Alan Gilsenan, Writer / Director of ‘Unless’ & ‘The Meeting’

 

Stephen Porzio met up with filmmaker Alan Gilsenan to chat about his two films set for Irish cinemas this year.

Imagine being a director and getting trapped by snow at home, the day your new film will premiere. This happened to Irish filmmaker Alan Gilsenan, leading him to walk from the Wicklow Mountains all the way to Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema.

“I kind of enjoyed it. It was like a strange pilgrimage”, he remarks. His story reminds me of fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog, who famously walked from Munich to Paris to visit a dying friend. Gilsenan jokes: “Jesus, I’d say that’s where the likeness ends but if we could even approach old Herzog that’d be fine for me”.

Following last year’s acclaimed documentary Meetings with Ivor, Gilsenan is here at the Filmbase office to promote the first of two dramas he directed being released this year. Out on the 16th March is the Canadian-set Unless, starring Catherine Keener as an author whose daughter (Hannah Gross, Netflix’s Mindhunter) decides to drop out of college and live on the streets.

Attending the press screening of Unless was the first time I left my house after the Beast from the East. What am I presented with but a cold, drippy, snowy Ontario setting.

“I’d always pride myself as someone who doesn’t really feel the cold. But I was in Toronto and thought ‘this is just unbearable’ … I heard some of the sparks and the grips talking about how it was the coldest Winter in Toronto in 150 years the March we shot,” Gilsenan laughs.

Continuing he says: “I’d go into the catering truck just to be warm for five minutes. The other thing is I envisaged a Toronto covered in snow but when it gets to those temperatures, the snow doesn’t fall. It’s just ice. We were putting in fake snow even though it was -35 degrees.”

Adapted from a novel from Pulitzer Prize-Winner Carol Shields, writer-director Gilsenan translates the stream-of-consciousness prose of the source to the screen. While the book is about a mother’s reaction to her child wanting to live on the street, the film centres on the mystery of why the heroine’s daughter, Norah, acts in such a manner.

On adapting the novel, Gilsenan says: “[The film] is a meditation. The source was Carol Shields’ book … Sometimes I’d go back to [it] to check something and think ‘what was I thinking’. It’s the most unlikely film. The book is like Virginia Woolf. It all happens in her head.”

Many of Shields’ themes remain, the cynicism of the modern world and a desire to subvert common depictions of the ‘dysfunctional’ middle-class family. However, a key aspect of the book was excised in the transition to the big screen.

“I think partly the book is a reflection about being a woman in the world. I probably didn’t emphasise it quite as much. I’m also aware that with an extraordinary female cast and Emer Reynolds editing the film and Celiana Cárdenas as the DOP, I’m the only weak link.” He adds thoughtfully: “Probably should have been a woman who made it”.

Unless provides a realistic depiction of homelessness. I ask Gilsenan if the rise of people living on the streets in Ireland led him to choose the subject matter: “Maybe at some subliminal level … It did really bring home the reality of homelessness. The bitter cold … We were in Toronto when quite a few homeless people froze to death. We’ve started to see that in Dublin.”

I note that the scenes where Norah is living on the street felt authentic. “Some of the stuff we shot with Hannah on long lenses is on active streets. In the scene where the frat boys are hassling her – a young woman – it’s actually in the film – got very upset. That was real,” Gilsenan replies.

Gilsenan’s second film in 2018 The Meeting also feels eerily topical, focusing on the true story of a young rape victim confronting her attacker. Scheduled for a September release, the drama premiered at ADIFF last month. Before this interview, I couldn’t find who starred in the movie.

“Alva Griffith, the woman [it is based on] plays herself. It was a deliberate decision by ADIFF not to put the cast in. We felt the film will always be talked about in terms of Alva playing herself. We thought it would be nice to have a screening where that isn’t the issue.” He adds: “A lot people said to me after, ‘Who’s the actress. She’s great.’”

Clint Eastwood made a similar casting decision in his 2018 film The 15:17 to Paris. “Clint copies me in everything. I keep saying to him ‘Clint, stop’”, Gilsenan laughs.

