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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ADIFF Irish Film Review: Traders

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Colm Quinn exchanged punches with Traders, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

It’s tempting to call Traders an Irish Fight Club. And it wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But the truth is the stakes are much higher for the members of the trading world than they were for Fight Club’s. You weren’t allowed to talk about Fight Club. You’d be lucky to even get the chance to talk about trading.

And while Fight Club was about the emptiness and lack of fulfilment gained from rampant consumerism, Traders is about when the force behind that consumerism, rampant capitalism, goes wrong.

In the lead role is Love/Hate’s Killian Scott, playing Harry Fox. Supporting him as Vernon Stynes is Game of Thrones’ John Bradley. When their financial company goes bust after losing €13bn, the guys are out of jobs and anyone associated with their former company is considered toxically unemployable. Harry takes a job in data entry for nowhere near the money he needs to cover his mortgage repayments. Vernon, on the other hand, decides to start a business.

Vernon is full of stats, facts and figures including the depressing one that leads him to his new business idea. For every 1% the economy loses there’s a 0.8% increase in suicide.

After failing to get a web design company off the ground he comes up with the much darker idea of trading. Using the deep web, he creates a site where two Traders can connect. They agree to sell all their possessions and convert all money into cash. They then meet in a pub and from there head to a secluded spot where they dig a grave. Once that’s done, they fight to the death and whoever’s left breathing buries the other and goes home with all the cash. Vernon markets trading as better than killing yourself.

The story is tense and gripping and always keeps you guessing. You want to know what will happen in the end. Unfortunately, without spoiling anything, the film descends into farce towards the end. This got laughs from the audience at the Dublin premiere duringc but it wasn’t the best way to end things.

Bradley steals the show in his portrayal of Vernon. Most people know him from Game of Thrones where he plays the pleasant, honourable and ever-loyal Samwell Tarly. He is completely different in Traders. He is a weasel, a snake and bloody brilliant.

Killian Scott, along with starring in the lead role, also narrates. Narration is something that should only be in films if the makers are sure it adds something or that they can’t do without it. In Traders it adds nothing and they could have done without it.

Although it’s a serious film there are some funny parts and in particular, some fantastic one-liners. Another thing the writers and directors Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy did very well is pick the right locations. They reflect a depressing time in Irish history but look good and are great places for death fights. Traders go for fights in ghost estates, abandoned buildings and disused quarries. This is a film inspired by the crash and the desperation it caused, and is still causing, in some people even 8 years later.

All in all, Traders is a good film and one which could have broad appeal. Even though this is in English, I really wouldn’t be surprised to see an American remake within a few years.

 

Traders screened on 2oth February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February)

 

 

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Interview: Aodh Ó Coileáin, director of ‘Fís Na Fuiseoige’

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Sean Finnan talks to filmmaker Aodh Ó Coileáin about his documentary, which explores the connection between people and place, as expressed in Irish poetry and local lore.

Fís Na Fuiseoige screens at the Light House Cinema on Wednesday, 24th February 2016 at 6:15PM as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 

 

Where did the idea of the documentary come from?

Well, the company Counterpoint Films was contemplating a film on sense of place. When I became involved, in March 2013, the canvas was extremely wide. We were looking at English language short stories, English language drama, English language poetry, Irish language poetry. After a number of processes we decided to place the focus on the literary tradition on this island, which is poetry through the medium of the Irish language, in that it can be traced right back to the early centuries – the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries; the monks writing poetry in places like Skellig and Glendalough. Of course the tradition is intact right up to the present day, as illustrated in the film, with some of our most brilliant Irish language poets… or just poets full stop. Paddy Bushe, Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Biddy Jenkinson, Jackie Mac Donncha and Louis de Paor.

At the start of the film you quote lines from the first century AD Irish poet Aimhirgin, who names the place before he steps foot on it. That idea that poets have the power to create a sense of identity with the landscape.

Yes. West Limerick poet Michael Hartnett said that the very act of poetry is a rebel act. And this idea of naming Patrick Kavanagh called the “love act”. There is a strong tradition of naming places in Ireland, like Úirchill an Chreagáin and Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, and these place names being used in poetry as if to validate a place in the poet’s head.

