Irish Film Review: Coming Home

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DIR/PRO/DOP/ ED:Cathal Kenna  MUS Gareth Ebbs, Conor Ebbs, Carol Anne McGowan, White McKenzie, Gavin Mulhall  CAST: Clare Waldron, Gerard Ward, Vera Finnegan, Tom & Evelyn O’Brien, Jimmy Hayes, Mary Lloyd

Coming Home, Cathal Kenna’s debut feature documentary, tells five different Irish emigrant stories. The stories are told by the emigrants themselves. There is no voice-over narrative. It is a style of documentary reminiscent of Alex Fegans’ work on Older than Ireland and The Irish Pub.

The five emigrants at the core of the film sometimes call on a supporting cast to help tell their stories. There are also some interesting off-screen characters present in the narrative. The film manages to encapsulate something of the essence of the Irish diaspora’s experience of emigration through these five interweaved stories.

The title does not apply in the literal sense. It is as much about looking back at the Ireland these people left behind as it is about a physical journey. In one case it is about a journey away from home and in another it involves a decision not to return.

Ireland has embraced emigration since the time of the Famine and before. It is embedded deep in our DNA. It is surprising that more emigration stories have not been told through film. A recent exception was Brooklyn, a 1950’s emigration story that seemed to strike a chord with many Irish people at home and abroad.

Cathal Kenna has given us both a historical and a contemporary take on emigration in this film which he directed, produced, shot and edited. It was clearly a labour of love.  Each story spans several years from 2012, when he commenced filming, up to this year. The time span allows an emotional story arc over that time for each of the participants. The conclusions to the five stories are not predictable.

The entire project appears to have been achieved without any funding from the Film Board, the BAI or the broadcasters. It is a tribute to the determination of Kenna that he succeeded in making a feature-length documentary with such meagre resources virtually single-handed. In post-production, the director added a score with the assistance of five credited musicians/ songwriters. The music complements the stories sensitively.

I would imagine Cathal had to rely a lot on ‘the kindness of strangers’ throughout this project. The credits under the title “Special thanks to:” run to six pages on the press information.

Despite the absence of funding and the small crew (one!), Coming Home is very ambitious. The stories play out in several continents – all of which are seen on location.

The success of the film lies in the candid engaging nature of the participants and in the diversity of their stories. It was quite a feat to source people who committed to sharing their unfolding and sometimes painful personal stories with the director over a number years. The journey was usually difficult and always fraught with uncertainty.

For most of the older emigrants, there was no choice but to leave in order to secure employment. Most of those featured still regard Ireland as the homeland, albeit in a conflicted sense. All were troubled by leaving those left behind. There is a sense that those who remain may miss the emigrants, but they cannot understand the emigrant’s pain unless they experience it at first hand.

There is an enduring emotional hurt bound up with being an emigrant. At the core of that hurt is loneliness and longing. The story of Clare Waldron, a woman in her 50s returning to Ireland after 30 years is particularly poignant. It would be unfair to divulge the content of the stories in any more detail.

Brian Ó Tiomáin

PG (See IFCO for details)

83 minutes

Coming Home is released 18th November 2016

Coming Home – Official Website

Film screenings:

 

 

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Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film 2015

One of our favourite times of the year is upon us once more with the return of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Running from 19 – 29 March 2015, the 13th edition of the festival delivers another diverse and exciting programme of films from across the world. And, as always, amongst this year’s programme is a fantastic line-up of Irish films, which we’ve gathered below for your convenience, beginning with the festival’s opening film The Price Of Desire, Mary McGuckian’s beautiful depiction of Irish designer Eileen Gray.

Get booking and get watching.

 

 

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The Price Of Desire (Mary McGuckian)

Thursday, 19th March 2015

8:15PM

Savoy

Mary McGuckian’s The Price Of Desire,  about Irish designer and architecture pioneer Eileen Gray, opens this year’s festival. Starring Orla Brady, Vincent Perez and Francesco Scianna, the Irish-Belgian co-production is the controversial story of how Eileen Gray’s contribution to 20th century architecture was almost entirely effaced from history.

Mary McGuckian, Orla Brady, and Vincent Perez will attend the screening.

