‘I didn’t… I wasn’t…I amn’t’ @ Manchester Film Festival

Laoisa Sexton short film I didn’t… I wasn’t…I amn’t has been selected for the Manchester Film Festival, screening on March 4 at 6pm.

Starring Aidan Gillen, Neili Conroy and  Laoisa Sexton, the film is a social realistic, dark blue un-romantic comedy set in Dublin. The film explores the social contract of human endeavour between men and women in the paradox of modern life, and the thirst for human connection as we follow one woman’s desire to attain it.

This is Laoisa’s debut film, which she wrote, directed and performs in. It was financed by a crowdfunding campaign, on a minuscule budget. The production took place over a period of five days in Dublin. The film was shot by Irish cinematographer Trevor Murphy.

The film is also set to screen at Dingle International Film Festival on March 23rd @ 7:30pm.

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: You’re Ugly Too

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DIR/WRI: Mark Noonan • PRO: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland  • DOP: Tom Comerford • ED: Colin Campbell • DES: Neill Treacy • MUS: David Geraghty • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Lauren Kinsella, Jesse Morris

 

Aidan Gillen stars as Will, a man released from prison to look after his young niece Stacey (Lauren Kinsella) after the death of her mother, Will’s sister. Escaping Dublin to a sleepy rural town, Will and Stacey attempt to foster a relationship and start afresh. However, they’re plagued by setbacks. Will struggles to find a job, Stacey’s more modern attitudes don’t mesh with Will’s old-fashioned nature and recently Stacey has developed narcolepsy in the wake of her mother’s death which ends up stopping her from being able to attend school. However, the duo befriend a neighbour Emilie (Sainte) who agrees to tutor Stacey while they work out the school issues. And so begins a quiet, subtle exploration of their attempt to build a family out of this less-than-ideal situation.

This is a decidedly mixed film. On balance it probably largely falls on the ‘good’ side of the line but how good kind of depends on who you view the protagonist as being. Initially, it seems like Will is the main player but Stacey gets just about as much screen time and development. Now this is obviously not a complaint but (for this viewer at least) it feels like the film pulls in two contradictory directions depending on who you feel you should be rooting for. Will seems to represent an outdated, idealised stereotype of Ireland. He’s a bit of a ‘rogue’, a real ‘character’, he endlessly spouts dad jokes and eye-rolling platitudes, which he clearly believes represent real wisdom. He seems constantly surprised and a little affronted by Stacey’s independence and generally more ‘modern’ views. This even extends into the narrative as, if you choose to look at it from a certain angle, the story can be summed as; old-fashioned, chivalrous man’s-man saves foreign beauty (Emilie) who falls for him. Now, ultimately the story proves to not be so clear cut but that element never really leaves and at no point do you feel like the film is necessarily against Will’s old fashioned expectations of the world. Indeed, a late reveal of why he was in prison in the first place only reinforces it.

This is all in contrast to Stacey, who it must said, is absolutely the best thing about the film. Kinsella’s performance is flawless. A subtle, quiet but strong and frequently humourous presence who absolutely carries the film. And as a character Stacey feels far more in line with ‘modern’ Ireland but again, it’s unclear if the film is trying to say that she should learn from Will or vice-versa. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s intentionally neither of those and the film is merely presenting both sides without comment and leaving it ambiguous. This kind of detached ambiguity is often a persistent issue with a lot of modern Irish cinema, here though it almost works even if ultimately it means that neither character grows particularly much from their experiences. At any rate it feels more believable and truthful than if this had become a droopy bag of shmaltz and clichés.

Otherwise, in terms of the Good; Tom Comerford’s cinematography is crisp and at times striking, managing that most difficult of tricks by making rural Ireland look neither like a picturesque tourist board commercial or a bleak, desolate wasteland. The supporting cast is strong and the dialogue can be very funny (Stacey’s at any rate) and while the score is sparse, what little of it there is is inoffensive even though it sounds like the music from an Apple product’s ad.

On to the Bad however…

Now, despite recent evidence (read: almost everything since The Wire), I’m still not willing outright to call Gillen a bad actor but he is not good here. As an actor he has a tendency of acting with a capital ‘A’. He doesn’t so much vanish into a role as wear it like a very overt costume. You can see him straining below his own veneer to show how good he is at being, in this case, a working-class Dub just out of prison. It really is quite bemusing to watch scenes of him and Kinsella having conversations, their polar opposite acting styles clashing as much as characters do. This brings us onto the other major issues, the dialogue. Now, while it can be good (as I said earlier, mainly Stacey’s) there is a clear attempt here at naturalism that quite often overshoots. Sometimes this ends up being a bit incongruous (Stacey nonchalantly asking ‘So what’s the story with you being a drug addict?’) but other times enters truly cringe-y, flatout bad territory. The attempt at stark realism despite the presence of slightly generic elements further reinforcing the weird non-tone the film seems to be going for. The problem, really, can be summed up in a single, almost dialogue-free scene of Will going to a local young-people’s party where he tries to sell them drugs and have a good time. It is a deeply weird scene, awkward to watch, serves no real point and is mercifully short. It’s difficult to articulate exactly why it feels so off but in motion it embodies all the film’s negatives.