Playing the assailant in The Meeting is Terry O’Neill, an actor who recently appeared in IFTA-winner Michael Inside. Between this and Hannah Gross recently working with David Fincher on Mindhunter, Gilsenan has a knack for discovering great talent. “Well you hope … I think Hannah’s wonderful and Terry is a real star.”

Next, Gilsenan plans a ‘strange experimental film inspired by Joyce’s Ulysses’. He is elusive when I ask if he will return to documentaries: “I quite like the documentary area, I like the drama. I like the more experimental stuff too.” A bit like Werner Herzog.

 

Unless is in Irish cinemas from 16th March 2018

The Meeting will open in Irish cinemas later this year

 

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ADIFF Review: Isle of Dogs

 

 

Cian Geoghegan enters a dystopian doggie future in Japan.

 

Many long winters have passed since Wes Anderson’s snowy epic The Grand Budapest Hotel stormed theatres across the globe. This is the longest gap Anderson has taken between films to date – four years. It’s not out of commercial exile, as the filmmaker has only found more and more success the more and more idiosyncratic his style becomes. He has turned auteur-driven filmmaking into a franchise of sorts. 

The world has changed greatly in the four years without a new Wes Anderson joint. The fascist spectres looming in the background in Grand Budapest were once just a further burst of the writer-director’s imagination. Now, their inclusion seems eerily prescient. The rise of far-right politics in both Anderson’s home country and Europe, the home continent of many a stylistic influence, leaves a sharp impact on his new film, Isle of Dogs. Anderson has always used his fantastical worlds to understate a deeper emotional anguish. Here, everything is fantastical – the anguish is found in how close the supervillains are to reality. 

The plot is simple – Atari, the young ward of a corrupt mayor embarks to the Isle of Dogs, to where the canine population have been exiled following a dog-flu scare. His mission: to rescue his dog Spots. Our cast of outcast “alpha-dogs” (Bryan Cranston among Anderson regulars – Norton, Murray, Goldblum and Balaban) take it upon themselves to guide him across the island, the mythology of which is textured, tragic and largely unspoken. 

Displaced people, bigoted leaders, child activism – Dogs makes The Post look like a narcoleptic journalist submitting assignments months past the due date. Given the massive timescale required for a stop-motion feature, many of these real-life parallels are just happy accidents. The most affecting such accident may be Greta Gerwig’s character Tracy, an Ohio foreign exchange student with the energy to overthrow as many political oligarchs as there are hours in the day. The shooting in Parkland, Florida and the subsequent activist movement on behalf of surviving students occurred a week shy of the film’s Berlin premiere, yet these strands of art and life clash in a way that is not just coincidental, but profound and necessary. 

Cool your jets on the ideology, though. All this political allegory props up a film of immense watchability. Jokes whip past at breakneck pace, with running gags drawing incessant giggles from the wholly adult audience at my screening. The music keeps the tone light as well. The nostalgic indie tunes typical of Anderson strum along, helping us forget how much this beautiful trash island probably smells. 

Despite working mostly in live-action, Anderson seems a student of animation in Isle of Dogs. The constant barrage of dog jokes from all angles recall the childlike giddiness of Aardman animations. The quiet moments mirror the best of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The footprints of Japanese filmmaking are left beyond the limits of animation. The shadow Kurosawa casts over the film cannot be understated.  

It’s fitting that a film so thematically concerned with inclusivity and multiculturalism would serve just shy of being a bilingual picture. From the film’s earliest moments, it is clear we are witnessing a worldly film that is as much Japanese as it is American. Large portions of the film will play diametrically different to Japanese audiences, as the film audaciously focuses on Japanese characters speaking Japanese without subtitles. The viewer doesn’t feel left in the dark – if anything it endears them to the dog characters (“I wish somebody spoke his language,” one of Jeff Goldblum’s many zingers) The film’s identity is firmly planted in the far East. Weaved within the stop-motion is an ingenious visual effect dancing between rotoscope, cell-shading and hand-drawn animation. Art inspired by the Edo period is all over the film – particularly in the unapologetic exposition-dump of a prologue. Those who thought, that post-Budapest Anderson’s style was destined to collapse under its own whimsy if pushed to any further extreme, will be pleasantly surprised. A taste of the far East is just what Anderson needed to keep his style fresh. 