 

 

 

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Coming Home (Viko Nikci)

Saturday, 21st March 2015

4:00PM

Light House Cinema

Angel Cordero was charged with attempted murder following a stabbing in The Bronx . Despite the evidence, Angel was convicted and served thirteen years in prison. Seven years later, Dario Rodriguez confessed to the crime. We follow Angel as he is released into a new age of social communication and eventually confronts the man who took away his freedom. But he soon realizes that facing Dario is not his greatest challenge. Angel discovers that the most important thing taken away from him was the relationship with his daughter. At its heart, this is a story about a father’s journey to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

 

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From the Dark (Conor McMahon)

Light House Cinema

Saturday, 21st March 2015

8:30PM

From the Dark centres on a young couple on a road trip through the Irish countryside who encounter an ancient force of evil.

Filmmakers will attend the screening.

Book tickets here

 

Reviewed here

 

 

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Eat Your Children (Treasa O’Brien, Mary Jane O’Leary)

Sunday, 22nd March 2015

2:00PM

Screen Cinema

Eat Your Children is a road-trip quest by two friends who emigrated from Ireland during the financial crash of 2008 and who have now returned to probe Ireland’s so-called acceptance of debt and austerity.

The film uses formal observational footage, voxpop, archive material and a visual-essay style to create a rich and accessible tapestry of audiovisual material. It immerses the viewer into world of the protagonist-film-makers – two Irish women living and working in London and Barcelona who return home to find themselves uncovering the modern incarnations of Irish identity, post-colonialism, nationalism, globalization and resistance.

Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary will attend the screening.

Book tickets here

 

 

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The Great Wall (Tadhg O’Sullivan )

Monday, 23rd March 2015

6:00PM

IFI

Filmmaker’s statement: ‘The Great Wall has been completed at its most southerly point.’ So begins Kafka’s short story ‘At the Building of the Great Wall of China’, and so, at Europe’s heavily militarised south-eastern frontier, begins this film.

In the shadow of its own narratives of freedom, Europe has been quietly building its own great wall. Like its famous Chinese precursor, this wall has been piecemeal in construction, diverse in form and dubious in utility. Gradually cohering across the continent, this system of enclosure and exclusion is urged upon a populace seemingly willing to accept its necessity and to contribute to its building.

From Europe’s edges, The Great Wall moves across various unidentified fortified landscapes, pausing with those whose lives are framed by borders and walls. Moving inward toward the seat of power, the film holds the European project up to a dazzling cinematic light, refracted through Kafka’s mysterious text, ultimately questioning the nature of power within Europe and beyond.

The filmmakers will attend the screening.

Book tickets here

 

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Talking to My Father (Sé Merry Doyle)

Tuesday, 24th March 2015

6:00PM

IFI

Talking to my Father features two voices from two eras each concerned with how we as a nation understand the architecture that surrounds our lives. Modern architecture in Ireland reached a high point in the early sixties and one of its most celebrated and influential figures was Robin Walker. Robin studied under le Corbusier in Paris as a young graduate and later worked alongside Mies van der Rohe in Chicago. His return to Ireland in 1958 coincided with the emergence of an aspiring modern nation recovering from years of stagnation and emigration. Robin Walker became a key agent in this nation-building process.

A quarter of a century after his premature death, Simon addresses his father again and explores the legacy of his life’s work.

Book tickets here

Reviewed here

 

 

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Miss Julie (Liv Ullmann)

Tuesday, 24th March 2015

6:15PM

Cineworld

Over the course of a midsummer night in Fermanagh in 1890, an unsettled daughter of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy encourages her father’s valet to seduce her. A co-production from Norway/UK/Ireland/France, Miss Julie stars Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell.

Book tickets here

 

 

 

 

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All About Eva (Ferdia Mac Anna)

Wednesday, 25th March 2015

6:00PM

Light House Cinema

All About Eva is an old-school thriller about a young woman seeking revenge upon a wealthy racing magnate whom she blames for destroying her family.

The filmmakers will attend the screening.

Book tickets here

 

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After the Dance (Daisy Asquith)

Thursday, 26th March 2015

8:00PM

Light House Cinema

Filmmaker Daisy Asquith tells the very personal story of her mother’s conception after a dance in the 1940s on the remote west coast of Ireland. Her grandmother, compelled to run away to have her baby in secret, handed the child over to ‘the nuns’. Daisy’s mum was eventually adopted by English Catholics from Stoke on Trent. Her grandmother returned to Ireland and told no-one. The father remained a mystery for another 60 years. Until Daisy and her mum decided it was time to find out who he was. Their desperate need to know takes them on a fascinating and moving adventure in social and sexual morality and the fear and shame that Catholicism has wrought on the Irish psyche for centuries, and connecting them with a brand new family living an extraordinarily different life.