This is by no means a bad film and there is definitely enough good to keep your interest. Lauren Kinsella can join the growing list of young Irish actors that show real promise and the unusual enough dynamic between the leads means that it’s never boring. But the missteps with both the writing and Gillen really are hard to ignore and lead to a very uneven experience on the whole.

Richard Drumm

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
80 minutes

You’re Ugly Too is released 24th July 2015

 

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Review: Still

Aiden Gillen in the film Still

 

DIR/Wri: Simon Blake • PRO: Colette Delaney-Smith, Zorana Piggott • DOP: Andy Parsons • ED: Agnieszka Liggett • MUS: Alex Grey • DES: Mayou Trikerioti • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Jonathan Slinger, Elodie Yung, Amanda Mealing, Sonny Green

 

Adapted from his own play Lazarus Man, screenwriter Simon Blake’s first full-length directorial feature Still merges portent social realism with menacing psychological thrills in this grim and affecting film. Set in a bleak North London milieu, the film explores the unprovoked and interminable harassment experienced by a grieving man at the hands of a sinister and truculent teen gang. Although not a critique on gang culture per se, this unpropitious portrait of gang violence at micro-level does reflect existing social trends of metropolitan gang crime at macro-level, creating an apocalyptic prognostication of social catastrophe at the mercy of paralysing gang cultures. Still encapsulates a radical shift in fear seeping through society; the increasing social threat embodied by armed hunters in hoodies who stalk and terrorize victims with new types of weapons for the contemporary age.

 

Photographer Tom Carver (Aiden Gillen) lost his son in a hit-and-run accident over a year ago. Unable to assimilate his grief and divorce with a nugatory photographic career, he turns to alcohol and drugs to obliterate his overwhelming torment. On his way back from the off-licence one night, he innocuously bumps into teen-gang leader, Carl (Sonny Green), initiating a chilling chain of events, which culminates in a horrifying decision for marked man Carver and presenting an opportunity for ultimate redemption and revenge.

 

Although it may appear ambiguous at times as to whether Still is a one-man character analysis on psychological trauma or a highly-stylised noirish thriller, it is nonetheless a grippingly immersive and socially valuable film, which is situated at the intersection of relevant socio-cultural and psycho-behavioural concerns. Blake’s spasmodic shift in the narrative’s trajectory from the exploration of personal loss and professional frustration to personal survival and vengeance via sadistic emotional torture by a young antagonist pushes the parameters of rationality to its upper limits, challenging and probing the audience with the boundaries of their own moral consciences.

 

Aidan Gillen is spellbinding as the man and father whose descent from self-pitying grief and abandonment into dehumanized, soulless aggression thrusts the narrative forwards at an emotionally electrifying rate. Gillen portrays Carver as a somewhat latter-day Hamlet; an essentially benevolent man who struggles to retain his sanity as he seeks to apprehend his bizarre, fragmented reality through grief and psychological hostility. Submerged in irrepressible chaos and entangled between bravado and self-abhorrence, Gillen pierces Carver’s fear, paranoia and failure with melancholy, bitterness and cynicism, making it difficult to ascertain who or what Carver predominantly grieves for; his son, a squandered photographic career or his sanity. That he loses a child whom he realises he never knew and that his artistic interpretations on the world have failed to ignite hold him up as the epitome of human failure, fuelling and blinding his motivation for retribution. Carver is as indecisive and hesitant as he is reckless and impulsive; characteristics that have severe consequences for those around him and his endurance of abject misery through sadistic threats and violence becomes the angst-driven catalyst he needs to either morally administer or repudiate revenge.

 

Still’s small-scale, low budget skilfully creates effectively high production values which alternate between bleak and dehydrated North London cityscapes and Carver’s flat, his own psychological graveyard; spaces that pulverize and devour any remnants of Carver’s lucidity. Blake expertly toys with pace which he aligns with Carver’s wavering mental state, scenes swinging between prolonged tension-fuelled stillness, evoking the grieving process and decent into alcoholism, to brittle and palpation-charged surges of the false highs of substance abuse and psychotic revenge. Appropriating a film noir style of the 1950s, low-key lighting and darkly lit scenes marry with blindingly lurid, neon hues of 1970s neo-noirs through an uncontrollable drug-fuelled psychosis, heightening Carver’s suffocation, claustrophobia and delusory elation. Rather than mimic the current vogue for fierce electro-pop in contemporary urban cinema, Blake revisits the evocative and moody jazzy soundtracks of noir, which reflect Carver’s many interchangeable moods and gives a more sadistically seductive feel to the narrative.