It reminded me of Yeats and how he uses Irish language place names. These Irish words have a magic around them, whereas the English feels flat. Because of their authenticity they bring something else to his poetry.

I think the very sound of the words were attractive to Yeats. Also, he had a certain appreciation of the history and lore and poetry in itself attached to these place names. They had value in their own right to be included in their Irish form. Louis de Paor mentions in the film that the translation of these places was a translation into gibberish. That Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Tipperary have no meaning. They are Anglicisations of the Irish place name and that the project of the coloniser was to separate the people from the place by calling the place something else.

That runs through the whole documentary, that fracturing, that loss of identity. That it was the biggest act of  dispossession. Even more than the taking of the land physically was the taking of the identification of the land.

That is the central theme in the film. If you take John Montague’s poem A Lost Tradition, he speaks of:

All around, shards of a lost tradition:
From the Rough Field I went to school
In the Glen of the Hazels. Close by
Was the bishopric of the Golden Stone;
The cairn of Carleton’s homesick poem.

He goes on to say, and Professor Declan Kiberd quotes it in the film, that:

The whole landscape a manuscript
We had lost the skill to read,
A part of our past disinherited;
But fumbled, like a blind man,
Along the fingertips of instinct

and if these codes, this ability to read the landscape, was taken from the people then it wouldn’t be so difficult to control the people or to colonise the people.

The film takes on a further significance in the fact that we’re in the centenary of 1916.

When one considers that from 1890 onwards that there was a cultural revolution in the country and that it was people like Patrick Pearse, Thomas McDonagh, Joseph Plunkett and James Connolly, who were all poets. 4 out of 7 of the leaders of the Rising were poets. Much of their project was to retake or re-seize Ireland’s cultural heritage and to promote it. By the end of the day, of course, by 1915 and the following year they realise that they needed an armed uprising as well as a cultural uprising.

This film re-ascertains the Irish people’s connection with the land, the Irish people’s love of the land, and why these men thought it was worth going out and doing what they did… because what they did didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.

And today?

The fact that we have put on the screen six very brilliant Irish language poets makes a statement in its own right – what if the field be lost; all is not lost. The tradition continues. While it is small, while maybe few enough people read the poetry in English, and even much fewer in Irish, at least it is there and these people still feel it is still worth writing in Irish.

On that point, I should mention that the support we got from TG4 and the BAI shows that there are still idealistic people around who believe in films like this because they are intrinsically good and are therefore worth making. That, in its own right, 100 years after the Rising, is evidence that the importance of the cultural is still very much alive in Ireland. 

Fís Na Fuiseoige screens at the Light House Cinema on Wednesday, 24th February 2016 at 6:15PM 

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

 

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Interview: Johnny Gogan, director of ‘Hubert Butler: Witness To The Future’

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Johnny Gogan’s new documentary Hubert Butler: Witness To The Future, traces Kilkenny essayist Hubert Butler’s journey through Stalinist Russia of the early 1930s, through pre­war Vienna, where he worked to smuggle Jews into Ireland, to his exposure of the hidden genocide of half a million Orthodox Serbs in World War2.

Using recently declassified documents, Gogan’s highly visual and expansive film explores why Butler “was fifty years ahead of his time” and “one of the great Irish writers”

Johnny Gogan told June Butler how the project came about.

 

I heard about Hubert Butler around the time he had been published in the late 1980s. I hadn’t read him. Three years ago I was in Belgrade and I attended a lecture by the poet and publisher Chris Agee. He was talking about Hubert’s writings on Archbishop Stepinac, the wartime Croatian Catholic Archbishop in Zagreb. Hubert wrote a lot about this period and about Stepinac as a central character – and he actually met Stepinac when he was subsequently imprisoned for treason and collaboration with the Ustaše regime. I was talking to Chris about this and a few lights started to go off my head.

Butler was very interested in the local world, the power of the local, and very much wary of that centralised phenomenon that you get in the western world and in big cities.  I myself have been based in North Leitrim for the last 20 years, so I kind of understood that aspect of his work. I had also touched on that in my film Mapmaker back in 2001, which is about the tensions in a border community in the years after the ceasefires. That was quite influenced by what had happened in the Balkans in the ’90s.