Daisy Asquith will attend the screening.

Book tickets here

 

 

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Dare to be Wild (Vivienne De Courcy)

Thursday, 26th March 2015

8:30PM

Light House Cinema

Dare to be Wild is the story of one woman who sowed the seed of change… It tells the extraordinary and inspiriting true story of Irishwoman Mary Reynold’s journey from rank outsider to winner of a Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show. Mary grew up with a strong affinity to the environment and a belief that somehow it was her destiny to use her talent as a designer to put environmental issues centre stage. Wild follows her journey from naive and impressionable ingenue to a impassioned and pioneering designer.

The filmmakers will attend the screening.

 

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Glassland (Gerard Barrett)

Friday,  27th March 2015

6:30PM

Light House Cinema

In in a desperate bid to save his mother (Toni Colette) from addiction and unite his broken family, a young taxi driver (Jack Reynor) on the fringes of the criminal underworld is forced to take a job which will see him pushed further into its underbelly. But will John be prepared to act when the time comes knowing that whatever he decides to do, his and his family’s lives will be changed forever.

Gerard Barrett and Jack Reynor will attend the screening.

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Ten Years In The Sun (Rouzbeh Rashidi)

Friday, 27th March 2015

8:00PM

Light House Cinema

An assortment of obscure private obsessions, conspiracies and perversions flicker on the verge of inoherence against the context of vast cosmic disaster in Rouzbeh Rashidi’s boldest film to date. This sensory onslaught combines a homage to the subversive humour of Luis Buñuel and Joao Cesar Monteiro with the visionary scope of a demented science fiction epic.

Book tickets here

 

 

 

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Tana Bana (Pat Murphy)

Friday, 27th March 2015

8:40PM

Light House Cinema

Varanasi is the ancient city on the Ganges where Hindu pilgrims come to bathe at dawn and where cremation fires burn along the sacred river long after night has fallen. The city is also famous for the Moslem silk weavers whose ancestors traveled along the Silk Road and whose history is interwoven with that of their Hindu neighbours.

Loosely structured as a day in the life of Varanasi, this unique, intimate documentary explores how the Moslem community of weavers respond to huge economic shifts in their lives and shows the difficulties they face in passing on traditional weaving skills to their children. The film also gives voice to the changing roles of women within this enclosed world.

Pat Murphy will attend the screening.

Book tickets here

 

 

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Let Us Prey (Brian O’Malley)

Friday, 27th March 2015

10:40PM

Light House Cinema

Rachel, a rookie cop, is about to begin her first nightshift in a neglected police station in a Scottish, backwater town. The kind of place where the tide has gone out and stranded a motley bunch of the aimless, the forgotten, the bitter-and-twisted who all think that, really, they deserve to be somewhere else. They all think they’re there by accident and that, with a little luck, life is going to get better. Wrong, on both counts. Six is about to arrive – and All Hell Will Break Loose!

Book tickets here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2fnLntATUo

 

 

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Yximalloo (Tadhg O’Sullivan, Feargal Ward)

Saturday, 28th March 2015

2:00PM

Light House Cinema

Naofumi ‘Yximalloo’ Ishimaru is an obscure cult musician, living and working on the fringes of music and society for all of his storied life. A self-taught, self-styled pioneer with a vast back-catalogue, Naofumi currently lives with his disabled civil partner in an anonymous, unfriendly cul-de-sac in a Dublin suburb. Torn between his loyalties to Gerry, his yearning for Japanese society and the dream of making his international music career pay, Naofumi endures a difficult year. Moving between Dublin and Tokyo, this touching portrait opens up the world of a deeply individual character to explore universal ideas of life, love and loneliness.

 

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Wheel Of Fortune: The Story And Legacy Of The Fairview Lion Tamer (Joe Lee)

Saturday, 28th March 2015

3:30PM

Light House Cinema

 

Filmmaker’s statement: Wheel of Fortune is a documentary feature film about Bill Stephens, an ordinary young man in 1950s Ireland with an extraordinary ambition: to become an international circus star. It is also a love story about Bill and his young and beautiful wife May, from East Wall. Their double act, Jungle Capers, Bill Stephens and Lovely Partner, was a series of death-defying feats with a troupe of lions and dogs designed to thrill audiences in the  circus tent and on the stage. With this act they hoped to break free from the suffocating reality of Irish life, but things went terribly wrong when, in November 1951, one of their animals escaped. The story gained national and international attention at the time, but it is only now – after 60 years of silence – that two families and a community have come together to tell the story in full.