 

Still marks an impressive full-length directorial debut from Blake and frighteningly palpable turns from Aidan Gillen and Sonny Green. The fusion of film noir conventions with a portrait of a bereaved man’s descent into psychological disintegration and an inadvertent social commentary on gang youth culture should be slightly chaotic, misplaced and overambitious but it is rather a combination of these elements, set within a North London social realist context, that makes the film all the more disconcerting, and convincing; Carver in North London, could be anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

 

 

     Dee O’Donoghue

 

97 minutes

Still is released 14th May 2015

 

 

 

 

 

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‘You’re Ugly Too’ Nominated at Berlin

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Mark Noonan’s film You’re Ugly Too starring Aidan Gillen has been nominated for the Best First Feature Award at the Berlin International Film Festival next month, where the film will have its World Premiere.

The film stars Aidan Gillen as Will, who is released from prison on compassionate leave to care of his niece Stacey, after the death of her mother. An odd couple of sorts, they leave the city behind to pursue what they both hope will be a fresh start in the sleepy surroundings of the Irish midlands. The two bicker and fight as they adjust to their new life together and make tentative steps towards becoming an improvised family.

You’re Ugly Too will screen in the Generation Kplus category, which is aimed at children from the age of fourteen. 

You’re Ugly Too was produced by John Keville and Conor Barry for Savage Productions and was filmed in counties Dublin and Offaly

The 2015 Berlin International Film Festival takes place  5 – 15 February.

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Cinema Review: Calvary

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DIR/WRI: John Michael McDonagh  • PRO: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, James Flynn • DOP: Larry Smith • ED: Chris Gill • MUS: Patrick Cassidy • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Brendan Gleeson, Kelly O’ Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Dylan Moran, Killian Scott

 

Village priest Father James Lavelle finds himself offered up as a sacrificial lamb when a victim of sexual abuse, now grown, decides that killing an innocent priest will send a better message than disposing of a guilty one. Granted seven days to “put his house in order”, Lavelle embarks on a stumbling Stations of the Cross through an unrepentant parish only too happy to parade their sins before him, and trade every attempted benediction for yet another barb.

John Michael McDonagh’s much-anticipated follow-up to first feature The Guard, Calvary certainly aims to shake audience expectations, evidenced scarcely five seconds into the opening scene when our faceless parishioner delivers his ultimatum.  However, while certainly sharing the biting humour and self-awareness of its predecessor, the irreverence here is aimed not so much towards tweaking the nose, as it is towards a close and often uncomfortable scrutiny of spirituality in the modern day.

What follows is a search for meaning that meanders between comedy and tragedy, anchored by Gleeson’s most compelling performance yet as a shepherd doomed to spend his (potentially) final days tending a flock of black sheep. A widower and former alcoholic, Lavelle was world-weary before he came to the cloth and finds himself growing increasingly frustrated as his attempts to offer comfort and guidance are consistently thrown back in his face by residents of an unnamed Sligo village that often seems McDonagh’s version of a small-town Sodom.

Filling out alongside Gleeson, McDonagh’s cast boasts a rogues’ gallery of Irish talent – Dylan Moran’s embittered banker, Killian Scott’s aspiring sociopath and Kelly O’ Reilly as Lavelle’s grown daughter – all worthy of particular note. Solid performances are tied together by a haunting score and enough gorgeous landscape shots to make any Fáilte Ireland employee weep shamrocks.

While the meandering script and a slightly cluttered cast contribute to a third act that begins to lose momentum, any doubts are quickly dismissed by a confident and compelling conclusion. The critic’s knee-jerk reaction to pan McDonagh’s sophomore effort as self-indulgent is ultimately stifled by the sense that a few bum notes do little to impact the overall piece, and that this notion of throwing the baby out with the bathwater is exactly the type of reductive cynicism that Calvary rails against.

If The Guard is a deconstruction of genre and our notion of “Oirishness”, Calvary is the follow-up that aims to strip away the cynicism that has become so embroiled in Irish spirituality simply to see what is left. Half-critique, half-homage but feeling all-organically Irish, Calvary will likely secure a place amongst one of Ireland’s most talked-about films  and, if nothing else, affords us yet another opportunity  to bow down in worship of the craggy island that is Mr. Gleeson’s well-worn visage. Hallelujah.

 

Ruairí Moore

15A (See IFCO for details)
100 mins

Calvary is released on 11th April 2014

Calvary– Official Website

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On The Reel on the Red Carpet at JDIFF Irish premiere of ‘Calvary’

Check out the video report from the Red Carpet at JDIFF’s Irish premiere of Calvary from our bestest buddies On The Reel in association with Film Ireland.

Lynn Larkin glammed up to meet the stars as they rocked into Dublin’s Savoy cinema for the Irish premiere of John Michael McDonagh’s new film, Calvary, which opened this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Lynn chats to the film’s star, Brendan Gleeson, about being a total legend, and director John Michael McDonagh about assembling such a great cast.

Lynn also gets the low-down on Gleeson from co-star Marie-Josée Croze, asks Dylan Moran about boozing and riding, and chats to Killian Scott and Aidan Gillen about their bromance.

