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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Broken Song

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DIR: Claire Dix • PRO: Nodlag Houlihan • DOP: Richard Kendrick • ED: Guy Montgomery • CAST: Willa Lee, James Costello. Git, Costello

If you’re on top of homegrown TV, documentaries on the Irish hip-hop scene seem to be a dime a dozen these days but Claire Dix’s feature film debut Broken Song proves there’s nothing to fix (and a few new boundaries to break) when shining a light on a counter culture as fresh and as fluid as ever. We’ve all seen them, heard them and judged them, as harshly as their American counterparts before them, but the artists featuring in this award-winning documentary attain real heart and soul and come to articulate the meaning behind their art as fluently and beautifully as the film that frames them unfolds.

 

Broken Song follows the trials (in one case literally so) and tribulations of Costello, Git, and Willa Lee as they meditate and mediate upon the thin line separating a life of crime or a life of rhyme, where their street poetry has overlapped and why perhaps the former must be left behind to truly pursue the latter. Their chaotic lifestyles are reflected in recording studios, live on stage, outside court proceedings and most succinctly on the streets aligning their homes and havens of North Dublin from which their passions transpired and inspired them to write.

 

It’s worth noting here that the film’s credit lies in the fact that it isn’t concerned solely with hip-hop music. The beautifully photographed opening (courtesy of DOP Richard Kendrick), featuring Costello and Willa Lee diving and floating in slow motion above the depths of Dublin bay, performs as a prologue of sorts proposing that we are going to explore something spiritual, akin to all artists and individuals alike. In other words, that ‘special something’ that calls on us from time to time to express our innermost thoughts in return for a precious moment of catharsis. The stark black and white orchestration also encourages us to leave our stereotypes in the foyer as the people often perceived to be the dregs of society prove to be it’s guttural poets fluent in a unique language to combat adversity.

 

The scenes that follow feature Costello, Git and Dean Scurry (of Working Class Records) engaged in youth work to encourage a new generation of morally conscious artists to be passion and not power-fueled. At first they approach local teens quick to portray a confident, brash and threatening machismo but the filmmakers invest enough time and a respectful distance to allow the gangster persona to dissolve revealing in it’s place self-conscious and self-critical individuals desperate to have their voices heard above overwhelming hardships and our own generalisations.

 

Any posturing for the camera on Willa Lee’s part is also swiftly dispelled as conversations become confessionals of addiction, muggings and extreme violence. He’s wise beyond his nineteen years but past faults and fissures coupled with periods of plain stupidity see him teetering perilously on a knife’s edge. Refreshingly so, he’s not a character we’re prompted to simply love or hate and in one particularly memorable sequence we go from learning the verdict of his ongoing court proceedings to a live performance wherein he serenades his audience with a soulful tune of personal affliction and we, his second audience, are then caught somewhere in the middle of our judgments provoking an interesting collision of thought and emotion. If that wasn’t complex enough there’s a real sense of suspended guilt in his lyrics and we can only hope (by the final curtain) that he learns to do right by the law and achieve his dreams untainted.

 

Scenes with the mentor-like duo of Costello and Git remind us eloquently that music has allowed them and others to transcend any dead-end mentalities imposed upon them. It performs as a ‘beacon’ over troubled waters, a ‘light in darkness’ and reflects in the filmmakers’ own recurring motifs to express a sense of floating above and below water and the fear of drowning (in life and in the industry), a clear and constant danger. If we forget where the world of the narrative takes place it’s presented to us in stark blues and greens, first in a misty veil that slowly dissolves to reveal North Dublin homes and housing estates submerged in water, like paintings in a fish tank to evoke that sense of entrapment and timelessness, of past lives the artists can sometimes sink into and have sought to soar above.

 

In virtue of this, Broken Song is more of a character piece than your run-of-the-mill music doc and despite the talent on screen and the arena of scope, the filmmakers are confident enough to allow moments of silence and quiet contemplation. The emphasis is focused firmly on an art that has helped its practitioners to transcend daily life and strife not to mention its redemptive power as complex characters with complex pasts relate what it means to find something worth living right by.

As a whole the documentary succeeds without falling foul of preachy or overly sentimental discourse and so achieves a refreshingly raw and sometimes uncompromising experience that elevates its subjects in a compelling light.