The filmmakers will attend the screening.

Book tickets here

 

 

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The Canal (Ivan Kavanagh)

Saturday, 28th March 2015

8:30PM

Light House Cinema

Set in rural Ireland, The Canal stars Rupert Evans as David, a film archivist with a morbid fascination for old films in which the subjects have since died. Right after learning that his wife may be cheating on him, she mysteriously disappears at the same time that his assistant Claire finds an old reel of film that points to a murder that took place in his house a hundred years ago. David starts to suspect her disappearance may involve some form of the supernatural but he also quickly becomes the prime suspect.

Rupert Evans will attend the screening.

Book tickets here

 

 

You can check the full programme here

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Report: Galway Film Fleadh 2013

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Matt Miccuci looks back over his 7 days following Irish film in the sweltering heat of Galway for the Fleadh’s 25th anniversary.

“We borrowed the weather from Cannes,” was this year’s joke at the Fleadh.

Indeed, this could easily be remembered as the ‘hottest’  edition of the festival on account of the weather alone. It was hot, very hot, and the unventilated Town Hall Theatre often felt like one big oven. Yet, the programme was too stimulating to give into the call of the beach and strange urges to build a sand castle.

Of course, the people who decided to spend the hottest days Galway has possibly ever seen locked in a theatre were widely rewarded. Just like every year since its birth twenty-five years ago, the festival showcased some of the best home-grown productions today which in turn represented the good health and ambition of Irish cinema.

Things kicked off to a crowd pleasing start with Roger Gual’s Tasting Menu, a very charming comedy of errors telling the story of intertwining lives at the closing night of a Catalonian restaurant, regarded as the best restaurant in the world. Its theatrical approach aided by a good pace and great timing recalled the works of great names from Robert Altman to none other than William Shakespeare! Just as impressively, it closed with the introverted and reflective drama The Sea, in which director Stephen Brown skilfully made the task of turning the famous John Banville novel based on memory and regret look easy in a compact production complete with refined visual touches and compellingly withdrawn performances by Ciarán Hinds and Charlotte Rampling.

There were many different stories told and a wide assortment of styles and genres presented, but the recession inevitably came out as the prevailing theme. Two films in particular, though very different, represented it directly.

Lance Daly’s Life’s a Breeze, billed as a feelgood recession comedy, saw the return of the working class comedy à la Ealing Studios of Passport to Pimlico. This film is quite entertaining and commercially appealing – this is also the reason why it will probably be among the most successful films shown at the Fleadh during its domestic cinema run.

Alternatively, Out of Here used a much more direct and though-provoking approach to capture the essence of the everyday urban monotony and frustration of the life of a young Dubliner. Donal Foreman’s film is nothing short of praiseworthy for its passive anger and realist approach, as well as a visual style that is beautiful in its simplicity. Foreman also represented the kind of independent filmmaking that Irish cinema should thrive on for the way in which he brought Out of Here together through crowd-funding but also through determination, passion and a will to go out there and really make it happen.

The influence of the recession in the new Irish films could also be seen by the vulnerability of a lot of the lead characters, particularly the male characters. In fact, many aspects of masculinity were revealed in original ways. An excellent example is found in Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy’s hypnotic modern noir Mister John with its wonderfully unconventional character study of a man – played by Aiden Gillen in what is hands down one of this year’s most enchanting and haunting performances – whose troubled family life and misery lead him to re-invent himself as his dead brother’s alter ego in Singapore. The film is driven by a unique brand of mystery, with a hypnotic flow and stunning 35mm photography that enrich the experience and take full advantage of the naturally sinister beauty of a humid Singapore.

Similarly, in the documentary Coming Home, Viko Nikci captures the life of Angel Cordero, a man incarcerated for thirteen years for a crime he did not commit and chooses to examine the man rather than the case by focusing on his struggles as he reconnects with the outside world and his estranged daughter. Nikci’s use of narrative filmmaking photography and Angel’s own genuine magnetism as well as a desire to open up to the camera eye made this film very popular and without a doubt the most touching film of this year’s Fleadh. Indeed Nikci’s film was justly rewarded at Galway, picking up the Best Irish Documentary prize at Sunday’s award ceremony.