Hubert Butler had in many ways predicted what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s and saw the roots of its violence and the intensity of the violence in what happened in Croatia in the Second World War. You can see it for example in his essay ‘The Artukovitch File’ and in an unpublished essay I found called ‘The Trial’ – he talks about seeing how the seeds of future treason lay in what had happened in the Second World War, particularly in Croatia – and how that had been, in many ways, swept under the carpet.

He wrote exhaustively and very skilfully about that period. He was in the extraordinary position where he came in for criticism from both sides. Butler was obviously really critical of the Catholic Church’s role in the genocide of half a million Orthodox Serbs in Croatia during the Second World War. But he was also critical of Tito and the way the Communists were dealing with the aftermath of that. They didn’t deal with the guilt and the responsibility, the way that Germany had been confronted with it. So he writes that in 1946 I see the seeds of future treason in the way these crimes are being tried and dealt with.

And then in Ireland he’s also being criticized. He confronts Ireland at the time with what has happened in Croatia and nobody wants to hear. The State and the Church conspired to silence him. And then you have Peadar O’Donnell, one of Ireland’s foremost radicals, telling him to go easy on the Communists. Butler was a very brave, very moral, very informed man.

What I love about Butler, and what I’ve always felt strongly about, is that Ireland should have a much wider international vision for itself beyond obviously a relationship with Britain and the way we have subsumed our international vision into the EU. We hide behind the EU a lot. Butler was saying that Ireland has a role to play as a new nation, as a postcolonial nation, able to put forward a different view of the world and that was potentially shared by many other countries that got their independence and liberation around the same time. That is still very relevant. That vision he developed in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s is still very true and the kind of provincialism that Ireland was slipping  into at that time is still very true – obviously with some exceptions… but we like to think of ourselves as very cosmopolitan. But actually we are quite provincial and quite derivative in our thinking. This is why from an Irish perspective I wanted to make this film. I also found that I hadn’t read a lot or seen a lot about what he was writing about. There are sensations you have yourself but then you see someone articulate them and you just think wow.

 

Hubert Butler: Witness To The Future screens at the Light House Cinema on Monday, 22nd February 2016 at 8:30PM 

 

 

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

 

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ADIFF Irish Film Review: The Truth Commissioner

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Alan Shalvey reports from Declan Recks’ The Truth Commissioner, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

The Truth Commissioner is a hard-hitting drama dealing with the dark history of Northern Ireland. Henry Stanfield (Roger Allam) stars as the title character, looking to bring justice to the families of loved ones who perished during the Troubles. Of particular interest is the case of Conor Roche, a young man killed by the IRA whose killer has remained unnamed. Threats and corruption ensue as Henry tries to unearth the identity of the murderer, and the film builds to a memorable climax.

The Truth Commissioner begins powerfully, showing the time leading up to Roche’s death, leaving a looming doubt over the audience as to who it was that pulled the trigger. What is most striking in the opening minutes is both the score and the cinematography. The minimalist approach taken by Niall Byrne for the film’s score brilliantly adds to the underlying tension that exists within the movie. This musical approach merges elegantly with the opening shots. Of particular note are the rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror of the car bringing Conor to where we presume will be his death. The interesting use of religious imagery highlights the devastating effects religion had in Northern Ireland, taking decades for wounds to heal.

The movie is beautiful to look at, and also features stellar acting from the cast. Of particular note are the performances of Tom Goodman-Hill, playing Jake Marston, and Conleth Hill, whose performance as Johnny Rafferty oozes class. Goodman-Hill is arguably the star of the show however. His solid performance is central to the overall construction of the films atmosphere. Acting as the messenger between Henry and those who are threatening him should the truth come out, Jake makes it very clear to Harry the level of unwanted attention he is drawing to himself, and uses methods both fair and foul to detour him from his job.

The fleshing out of Henry’s backstory also helps add a degree of gravitas to the character, and the relationship between his daughter and Conor Roche’s sister (Simone Kirby) serves as an important motivation for his character. Having had a struggling relationship with his daughter most of his life, and being rather keen to make amends, it serves as the counterpoint to his offers from the men who want their involvement in the murder to remain unknown.