Anthony Assad

 

70 mins

Broken Song is released on 15th November 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Claire Dix, director of ‘Broken Song’

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Broken Song turns the camera on street poets, hip-hop artists and songwriters from north Dublin. For the young men featured in the film, self-expression in the form of poetry, rap and song has become a spiritual experience. Anthony Assad chats to director Claire Dix about music, redemption and the struggle to find and articulate meaning in an often chaotic world.

 

What lead you to the subject of north Dublin hip-hop scene?

 

Well I knew nothing about the Irish hip-hop scene but I got introduced to it and there was something there in the message of the music and the lyrics and the poetry, and something interesting about what they were saying and how they were saying it. I wanted to find out more about the guys doing it and the more I found out about them the more interested I was.

 

Can you explain the title?

 

Broken Song came after having a working title for a while. It has a double meaning in a way because the rap is almost like a deconstructed song, it’s very staccato and broken down, and the other meaning is kind of a loose reference to how you’re on a knife edge throughout the film. This guy really trying to make it with his music but having all these issues where he might go to prison.

 

The opening sequence incorporates some really beautiful black and white imagery of the artists floating above water in slow motion and becomes a reoccurring motif. What was the intention behind that?

 

I suppose you go down a dark passage in a past life and we wanted these underwater sequences to represent the past. We filmed a lot of the landscape because that was the landscape that inspired a lot of their music. All of these housing estates were going to be featured a lot in the film anyway that show the present day and we thought about using this idea of water to represent the past. Also kids go swimming a lot in Dublin and we knew there would be swimming sequences in the film, so we thought of water as a way of tying memory and the past. Sometimes these things just work, I think some people love it and some people hate it.

 

I loved it. I thought it was great and it caught my attention straight away. You mentioned the exteriors of these north Dublin housing estates, and they are in colour but are kind of veiled in this surreal, misty palette. What was the intention behind that?

 

Richard Kendrick (cinematographer) helped devise an underwatery look to link in with the underwater sequences and the water theme that runs throughout. So he gave it that dreamy feel. And I suppose it comes back to the importance of the landscapes, and we hold for quite a while on these landscapes, because this is where they’re from. These are what inspired the rappers and we wanted to give it this poetic lens. We wanted the viewers to really look at those landscapes, maybe for a little longer than they otherwise might have.

 

It almost looks like a painting, especially when you get used to the black and white.

 

Yeah and Richard Kendrick had a really good eye for that.

 

The opening specifically is really soulful, some say might spiritual. Was that to get the viewers to maybe transcend their notions and stereotypes of hip-hop and north Dublin?

 

I’m glad you mentioned the opening. Costello is actually a very spiritual guy and for him rap and hip-hop is a spiritual experience. He talks about his music as not only an art form but says ‘it’s not me’, ‘it’s beyond art’, ‘it’s my religion’. It has given his life purpose so we wanted to highlight that spiritual poetic element in the opening and set us on that path.

With the Arts Council you are able to experiment a bit with the filming and this was my first documentary but I had that luxury to, if I saw something in my head, to just go with it.

 

Willa Lee is very explicit about his past and current offences, and the music kind of offers him a chance for salvation. As an audience we are never forced to sway in favour or against him, he’s a creative individual but with violent tendencies. Were you worried that viewers would dislike Willa and the documentary would be accused of sensationalising his endeavours?

 

It’s always difficult making a film about a real person because people want be shown something they haven’t seen before and to engage with the character, but then you have to remember that this is a real person who’s only 19 or 20. So I suppose we were conscious about it. When we came to edit we wanted you to get to know him, and we see him going to court but only later find out what he did.

 

People are complex and we weren’t making any judgements. I don’t know what people who walked out of the cinema thought of him but I know him as a person and I think he’s a good guy who did some things in the past that he’s really not proud of and he regrets it every day. But then he did do them.

 

I think you did a good job of making him balanced. One of the artists says he wants to find something to die for, that’s his ultimate wish in life. A lot of the artists have lived dangerous lifestyles but they all seem to believe that their music offers a way out, that in their music is something pure that is worth dying for. Without being arty-farty, is that something you relate to in terms of your own artistic endeavours?

 

I suppose yeah, I love filming and I love stories, whether they are fiction or through documentaries. I love meeting people and hearing their stories. Filmmaking is tough as well, it takes so much out of you, especially with a family, but I think it’s worth it.

 

On the choice of black and white, there are instances where the subjects nearly blend in with their environment, with a lot of the greys overlapping coupled with the depth of field. Was this to reflect that their personalities, their faults, their creativities are all subjects of their environments?