And be sure to catch special guest John Hurt bust a move on the red carpet…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHM-0rTzs9E

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Cinema Review: Mister John

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DIR: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy  • PRO: Fran Borgia, Alec Christie, Joe Lawlor • DOP: Ole Bratt Birkeland • ED: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy • DES: Steven Blundell, Daniel Lim • Cast: Aidan Gillen, Claire Keelan, Zoe Tay, Michael Thomas

This noirish drama from Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor (aka Desperate Optimists) is a UK, Irish and Singaporean co-production, and a beautifully made, compelling film that will quietly and steadily possess you. The stunning visuals, shot on 35mm by Ole Birkeland (a collaborator on almost all Desperate Optimists’ films), music from Stephen McKeon and a slowly developing narrative combine to provide the Molloy and Lawlor signature characteristics of their debut feature Helen (2008) and their Civic Life series of short films (2004-2010). Mister John, however, takes these filmmakers from artist cinema into more accessible mainstream territory without compromising any of the quality or complexity that they have been known for.

An apparently simple narrative belies a multifaceted treatment of big, universal ideas. It involves a fish-out-of-water story where London businessman Gerry Devine (played by Aidan Gillen) travels to Singapore on the sudden death of his brother John, which comes at a crisis in his own relationship back home. The plot provides an opportunity for the protagonist to either deal with this turning point, or to avoid it entirely. In Singapore the bereaved wife, Kim (played by Zoe Tay), and her daughter, look to him for solace and even as a replacement – a theme that plays out through the repetition of a Chinese myth that a water spirit holds the drowned soul in the water until another arrives to replace him.

At the same time Gerry is plagued by memories of the rupture in his own relationship so that the assumption of the mantle of his dead brother (literally by wearing his clothes) provides him with an escape route from the turmoil his wife’s infidelity has caused. This idea of a divided self, and “the double” as a solution, becomes sexually charged through varied suggestions of enhanced virility and sexual freedom throughout the film. Gerry seems poised to take on his brother’s business, “Mister John’s” – a hostess bar that offers sex to its clientele and is now bereft of a man at the helm. Kim’s steady and gentle seduction goes beyond the sexual, however, by providing a parallel but opposite family to the one Gerry has left in London, and by suggesting the possibility of redemption and the restoration of his fractured masculinity. None of the narrative strands are overworked or very obvious, all are open to individual interpretation, which makes for a very satisfying viewing experience, one that stays with you even after the film itself has faded.

The performances are uniformly excellent, although Gillen has to stand out as having crafted a remarkable and finely tuned character study that allows as much to be unsaid as is overtly stated in the film. This combination of narrative, visual style and performances creates a richly layered work that is distinctly contemporary in tone, while at the same time suggesting age-old archetypal themes of ritual catharsis, symbolic rebirth and mythical doubling that provide a compelling and nuanced study of fluid identity in a shifting, globalised world. See it for its beautifully lush photography, the quality of its production values and its very modern reworking of eternal themes.

Eileen Leahy

15A (See IFCO for details)

95 mins
Mister John is released on 27th September 2013

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chzFHPSf_3o

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Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh preview: Mister John

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The 25th Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July, 2013)

Mister John

Thursday, 11th July

Town Hall Theatre

19.00

Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises) stars in Mister John, a story of belonging, loss and identity set in South East Asia. Directed by Irish husband-and-wife team, Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, the couple build on a stimulating body of work with this, their new feature set to screen at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh.

Christine Molloy told Film Ireland, ‘We are delighted that the Irish premiere of Mister John will take place at the Galway Film Fleadh. This is our first visit to the festival and we are very much looking forward to presenting our new film to an Irish audience as part of the 25th Film Fleadh’.

Dealing with his wife’s infidelity and the loss of his brother, Gerry Devine (Aidan Gillen) travels to Singapore to discover the exotic life his brother had built for himself out there. He visits his brother’s bar, Mister John’s, and meets his brother’s widow. Discovering a foreign land of opportunity, will Gerry return home to his troubled life with his wife and daughter, or will he stay and slip into his brother’s persona?

Tickets are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777 or at www.tht.ie.

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‘The Note’ to premiere at Fleadh

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Fail Safe Films have announced the world premiere of the short film The Note at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh on Saturday, the 13th July 2013 at the Town Hall Theatre.

 

The Note, written and directed by Ciaran Creagh (Parked) stars Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones, Love/Hate) and Ruth McCabe (The Snapper) in the lead roles.  Significant crew attached included Director of Photography Owen McPolin (Mr. Selfridge, Secret State, Whitechapel), editor Dermot Diskin (Raw, Love/Hate, Stella Days) and composer Denis Clohessy (His & Hers).  Post production was carried out at Windmill Lane.

 

The Note tells a story about redemption, centering around Lars a middle-aged alcoholic, who through his addiction has lost everything, most importantly his wife and son. Now he carries around ‘The Note’, a constant reminder of his childhood in which he was subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of a Christian Brother. Day by day he finds solace in the bottle as he quietly observes from a distance his son, now a young boy, longing for the life he’s thrown away

 

This is Ciaran’s directorial debut whose previous feature (as a writer) Parked was a major hit at festivals around the world and was a winner at the Fleadh in 2011 (best first feature).  Parked was released in cinemas in 2011/2012 in Ireland and abroad.