One could even read a specific viewpoint on masculine stubbornness and how it threatened to end the world in the gripping documentary, Here Was Cuba by John Murray and Emer Reynolds. Muldowney’s beautifully bizarre Love Eternal, on the other hand, is about a necrophiliac – in fact it may well be the sweetest film that could possibly ever be made about necrophilia.

The horror genre was well represented with Rossella de Ventuo’s Irish Italian production House of Shadows, a film which carries many new ideas and a genuine dramatic depth – both things lacking in the vast majority of today’s horror films – as well as an absorbing performance by Fiona Glascott.

My greatest personal regret is that I didn’t get to see the best Irish feature prize by Academy Award nominee Steph Green Run & Jump, though the positive feedback it received will have me rushing to the cinema as soon as it hits the screens. I also regret missing films like Discoverdale and Hill Street. Yet, in the end it didn’t matter that much, as I felt highly rewarded for the time I dedicated to following this year’s festival and highly rewarded by the quality of the many premieres I attended. So, I think it’s fair to congratulate everyone involved on the organising team who was responsible for yet another exciting Fleadh. But maybe let’s get some air conditioning for the Town Hall Theatre for next year, yeah?

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‘Run & Jump’, ‘Coming Home’ and Saoirse Ronan triumph at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh Awards

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

After a week of Irish and international premieres, short films, documentaries, workshops and panels, the 25th Galway Film Fleadh came to a close with the annual awards ceremony. Taking place on Sunday 14th July before the closing film, The Sea, the awards were attended by international film stars Saoirse Ronan, Zachary Quinto, Fionnuala Flanagan and Will Forte, as well as the President of Ireland, Michael.D.Higgins.

Steph Green’s Run & Jump scooped the awards for Best Irish Feature and the Crowe Horwath Award for Best First Irish Feature. Steph Green’s feature debut after her short New Boy received an Oscar nomination, Run & Jump is an unconventional love story set in rural Ireland and stars Maxine Peake and Will Forte.

Other winners included Dead Cat Bounce’s comedy mockumentary, Discoverdale, which picked up Best International Feature. Viko Nikci’s documentary, Coming Home, which follows Angel Cordero, a man who has served 13 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, won both the Best Irish Feature Documentary Award and the Amnesty International Award for Best Human Rights Documentary.

President Higgins presented the special Galway Hooker Awards, which this year went to Miriam Allen, managing director and co-founder of the festival, James Morris, former chair of the Irish Film Board, and Irish actress Saoirse Ronan.

Click here for a list of all the winners at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh Awards.

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Galway Film Fleadh review: Coming Home

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

Matt Micucci is moved by Viko Nikci’s documentary, which won both the Best Irish Feature Documentary and the Best Human Rights Documentary in association with Amnesty International at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh.

Coming Home, the first documentary feature by Viko Nikci, is a truly powerful work and very unique on many levels. The thing that comes across as most admirable is how a film about a man who suffered a great injustice and was incarcerated for 13 years for a crime he did not commit could be so sweet and touching instead of angry and aggressive. This is also the reason why it was able to charm the audience, whose reaction to the film was the warmest of any screening at this year’s fleadh.

Furthermore, rather than this being a film about a case, this is a film about a person, and rather than being an investigative documentary it is a human portrayal. Coming Home follows the story of Angel Cordero as he tries to reconnect with the outside world after his thirteen years’ incarceration. In doing so, he must reconnect with a world that has evolved on many levels – the technology for instance has taken some giant leaps, and things like smart phones seem new and strange to him. But what really drives the movie, is the story of his reconnection with his estranged daughter, who represented his hope and joy in his years of great struggle and pain, and the lengths to which he is willing to go to win back her love.

When time comes for the film to get into the details of the event which led to the incarceration, members of Angel’s family touchingly recall what happened with tears in their eyes. Still, even in the confrontation between Angel and the real culprit Dario Rodriguez, there is no anger but rather regret and guilt for the way things went. In an emotional sequence, Dario even meets Angel’s mother and bursts into tears almost instantly, asking her to give him a hug. This makes you wonder whether the reason why he has been out of jail since he was sixteen was because he had never received the attention and love that would have kept him out of trouble.

Ultimately, what Angel is most disappointed about is that he missed thirteen years of his life as a father. Indeed, the film goes through great lengths in trying to capture his struggles in winning the love of his daughter back, even breaking parole to travel to Florida and give her a birthday present.