 

It was black and white because again I wanted them seen in an almost poetic way, and that was an idea I had when we were first conceiving the idea of the documentary. Maybe it’s because I love black and white film. But that’s interesting about them blending into the back, I don’t know if that was intentional. We had such talented camera people and their framing was really beautiful. There’s that lovely pan from the darkness onto Willa when he’s getting the tattoo  and that’s beautiful.

Film is such a collaboration. You know how people say ‘Claire did that film’, or ‘a film by…’ I really don’t like that because everyone, Hugh Drumm the composer, all the guys shooting it, Nodlag Houlihan who produced it, Guy Montgomery who cut it, we all made it.

 

Broken Song is released on Friday, 15th November 2013.

 

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From the Archive: Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Claire Dix

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Claire Dix is an award winning writer and director of short films and music videos and also works in documentary TV. After winning the Zebbie for Best Short Film Script for her short film Downpour last year, Steven Galvin caught up with her to find out about her approach to writing.

What did winning the Zebbie for Best Short Film Script mean to you?

It’s always wonderful to win an award but the Zebbie was special because it was the first prize I’ve received for scriptwriting. Members of the playwright and scriptwriters guild voted so that was also a real honour to be acknowledged by other writers.

Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of Downpourfrom idea to script?

The Irish Film Board runs a funding programme called Short Shorts, which they theme each year. When I entered, the theme was ‘Ireland, I Love You’. Sometimes it’s nice to have a framework or to be given a set of rules to work within. I remember at college working on a lot of projects with no theme or without any guidelines and often feeling completely at sea. In hindsight it was good training because that’s how all my projects start these days but Short Shorts was a refreshing break from the open slate.

I wrote two other scripts for the scheme before hitting on the idea for Downpour, which was simply that if you really love something, you love it warts and all. The rain makes Ireland the country that it is and this film aims to celebrate our love/hate affair with it. Downpour has travelled well, winning several awards at festivals both in Ireland and abroad so the rain seems to have struck a chord. Fran Keaveney in the Film Board was extremely supportive during the development process. I have a habit of redrafting and rewriting up until the bitter end, mainly because the script is a living thing for me and I find it hard to stop ideas coming right up until the end of the whole filming process.

So when did you know you wanted to write scripts?

I started writing stories and prose when I was very young and I have a collection of fantastically embarrassing poems and short stories at home about endangered animals, orphaned fairies and chocoholics. The best or worst example from this era is a poem that was published in Ireland’s Own about autumn. The inspiration came mainly from a thesaurus I found at home and the discovery of writery-sounding words like ‘russet’ and ‘burnt umber’. Thankfully the poetry came to an end but I continued to write stories. When I started working in television after college I began to adapt some of these stories into scripts. My writing had always been visual and I was interested in creating atmosphere and what I now know to be a cinematic feel in my stories. Then I saw Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas and I thought – I want to do that.

How do you make your characters come to life?

To begin with I usually base my characters on real people. They eventually take on a life of their own and evolve depending on their relationship with each other and to the plot but in order to get a real sense of them I first have to see them as someone I already know and have a feel for. I’ve started a lot of scripts based on a character that I want to develop only to reach a dead end with the plot. So I have a lot of fully realized characters waiting in the wings for the right story. There’s one in particular who is based on one of my grandparents and I have to find a script for her soon.

Sometimes I think the best characters are ones that can be slightly intimidating at first or ones that have intriguing personalities that take a little while to figure out. I’d like to work more with these kind of characters but it takes time and pages to develop this kind of depth and so far I’ve only written shorts for the screen. Some characters you know almost too well and there isn’t enough space to express them in. This is where great actors can come to the rescue, however.

Downpour was an exception to how I usually start a script, as it was based more on the concept of seeing the rain in a new light, or learning to appreciate something that we usually complain about, rather than beginning with a character. I work a lot with improvisation in rehearsals. We usually start with figuring out the subtext of each scene and understanding what the character wants. Once that’s determined the actor is free to change dialogue and stage direction until we’re all happy that the scene works. This is one the most exciting parts of the process for me but also one of the most daunting because it doesn’t always work the first time.

After writing two successful short films what’s one of the most important things you think you’ve learned about writing?