 

Ciaran decided to try directing and was very fortunate with the cast and crew that levitated to the film which was self funded.  “The Note” has already been purchased by RTE and Simon Doyle, producer at Fail Safe Films has received really positive feedback and is hopeful that “The Note” can be as successful as “Parked” was.

 

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Interview: Phil Harrison, director of ‘The Good Man’

 

This article first appeared in Film Ireland 143 Winter 2012.

The Good Man is screening as part of the 11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival on Saturday, 16th February 2013 at Cineworld at 4pm.

Phil Harrison will attend the screening.

Book tickets here or drop into the Festival Hub in Filmbase in Temple Bar.

 

Steven Galvin caught up with filmmaker Phil Harrison to find out more about his thought-provoking debut feature.

Michael is a young Irish banker, whose life begins to unravel after causing a stranger’s death in an accident. Sifiso is a teenager living in a shack in a Cape Town township, dreaming of escape. When their stories unexpectedly collide, their impact on one another’s lives is far greater, and more surprising, than either could have imagined.

Shot both in Belfast and South Africa, The Good Man stars Aidan Gillen and is written and directed by Phil Harrison.

To start off I’ve got to ask you how as a writer you came up with the idea of interweaving two so seemingly distant stories. It’s quite a risky concept.

In my early twenties I did what a lot of white westerners do, and volunteered in an orphanage in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, just outside the city of Pietermaritzburg. I was struck, even at the time, by the problematic nature of ‘charitable’ involvement by westerners like myself, engaging with the ‘problems of Africa’–oversimplification, naïveté (on my part), a fundamental failure to engage with or even understand the political nature of people’s lives and struggles.

 

I was subsequently involved in various community development projects back in Ireland, and became increasingly interested in the role of creativity in protest and struggle: how people use photography, poetry, film, music to articulate ideas of identity which move away from and subvert those foisted on them – this is certainly true where I grew up, in Belfast, and I began, after doing a Master’s degree in postcolonial literature and theology, to explore this in an African context. I spent a bit of time traveling in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2007 – Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Ghana – just meeting artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers. I was also reading the histories of the likes of Seydou Keita, Djibril Diop Mambety, Lewis Nkosi, Frantz Fanon, all artists who are subtly, and occasionally not so subtly, playing with notions of identity and authority, and helping critically dismantle social patterns and languages of oppression. The idea for the film came very simply – to creatively bring together the two post-conflict societies I was most familiar with and interested in and see what would come out of the engagement.

 

You crowd-funded this particular film. Can you tell us how this worked out for you?

I wanted to try something a little different. It’s a fascinating time for independent film and independent arts in general. We built a model to raise $100,000 (400 shares at $250 each). This allowed us to build a model for returns in which everyone involved in the project owns part of it: 40% of any return on the film now goes back to the investors, 30% to the various production companies, 20% to the cast & crew and 10% back into the township in which we filmed in South Africa. It’s just about the most holistic model I’ve found in terms of financially structuring a project like this, and I’m delighted we were able to pull it off. I think people who invested were buying into the model and approach as well as the film itself. We had a deliberate policy in South Africa, for example, to give significant opportunities and positions of responsibility to young crew from the townships. It’s been a properly collaborative engagement.

 

Once we’d raised our target, both NI Screen and the IFB came on board with some additional support, which helped push the budget a little further – in total we made the film for around £100,000.

What tips can you share with budding filmmakers looking to use crowd-funding to produce their film?

Having a very clear and well structured model for potential returns is crucial. So is having a story that’s a bit different, good previous work (it doesn’t have to be a lot – I only had Even Gods) and an approach that goes beyond just filmmaking. We were committed to building a community around the project, especially in South Africa – working to give opportunities within the townships, etc. This approach, of course, is just what worked for us – I don’t think there’s a blueprint, and it will be interesting and exciting over the coming years to see how independent films creatively build platforms to bring themselves into existence!

Returning to the film – it deals with an Africa that has achieved political freedom without economic liberation.

Yes – this is a crucial theme, and one which I was determined not to see simplistically. There is a lot of misrepresentation and misperception of ‘Africa’ in the West, and it is very easy to be reductionist. Africa is diverse and varied, over fifty countries with differing histories and cultures. But there are similarities with regards to the aftermath (perhaps, the ‘ongoing’ aftermath) of colonialism, and Frantz Fanon has been one of the key critics in this regard. His withering critiques both of the failure of the new African leadership and of the ongoing exploitation by the former colonial powers – and the new ones – are still pertinent fifty years after his book The Wretched of the Earth was published in 1961.

 

While the film certainly engages these themes I didn’t want to be simplistically prescriptive. I’ll not give away too much of what happens in the film, but there certainly is no easy solution offered to the profound tragedy or tragedies that takes place. In some ways I feel the film is a critique of previous western films about Africa, like Blood Diamond and The Constant Gardener, who portray the major ‘problem’ as being rogue capitalists. If only these capitalists would behave properly, these films seem to say, things would be okay. I’m not convinced, and The Good Man attempts to engage with why.

