings of interviews with Moriarty, footed by recollections and dance routines performed by the aged troupe in great humour, brought together by good memories. There is little to no footage of she who taught herself to play the war pipes, an element which serves Dix’s intension of allowing each visual and audio match to “wash over” the spectator, as a memory might. It is a sorry story about an eccentric who gave everything to her craft and to those whom she mentored whose memory has been carefully picked. If you’d like to know more, Ruth Fleischmann, daughter to Aloys, is writing a biography. I would think it’s equally worth checking out.


We Are Moving: Memories of Miss Moriarty screened on 22nd February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February)