Overall, the film is a good production, with the opening period and final thirty minutes being particularly noteworthy. The writing is very solid and well crafted, and the finished product, while not being perfect, is well worth a watch. As the truth commission begins to tackle the case of Conor’s death, the tension and drama of the film reach new heights, and the scenes in which witnesses testify about Conor’s murder are arguably the best in the film. A powerful commentary on the devastation terrorist groups can leave on society, the film, despite perhaps being slightly week around the middle section, is well worth watching.

 

 

The Truth Commissioner screened on 21st February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February)

 

 

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Competition: Win Tickets to ‘We Are Moving – Memories of Miss Moriarty’ @ ADIFF

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We Are Moving – Memories of Miss Moriarty is an intimate portrait of Joan Denise Moriarty, a visionary who overcame enormous odds by doggedly following her dream of bringing ballet to every corner of Ireland. A pioneer of early 20th century Irish dance, Joan Denise Moriarty dared to create a uniquely Irish form of ballet inspired by her love of nature and Irish folklore. Her life’s work has been largely overlooked since her death. A divisive figure, she was accused of fabricating her professional dance training and of misrepresenting herself as a vanguard of Irish ballet. Her personal life has also been subject to much scrutiny over the years and remains a contentious issue for those who knew her. Despite such controversies, Joan Denise Moriarty has left behind a remarkable legacy of dancers and dance lovers who may never have found ballet without her influence. This is a celebration of Joan Denise the artist, the dancer, and the woman who was best known, loathed, and loved as Miss Moriarty.

The screening is followed by a Q&A with director Claire Dix

We have 2 pairs of tickets to give away to the screening at the IFI on Monday, 22nd February 2016 at 6:00PM . 

To be in with a chance of winning email filmireland@gmail.com with We Are Moving in the subject line. The winners will be announced at 5pm Sunday, 21st February. Please include a contact number in your email.

We Are Moving – Memories of Miss Moriarty was made through Reel Art, an Arts Council scheme designed to provide film artists with a unique opportunity to make highly creative, imaginative and experimental documentaries on an artistic theme.

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ADIFF Irish Film Review: Sing Street

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Ailbhe O’ Reilly sings along to John Carney’s Sing Street, which opened this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

You could be mistaken for thinking that John Carney’s latest film Sing Street is essentially pitched as High School Musical set in Dublin in the ’80s.  Not exactly the premise of a great film, but you would be wrong as the movie is a real gem.

Carney has already gotten some notice for the low budget Once and the more mainstream film Begin Again – both of which I liked, but I believe that Sing Street is his best yet. The cast of mainly unknowns – apart from the lead Cosmo’s parents played by Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy and his brother Jack Reynor (in a truly awful wig!) – rise to the task and give the film a naturalism that is rare in musicals.

The lead Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and his friend Eamon (Mark McKenna) are particularly strong as the film’s Lennon and McCarthy – with some beautiful song writing scenes that are becoming a staple in Carney’s films.

The story follows Cosmo as he is forced to move to an inner city school, Synge Street CBS, when his parents are experiencing money problems. As with all coming-of-age stories, there is of course a girl that Cosmo wants to impress, so he then naively decides to form a band with his school mates in order to woo her.

What makes Sing Street unique and gets the audience on side is that Carney doesn’t forget he is in Dublin in the ’80s, it is unpretentious and the director uses the Irish sense of humour to great effect. There are many laugh out loud moments poking fun at the decade’s style, the fickle lives of teenagers and the awkwardness of adolescent’s love lives.

The film is also more realistic than most musicals as the issues of school bullying, cruel teachers and family problems are all dealt with as part of teenage life.

The film’s soundtrack is brilliant and you will find yourself toe tapping throughout to both the original score and eighties hits.

Sing Street has a great pace and a fantastic climax that will find you leaving the cinema smiling after a truly excellent Irish film. Carney is going from strength to strength and Hollywood is beginning to take notice.