Could you tell us a little bit about your time shooting in South Africa and the team you worked with there – obviously it was important to capture a realistic portrayal of the modern tensions that exists there.

Our budget meant we had to shoot very quickly; we had 6 days to film there  and the whole film was shot in 14 days. We worked with a local production company called Jet Black, who had plenty of experience filming in the townships and who were keen on our upskilling and community approach; and we built a crew and a cast as much as possible from the township in which we were filming (Gugulethu, just on the edge of Cape Town). South African townships are notoriously dangerous; we were not naïve about the dangers or difficulties but we ultimately found people extremely welcoming and generous. I spent a lot of time in South Africa over the past few years and built relationships there; especially with the Anti-Eviction Campaign, a grassroots organisation that exists to support people under extreme pressure with regards to housing, electricity and water, etc. The problems in South Africa post-apartheid are huge in this regard; there are over 400,000 people on waiting lists for houses in the Western Cape alone, and houses are being built at a rate of maybe 15,000 a year.

 

The tensions have been growing significantly over the past few years and indeed the decision to tell this story grew out of watching this happen and watching the way in which people who protested government inaction on this front were often treated as criminals.

I have to admit that the presence of Irish construction in South Africa and the impact it has on communities there was something I wasn’t aware of myself and this ignorance is quite fundamental to the film itself.

The left hand knows not what the right hand does. In a sense that is our contemporary dilemma; I would even argue that is our psychological dilemma.

 

The film has a great central performance from Aidan Gillen, who displays Michael’s emotions and internal conflict with tremendous skill.

Yes. I was delighted to have Aidan on board. We managed to get the script to him and he was intrigued by it, and generous enough to work within the limitations of a smaller-scale, independent project. I felt from the outset he would be perfect for the role. In a sense his character in the film unravels slowly without huge events to ‘act’ this out. He had to carry that in his body, a sense of energy increasingly tightening and unsettling. I think he does that incredibly well in all his roles; it’s a kind of nervous, contained energy one cannot help watching.

 

Michael naturally engages in self-blame which batters his self-esteem because he knows he should’ve acted differently – he should’ve been ‘the good man’. Then, trying to make amends, he strives to be ‘the good man’. But the notion of good proves problematic.

That’s the crux of the film in a nutshell. It was crucial to avoid being didactic, I wanted just to tell two personal stories. But in a world where connections exist in such real but fragmented ways, what can ‘goodness’ really mean? It’s a question that admits no easy answer. Perhaps posing the question in an unusual way can be both creatively and socially engaging. That at least is the gamble the film takes.

 

Steven Galvin

This article first appeared in Film Ireland 143 Winter 2012.

The Good Man is screening as part of the 11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival on Saturday, 16th February 2013 at Cineworld at 4pm.

Phil Harrison will attend the screening.

Book tickets here or drop into the Festival Hub in Filmbase in Temple Bar.

 

 

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Interview: Aidan Gillen on his role as Aidan in Jamie Thraves’ ‘Treacle Jr.’

Aidan Gillen as Aidan in 'Treacle Jr.'

Steven Galvin chats to Aidan Gillen about his role as Aidan in Jamie Thraves’ ‘Treacle Jr.’, currently playing in Irish cinemas.

A middle-aged man, Tom, walks out one day on his wife and baby boy and his seemingly happy life with no explanation. He opts to live on the streets of London. Alone in a park at night he is set upon by a gang of violent thugs, in his bid to escape he accidentally runs into a tree. In A&E Tom meets an extremely happy, fast-talking individual, Aidan, the complete opposite of Tom. Too polite, or too weak to ask him to leave him alone Tom tries to get away from him but to no avail, Aidan sticks to Tom like glue. Tom reluctantly becomes involved in Aidan’s life and he quickly realizes that this child like man clearly has his own problems, except Aidan can’t see them, his shiny optimism blinds him at every turn, even from his ‘girlfriend’ the dangerous and volatile Linda.

How did you prepare for a role that, let’s say, is not the most conventional?

The script was put together by Jamie following a series of workshops with Tom (Fisher, who plays Tom) and Rian (Steele, who plays Linda) and a couple of others involved along the way. He had an idea that he wanted to make a film about somebody who was really optimistic… irrepressibly optimistic. And have that person put together with someone who is the opposite.

A lot of things happened on the way. At one point we were working on a completely different story with a set of completely different characters. It was quite open. Basically the theme was there and that was it.

I had an idea to base my character on someone I know – and it is based on him. I think often when actors are asked to invent a character they are often – not always – based on people they know or a composite of people that they know. In this case I did base it on someone I know because they perfectly fit the bill.

When you say the story was open and that it found itself – is that how Jamie works? I know you two have worked together before?