The stop-motion on show is joyously (and sometimes deceptively) simple. The human characters are toy-like. They recall Robot Chicken more than Chicken Run. Use of practical effects carries on from Fantastic Mr. Fox – cotton clouds the skies and obscures the many dogfights with a busy haze. In terms of character design, the dogs have no right to be as distinct as they are – their personality are as thin as the scrawny inhabitants of the island, after all. Yet when one scene sets the canine cast in silhouette within an igloo of discarded bottles – a directorial decision made as if on a dare – we instantly know who is who. It helps that the warm glow of the scenery makes it one of the most beautiful scenes in a film of beautiful scenes. 

The film seems to appeal to the kid in all of us, but the filmmakers seek to steer clear of actual kids. The MPAA have slapped a PG-13 on the film, prompting many to call foul, but I can see their reasoning. Sparse moments of language, gallows humour and bizarre gore add character to the film, but will keep it from reaching the widest audience and having an impact on the kids it so clearly wants to save the world. 

Act three brings on another classic Andersonian climax, wherein all the dominoes set up so meticulously get to fall. Something about this ending seems a tad too neat, however. Anderson’s tightly constructed narratives have never contradicted the emotional truth lying beneath for the sake of cohesion, but in this case, he comes dangerously close. Teetering on feeling unearned, the film’s final moments are a tightrope-walk. Themes of anti-corruption and transparency come a hair too close to being betrayed for this critic’s liking. 

Isle of Dogs is another instalment in Anderson’s hot streak, an animated film with personality and purpose to spare. The film is a crucial commentary on today’s climate, with visuals so beautiful as to make you forget how trenchantly political it all is. In what may be the Wes Anderson film both most and least concerned with the goings on of our world, he pulls off yet another impressive trick with grace. Good boy. 

 

 

Isle of Dogs screened as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March)

 

 

 

 

 

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Podcast: Interview with Niamh Algar

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Actor Niamh Algar joined Jonathan Victory to talk about 3 films she features in at this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival as well as her nomination for the 2017 ADIFF Discovery Award.

In Lorcan Finnegan’s debut feature Without Name, Niamh plays Olivia, the  apprentice to a middle-aged land surveyor, who takes up a job in a remote forest. Deep in the woods, he becomes aware of a malevolent presence, an intelligence of sorts. A silhouette flits between trees. The place fascinates the fragmenting Eric  as much as it disturbs him. Is his mind playing tricks on him or is there some ancient horror wishing him harm?

Niamh also talks about the short films she appears in, Gone and Pebbles, which are also screening at ADIFF.

In Patrick Maxwell’s Gone, Paul returns to his hometown to find that his ex-lover has a child with another man. As old sparks reignite, jealousy and revenge lead to fatal consequences.

In Jonathan Shaw’s Pebbles, on her 50th wedding anniversary, Ruby returns to the hotel where she spent her Honeymoon. Will her estranged husband return to honour a promise?

Niamh also talks to Jonathan about the craft of acting, the industry and loads of other lovely stuff, including Niamh’s favourite curse word (spoiler – it’s “bejinges”)

 

Without Name screens on Saturday, 18th Feb 2017 at 6:00pm at the Light House Cinema.

Gone and Pebbles screen as part of ADIFF Shorts 3 on Saturday, 25th February 2017 at 6:15pm at the Light House Cinema.

Without Name is released in Irish cinemas in April.

Check out our preview of all the Irish films screening at this year’s festival.

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival runs 16 – 26 February 2017

Check out the full programme here

 

 

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Strong Irish Line-up @ ADIFF 2017

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The Audi Dublin International Film Festival returns 16th-26th February 2017 with a rich mix of homegrown films and films from across the world accompanied by top international and Irish guest talent across the eleven days and nights of the festival.