The main thing I’ve learned is that you have to put your head down every day or on the days you’ve planned to write regardless of whether or not you’re in the mood. Also, I think it’s important to write about what you want to write about and not about what you think will win funding. The worst feeling is when you realize that your idea has already been done or you come across a similar concept in another film. If you’re still hooked on your own idea I think it’s still worth exploring because it could take you on a journey or down a road that you couldn’t have imagined if you hadn’t started writing.

I’m in pre-production on a short at the moment for the Film Board called Alia about an Afghan family living in inner city Dublin. It’s a story about how a family struggles to stay together and understand each other in this new culture they find themselves in. This script evolved out of a completely different story about a psychic and a young Dublin man. Two of the characters in this script grew into the main characters in Alia. I can’t remember where along the line that happened only that I kept writing and eventually realized that the story I thought I was writing had changed into something else.

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Short Film of the Week: Watch ‘Free Chips Forever!’ by Claire Dix

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Becky and her Dad are invincible chip robbers. Nothing can stand in their way except big brother Tom…

Written & directed by Claire Dix
Produced by Freya Mackenzie

Awards include Best Irish Short at the Corona Cork Film Festival, Best Drama at the Fastnet Short Film Festival and the Friese Award at the 12th Hamburg Short Film Festival.

Free Chips Forever! was funded through the Filmbase/RTÉ Short Film Awards.

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4th Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival an Amazing Success

(Winner of Best of Festival Ruan Magan and Michael Barry on left)

The village hall in Schull was packed to the rafters this Sunday for the Award Ceremony of the 4th Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival. Over 200 people were there to see Director Ruan Magan win the Best of Festival and Best Drama awards for his film Angel.

Ruan was presented with a cheque for €2,000 and a beautiful Pat Connor sculpture by Title Sponsor Michael Barry of Barry & Fitzwilliam. Best Irish Short Film Downpour, directed by Claire Dix was presented with a cheque for €2,000 by Greg Dyke. Best Young Filmmaker Caleb Slain from America, who directed The Lost and Found Shop also won €2,000. Best in Cork, The Hatch directed by Enda Loughman & Mike Ahern were presented with a cheque for €500 by the Cork Screen Commissioner Niall Mahony.

Following the Award Ceremony, the wrap party celebrations carried on into the small hours at the newly opened Courtyard on Main Street. ‘The over whelming sentiment is that it has been by far the most successful festival yet and we are already looking forward to next year, said Chairman Maurice Seezer.

Congratulations to all our winners, who were announced last night at the Awards Ceremony.

BEST OF FESTIVAL

Cash Prize of €2,000 and an original Pat Connor sculpture

Angel – Ruán Magan – 9m/Ireland/Drama/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST IRISH SHORT FILM

Cash Prize of €2,000

Downpour – Claire Dix – 4m/Ireland/Drama/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST YOUNG FILMMAKER (U22)

Cash Prize of €2,000

The Lost & Found Shop – Caleb Slain 9m/USA/U22 – WINNER

 

BEST IN CORK

Cash Prize of €500 – Sponsored by Cork County Council

The Hatch – Enda Loughman & Mike Ahern – 12m/Ireland/Drama/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST DRAMA

Cash Prize of €200

Angel – Ruán Magan – 9m/Ireland/Drama/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST COMEDY

Cash Prize of €200

Small Time – Ged Murray – 12m/Ireland/Comedy/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Cash Prize of €200

Bei Yao Wan, Shanghai – Shiyan Feng – 11m/USA/Documentary/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST EXPERIMENTAL

Cash Prize of €200

Alterego Y La Máscara Del Miedo

Martha Cristiana Merino – 9m/Mexico/Experimental/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST DANCE

Cash Prize of €200

Painted – Duncan McDowall – 5m/Canada/Dance/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST ANIMATION

Cash Prize of €200

Mutatio – León Fernandez – 8m/Mexico/Animation/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST DIRECTION

Cash Prize of €100

Chit Chat – Piet Sonck 13m/Belgium/Drama/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST SCREENPLAY

Cash Prize of €100

The Voorman Problem – Mark Gill and Baldwin Li – 12m/UK/Comedy/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC

Cash Prize of €100

The Hatch – George Brennan – 12m/Ireland/Drama/Over 18 – WINNER

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cash Prize of €100

Downpour – Piers McGrail – 4m/Ireland/Drama/Over 18 – WINNER

 

www.fastnetshortfilmfestival.com

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