It is kind of the way he works. I worked with him in 2000 on a film called The Low Down and it was a similar process although by the time I came to it, he’d already been through the workshops stage. I was there at the script stage. What we filmed was pretty much what was there on the script although there were some scenes improvised here and there. When people saw The Low Down a lot of them thought it was all improvised – that’s the feeling that it has. People have said the same about this film. Some of it is but it’s mostly all scripted – maybe 10% improvised.

The openness of what we do is probably a trademark of Jamie’s but once he has the idea that between yourselves you’ve come up with he’ll take it and solidify it. It is a collaborative process up to a point but it’s mostly him.

There’s an interesting dynamic between the two lead characters – a meeting of opposites.

There is that theme of someone who has it all and doesn’t seem to want it and someone who doesn’t have a lot but is happy with that. Essentially the thing is about people looking out for each other. Jamie is quite a humane filmmaker. He’ll always look for the good in people, the humour in painful situations.

 

Tom (left) & Aidan (right)

 

There’s very much a sense of place to the film…

The film was filmed around Camberwell and Walworth Road in South East London – they’re quite neglected places that were pretty much to the forefront of the areas that were being torn up in London a couple of weeks ago. But they are loving portraits of those areas.

Jamie seems to be using these areas in almost a ‘guerilla’ way, which gives it a particular energy.

There wasn’t any money for paying for anywhere – location wise. We didn’t do anything that we didn’t have permission for though. I think the council in the area we shot was quite helpful and gave us permits and stuff. As far as getting to film in shops and cafés and stuff we’d just go in and ask. But stuff was done on the fly. Across the board it was favours, filming in friends’ places. No messing about. The whole thing was shot pretty fast – three and a half weeks.

You mentioned earlier about basing your character on someone you know? I suppose not so much in England, but in Ireland many people will know of that person – Aidan Walshe…

I don’t know of anyone in England who’d know Aidan Walshe. We’re certainly not using it as a kind of selling point but still acknowledge that that is where that character comes from. You know, it’s not his story – but it’s his characteristics. It’s totally Aidan Walshe – and that’s quite obvious. Jamie was also aware of Aidan and was inspired by his way of dealing with the world. I’m not sure if he’s mentioned in the credits for the film. It’s more as an inspirational figure that Jamie wants to give him credit. But it’s not his story. His story would make a very good film. Like Andy Kaufmann in Man on the Moon and Larry Flynt – all these people are quite different, but it’s how they deal with life. Aidan’s had quite an interesting struggle in his life and has triumphed and I find that interesting and heroic. But we’re not saying this is the the Aidan Walshe  story because it’s not – but I’d be up for doing the Aidan Walshe story if anyone wants to it…

There’s the weird side to all this as well as people who know it’s based on Aidan Walshe may think that everything we say is supposed to relate to Aidan Walshe’s life… and it doesn’t. I did bring Aidan into it. I’ve known him for a long time, since I was 10 and I did put him wide to it. And I’m glad we did it. He’s our hero. We really wanted to get it across that this guy is really up against some shit and by dealing with it in the way he deals with it he comes out the winner, the clever one, the unsullied one if you like. He helps this guy Tom; he’s what brings him back to life.

… They both help each other.

But essentially it is Tom’s story. Aidan is kind of a ‘show-off’ role. But it is all about Tom. He’s the straight man if you like. I found his story quite moving. People respond to Tom’s plight – leaving home, tearing up his credit cards, wandering around a park at night. People are terrified for him – that he is at the end of his life. Then his life takes another turn when these ‘wild cards’ enter his life.

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Cinema Review: Treacle Jr

The Master of the Universe explains his plans

DIR/WRI: Jamie Thraves • PRO: Rob Small, Jamie Thraves • DOP: Catherine Derry, Nigel Kinnings • ED: Ross Hallard, Tom Lindsay • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Tom Fisher, Riann Steele

Treacle Jr is director Jamie Thraves’ third feature – a tightly-scripted slice of urban survival. The film opens with Tom (Tom Fisher), an anonymous man seemingly escaping a settled past that weighs heavy upon him. For whatever reasons, he has decided to turn his back on life and finds himself wandering homeless in London. The over exuberant Aidan (Aidan Gillen) enters his life offering him the top bunk in his flat which is for rent. Aidan’s ‘girlfriend’ Linda (Riann Steele) proves to be an explosive ingredient in the mix and the dysfunctional threesome become four with the introduction of ‘Treacle Jr’, a kitten Aidan adopts.

Treacle Jr is a story about how people deal with the lives they are given and how physical escape is often not the ideal option but rather that a certain freedom can be attained by escapism and transcending one’s surroundings and, in Aidan’s case, finding a ‘heaven’ that Tom doesn’t believe in.

The three performances are exemplary: Steele’s street-wise aggressive girlfriend is startlingly fiercesome, while Fisher’s marvellously understated portrayal provides the perfect foil for Gillen’s controlled mania that never tips over into slapstick achieving a perfect level of empathy winning over the viewer’s sympathy and admiration. His infectious optimism in the face of abuse and rejection makes for a moving black comedy that, while unsettling at times, is an uplifting story with a human heart.