 

 

Sing Street screened on 18th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 -28 February) 

Irish films at ADIFF

 

 

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Interview: Dave Tynan, writer/director of ‘The Cherishing’

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Steve Gunn talked to Dave Tynan about his short film The Cherishing, which is screening at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival as part of After ’16, a once-off shorts initiative to commemorate, celebrate and ruminate on 1916.

Commissioned by Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board, nine short films went into production in the summer of 2015. ADIFF is hosting the World Premieres of these nine new films.

 

Last year the Film Board said that instead of the usual short film funding scheme, they invited filmmakers to give their response to 1916.

Signatures is the normal scheme and last year’s signatures was After ’16 – it happened really fast. Obviously, I didn’t have Rising scripts lying about. The brief came out in February 2015. I went to Chapters and bought a lot of books on the subject to set things in motion. The fact that I didn’t know that much about the Rising was never going to stop me putting in for the scheme. You’ve got to make things. You are only as good as your momentum.

 

So you went off and read about 1916, wrote a script and then sent it to the Film Board, who gave you the green light. And you went and shot it.

That was basically within a year.

 

Tell us a bit about your take on the Rising.

It’s a story that hasn’t been told before. The idea for the film came from my research. I came across something that mentioned that the local sweet shops were the first to be looted when the Rising started – there was a lot of looting. I thought that was interesting.

There is a great book called Dublin Tenement Life by Kevin C. Kearns. It’s the most interesting non-fiction book I have read. It’s not an academic book. It’s interviews with survivors of the old Dublin tenements. Reading where people came from to where the Rising came into their lives was fascinating. These were hard times. Your average family might have 10 people in a room the size of a small bedroom. They were already at war. The husband could well be away fighting for the Brits in the Somme or wherever – it was a better paying job than working on the docks. Every mother lost at least one child. Mothers and kids were just left there to rot. One in three people in Dublin lived in a tenement. They became the subject of the film.

In the film, there’s a close-up of a sheep’s head boiling in a pot that I’m really happy we got in this film because that is what the diet was – dripping, stale bread and the like. So if you are used to all of that, of course, you go for the sweets.

 

It’s almost like a glorious coincidence in your life that your interest in history has met with an opportunity in film.

And very quickly because that script got written at the end of February last year. That is the quickest turnaround I’ve ever had. My previous short Rockmount took 3 years to put together from thinking about to making.

We’ve tried not to repeat ourselves from previous work. There’s not much dialogue in it. It’s trying to tell pictures. It’s made for cinemas.

 

 

The Cherishing screens as part of the  IFB After ’16 Shorts at the Light House Cinema, Sunday 21st February 2016 at 3:30PM

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

Click here for a preview of Irish Film at ADIFF 2016

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Competition: Win Tickets to ‘Further Beyond’ @ ADIFF

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In Further Beyond, Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor take as their point of departure the compelling 18th Century figure, Ambrose O’Higgins, and attempt to retrace his remarkable journey from Ireland to Chile. Key locations in O’Higgins’ life – a lake in Sligo, a field in Meath, the port of Cadiz, the sea, and the edge of a snow-covered mountain in the Andes – are visited and reflected upon in the hope that something might be revealed, as if these very locations might contain clues.  Having long dreamt of making a biopic of O’Higgins, this wayward and wry documentary is the filmmakers’ attempt to realise this dream through a personal voyage into the idea of the cinematic location.  However, as they speculate on the idea of place and what O’Higgins embodies, the filmmakers continually get sidetracked by a competing story of immigration and displacement. Gradually, and not without humour, these intertwining narratives uncover ideas about the transformative powers of travelling, as looked at through the peculiar prism of the Irish experience. (Filmmakers’ statement).

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers.

We have 2 pairs of tickets to give away to the screening at the IFI on Friday 19th Feb 2016 at 6:00pm. 

To be in with a chance of winning email filmireland@gmail.com with Further Beyond in the subject line. The winners will be announced at 5pm Thursday, 18th February. Please include a contact number in your email.

Further Beyond was made through Reel Art, an Arts Council scheme designed to provide film artists with a unique opportunity to make highly creative, imaginative and experimental documentaries on an artistic theme.

 

Reel Art: Further Beyond (Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor) screens at IFI on Fri 19th Feb 2016 at 6:00PM

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