This year’s festival includes new Irish films from Jim Sheridan, Emer Reynolds, Aiden Gillen, John Butler, Neasa Ní Chianán, Juanita Wilson and Ken Wardrop alongside the Irish premiere of Maudie, the internationally acclaimed biopic of folk artist Maud Lewis by award-winning Irish director Aisling Walsh (Song for a Raggy Boy) and starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.

Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture, adapted from the award-winning novel by Sebastian Barry, will receive a Gala Irish Premiere and see ADIFF present a Volta Award to Vanessa Redgrave. The Volta Award is the Festival’s most prestigious honour, reserved for those who have made an outstanding contribution to the world of film.

Top Irish talent Jack Reynor, Cillian Murphy will attend the Audi Gala screening of Ben Wheatley’s new film Free Fire. ADIFF’s new Centrepiece Gala will be Neasa Ní Chianán and David Rane’s In Loco Parentis documentary study of the Headfort School.

Witness film history in the making at one of the many World Premieres at ADIFF17 including Juanita Wilson’s Tomato Red with cast member Anna Friel in attendance; Dennis Bartok’s terrifying hospital horror Nails; and Aiden Gillen and Jamie Thraves’ Pickups that features Gillen playing a semi-fictionalised version of himself, a troubled actor weighing the price of success.

The Arts Council and ADIFF’s Reel Art documentary commissions receive their World Premieres at the Irish Film Institute. Ken Wardrop brings his characteristic warmth and humanity to piano grade exams in The Piano Lesson while John Murray and Traolach Ó Murchú’s Photo City delves into the celluloid history of Rochester, NY.

Rounding up a stellar festival at ADIFF’s  Closing Night Gala is the Irish premiere of Handsome Devil, John Butler’s (The Stag) new comedy-drama set in an Irish boarding school.

 

Tickets are sale online and the digital programme is available to browse and download  at www.diff.ie

Tickets are available by phone on +353 1 687 7974 or in person at DIFF, 13 Ormond Quay.

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Drugs.ie & ADIFF Collaborate

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Drugs.ie have announced that they will collaborate with the 2017 Audi Dublin International Film Festival to present a number of entries from the Drugs.ie ‘Let’s Talk About Drugs’ National Youth Media Awards Competition Short Video Category. Drugs.ie are encouraging young film makers to enter the competition for the possibility of winning prizes as well as having their work featured as part of the festival which takes place mid-February.

The competition is primarily aimed at secondary schools, colleges and youth clubs nationwide and is supported by the Department of Health, the HSE, the Ana Liffey Drug Project, Healthy Ireland, the Union of Students in Ireland, the Irish Second- Level Student Union and the Drugs.ie website. Drugs.ie is Ireland’s National Drug and Alcohol Information and Support Website. The drugs.ie site has in excess of 120,000 unique Irish visitors each year and over 500,000 international visitors.

The annual drugs education competition aims to help young people explore and understand various issues relating to drug and alcohol use in Irish society. To enter, young people are asked to research topics or share their personal experiences and create either: a short video, an audio podcast, a news article; or a poster on one of the following themes: (a) Why do some young people use drugs? (b) What impact does alcohol have on relationships? The age categories for entering are: 12-14; 15-17; 18-21; 22-25.

By getting involved, young people can explore the issue of drugs and alcohol from a constructionist learning experience. This can have a more meaningful impact on their own understanding of the issues.

Winners from the four age categories will receive an iPad mini and the overall winner will receive a prize of €2,000. Winners will also have their work published on drugs.ie.

A selection of video entries will feature as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on the 16th of February 2017. Entries will also be considered for publication by the Irish Times Student Hub.

The deadline for entries to the Drugs.ie Media Awards Competition is the 1st of February 2017.

You can find full competition details examples of previous winners at www.drugs.ie/awards

Please contact awards@drugs.ie  if you have any questions in relation to the competition.