For certain Irish audiences, the inspiration for Gilen’s Aidan is obviously Dublin’s own Aidan Walshe, self-confessed Master of the Universe and eccentric music mogul. It’s not a film about his life but rather a character that is inspired by him. Thraves himself has said that ultimately it was Walshe’s optimism that inspired the film.

Steven Galvin

Treacle Jr is released on 26th August 2011

Treacle Jr – Official Website

 

Click here for an exclusive interview with Aidan Gillen

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WAKE WOOD

Wake Wood

DIR: David Keating • WRI: David Keating, Brendan McCarthy • PRO: Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell • DOP: Chris Maris • ED: Tim Murrell •DES: John Hand • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Ruth McCabe, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly

One of the first films to fly the newly reformed Hammer banner, Wake Wood is an Irish horror film quite unlike any you’ve seen before. In a lot of ways, it can be accused of being a magpie, picking little bits from other movies but the big picture can only be described as a true original.

The story sees a young couple, David and Louise devastated by the death of their daughter Alice who, in a horribly disturbing scene, is mauled to death by a dog. They move to the small rural town of Wake Wood, where David gets a job as the local vet to a town full of farmers. Soon after they move to the town they notice strange things happening and unusual behaviour within the community. After accidentally witnessing a ritual involving farm machinery, blood-letting and rebirth, they realise that there’s more to this town than meets the eye. They are told that the ritual can bring someone back from the dead but only for three days and the dead person must be dead less than a year. Despite the fact that Alice is dead a little longer than that they take their chances and go ahead with the ritual. As expected, things don’t go as planned for the reunion with their daughter.

The most memorable thing about this film is its very visceral use of gore. The deaths her are all painful to behold (especially unpleasant is a farmer being crushed by a bull) and the detailed look at the machinations of the ritual is commendable and my favourite part of the film.

The chemistry between David (Gillen) and Louise (Birthistle) leaves a lot to be desired and the breakdown between them feels slightly contrived but the film is at its strongest when exploring the supporting characters such as the evil-eyed Peggy O’Shea (Ruth McCabe) and the creepy ringleader Arthur (Timothy Spall). The supporting cast are wonderful and Ella Connolly does a great job with the dual task of charming us and scaring the pants off us.

From the genuinely disturbing imagery to the inner domestic strife, this film is unsettling throughout. David Keating’s direction doesn’t mean to make us jump, it dares us to keep watching. I must say I was distracted by the film’s tendency to indulge in homage to other films a bit too much, particularly Don’t Look Now and Pet Sematary but there is plenty to enjoy in this solid horror film. It is action packed and the special effects are top-notch. If you enjoy a good splatterfest then this will be for you. However, if you like your horror films subtle then perhaps avoid Wake Wood.

Charlene Lydon

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)
Wake Wood
is released on 25th March 2011

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qS_L06Mub40[/youtube]

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JDIFF: Treacle Jr

Treacle Jr

Cineworld. 25th February

The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Treacle Jr was introduced to a full house at Cineworld by its director Jamie Thraves on Friday night accompanied by Aidan Gillen, having last worked together in 2000 on The Low Down. Thraves spoke of his desire to maintain complete control of this project and make a film on his own terms, wanting to be “the only executive producer in the room so I could just have battles with myself.’ The only way to do this was through self-funding, so with the help of friends and family (and a re-mortgaged house) Thraves got enough money together to make Treacle Jr.

It’s always a delight in film festivals to discover a work you knew nothing about that proves itself to be a gem, and Treacle Jr certainly is. The film opens with Tom (Tom Fisher), an anonymous man seemingly escaping a settled past that weighs heavy upon him. For whatever reasons, he has decided to turn his back on life and finds himself wandering homeless in London. The over exuberant Aidan (Aidan Gillen) enters his life offering him the top bunk in his flat which is for rent. Aidan’s ‘girlfriend’ Linda (Riann Steele) proves to be an explosive ingredient in the mix and the dysfunctional threesome become four with the introduction of “Treacle Jr’, a kitten Aidan adopts.

Treacle Jr is a story about how people deal with the lives they are given and how physical escape is often not the ideal option but rather that a certain freedom can be attained by escapism and transcending one’s surroundings and, in Aidan’s case, finding a ‘heaven’ that Tom doesn’t believe in.

The three performances are exemplary: Steele’s street-wise aggressive girlfriend is startlingly fiercesome, while Fisher’s marvellously understated portrayal provides the perfect foil for Gillen’s controlled mania that never tips over into slapstick achieving a perfect level of empathy winning over the viewer’s sympathy and admiration. His infectious optimism in the face of abuse and rejection makes for a moving black comedy that, while unsettling at times, is an uplifting story with a human heart.

The character that Aidan plays is inspired by Aidan Walshe – Thraves said that it’s not a film about his life but rather a character that is inspired by him as a character. He added that ultimately it was Walshe’s optimism that inspired the film.

Steven Galvin

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