 

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On The Reel: Angela Lansbury at ADIFF

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On The Reel were on the red carpet to talk to Angela Lansbury, who was in Dublin to receive a special tribute award at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

“It’s a huge delight to welcome Dame Angela Lansbury to Dublin to discuss her life and career on stage and to accept our Festival Tribute Award, the Volta” said Festival Director Gráinne Humphreys. ”A legend whose first films were the classics Gaslight and The Picture of Dorian Gray, from the chilling The Manchurian Candidate to Disney favourites Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Beauty and the Beast and Anastasia, Dame Lansbury has created an indelible impression on world cinema.”

Chris Totzke stepped in to the shoes of Gemma and Lynn for On The Reel and met up with the  legendary star at the Bord Gais Convention Centre.

 

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Podcast Interview: Risteard O’Domhnaill, director of ‘Atlantic’

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Atlantic is the latest film from the makers of the multi-award-winning documentary, The Pipe (2010). Directed by Risteard O’Domhnaill and edited by Nigel O’Regan, the film follows the fortunes of three small fishing communities – in Ireland, Norway and Newfoundland – which are at turns united and divided by the Atlantic Ocean.

Grace Corry sat down with director Risteard O’Domhnaill ahead of the film’s screening at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival to discuss the mounting challenges the communities face within their own industries.

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Atlantic screens at Cineworld on Thursday, 25th February 2016 at 8:30PM

The 2016 Audi Dublin International Film Festival takes place 18 -28 February 2016. 

Click here for a preview of the Irish films screening at the festival

Click here for the full list of films

 

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ADIFF Review: Anomalisa

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Tom Crowley checks into Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Anomaly- ‘Something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected’

An anomaly is something that our protagonist Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is desperately searching for in Charlie Kaufman’s fantastic new stop-motion animation. Anomalisa is co-directed by stop-motion expert Duke Johnson and is an existential tale of depression, alienation and mundanity.

Michael Stone is a renowned customer-service specialist who flies to Cincinnati to give a speech at a convention. He stays at the Fregoli Hotel. ‘Fregoli’ does sound like the name of a posh hotel, but it is also a rare monothematic delusion. The Fregoli delusion is a rare disorder in which a person believes that multiple people are in fact the same person in disguise. Michael Stone has a variation of this disorder, and in turn while experiencing the film, so does the audience. Everyone’s voice is the same (voiced by Noonan in monotone) and everyone has the same blank face.

This represents Stone’s severe depression. Nothing excites him, people are boring to him. To talk on the phone to his wife and child is a chore for him. He doesn’t seem to like himself or what he has become. He lights up cigarettes almost ceaselessly to accentuate the pointlessness. During his one-night stay at the hotel he chases the past in desperation which only brings him to realise why it is the past.

Then he suddenly finds his anomaly, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Hearing her voice down the hotel corridor he frantically chases her down. Lisa, although quite insecure, is the opposite of Stone. She finds beauty in the small things that life has to offer. She is fascinated by things that Stone finds melancholy. Lisa is a customer service team leader and is instantly infatuated with Stone, a supposed rock star in such a circle. Stone falls in love with her because she is different. He can’t get enough of hearing her voice.

However, for Kaufman, it is clear that this is a tale of depression. Stone’s mental illness becomes readily apparent. This is much to the confusion of Lisa, a breath of fresh air in this deeply existential and at times truly depressing narrative. With these two characters Kaufman endeavours to dissect a fragment of the human condition. When they are together the romance between Stone and Lisa is potent. As individuals, sadly, it could never work.

The humanity within this stop-motion animation is amazing. It is interesting to gauge this aesthetic with our connection to these characters’ unreal human bodies. It reminds one of the audience affiliation with the Operating System Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). In cinema when the body is taken out of the equation audiences have a different understanding and perception of character. Anomalisa certainly wouldn’t have had the same impact if the characters where played by Thewlis and Leigh in the flesh. To take leave from the real provokes unbiased metaphysical thought.

Anomalisa and Her share the same idea of a lonely man searching for the ideal. Kaufman’s long anticipated follow-up to Synecdoche, New York (2008) has been worth the wait as he continues to fuel self-reflection and existential thought in his audiences.

 

Anomalisa screened on 23rd February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February)

 

 

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