Another great choice is to detach this film from the conventional perception of documentary filmmaking as an intellectual’s film genre. Coming Home is shaped in an accessible and moving way. This is achieved successfully also with the help of Robert Flood, the cinematographer who employs a use of a cinematography usually identified with narrative filmmaking. For instance, tracking shots are chosen over handheld shots. The music also successfully provides the film a modern feel, with its hip hop tracks and urban beats that further strengthen the appeal for a wider audience. This whole approach, however, does not mean that the cameras get in the way of the action, and it never really feels like it does. This point was further strengthened when, after the screening, Nikci explained that on over 5000 hours of shot footage, only about 90 of it was used, which means that they could choose to leave out whatever they thought was too staged or didn’t feel genuine.

Of course this was a point which could have been argued against, if it hadn’t been for the fact that all throughout the duration of the film, it never feels as if any of the subjects were putting on an act. The emotions are real whether it’s the fits of uncontrollable laughter or the tears, often fought back. As well as that, there is a will for everyone to be totally open in front of the camera, whether it’s Angel’s family or Angel himself. In fact, Angel’s presence is magnetic and his eloquence just incredible as well as his will to reveal his story to the world in order to clear his name. Quite frankly, he’s a star just by being himself. This the audience in attendance was able to see with their own eyes when Angel took to the stage at the Town Hall Theatre to answer a few questions, and for everyone it was the ultimate evidence of the fact that no, this film was not staged.

The events are real. Angel really did spend thirteen years of his life in prison for something he didn’t do. Therefore, there is no need to lie. There is a lot of pain behind this story, but more importantly a feeling of longing for rebirth, leaving the past behind and starting over and this is a positive message that is becoming uncommon in films of its kind, where anger and negativity reign supreme. Coming Home is a moving story which will capture the heart of many and will also be able to connect to a wider audience than the average documentary one.

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Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh preview: Coming Home

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

Coming Home

Friday, 12th July

Town Hall Theatre

17.00

Irish director Viko Nikci’s debut feature documentary, Coming Home, will have its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh tomorrow. It tells the story of Angel Cordero, a New York man released after serving thirteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Speaking to Film Ireland, Viko Nikci said, ‘I am thrilled that Coming Home will have its world premiere at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh. It’s an honour to have the film in a line-up that includes so many great new Irish films. Miriam [Allen – Managing Director of the Fleadh] and the rest of team have packed the programme with so many enticing shorts and features. It’s wonderful to be a part of it’.

Despite the evidence which pointed out Dario Rodriguez – who would confess seven years later – as the real culprit, Angel Cordero was sentenced to thirteen years in a maximum security prison. Coming Home follows him from the days before his release through him taking his first steps as a free man. He must readjust to an outside world he no longer recognises, and must re-establish a relationship with his estranged daughter, who was only three at the time of his incarceration. Viko Nikci will also bring Angel face to face with the man who confessed to his crime in a one-on-one meeting.

Read Film Ireland’s full interview with Viko Nikci here.

Tickets for the world premiere of Coming Home are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777, or at www.tht.ie.

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Interview: Viko Nikci, director of ‘Coming Home’

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Viko Nikci’s debut feature documentary, Coming Home, which will be premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh on Friday, 12th July, tells the story of Angel Cordero, a New York man charged with attempted murder –  a crime he did not commit. It is a tale of great injustice. Despite the evidence which pointed out Dario Rodriguez – who would confess seven years later –  as the real culprit, Angel was sentenced to thirteen years in a maximum security prison. Coming Home follows him from the days before his release to his first steps as a free man, as he tries to reconnect with the outside world and is faced with his biggest challenge in trying to re-establish a relationship with his estranged daughter, who was only three at the time of his incarceration, and seems to want nothing to do with him.

Matt Micucci met up with the film’s director, Viko Nikci, to find out more about his fascinating documentary

 

How did you come across Angel Cordero?

 

His story was picked up by the local newspapers in New York. It turned out that I knew somebody who had done some time with him, so through the connection I spoke with his wife who was looking to get some kind of project going about the case. Once I got to researching a little about him, I realised that there was something about Angel that deserved more than just a few news articles. Even from a book written by one of his lawyers, Claudia Trupp, where she talks about his case in two of the chapters, I could tell he would be a very cinematic character. You get to know him and in five minutes you realise that he didn’t do what he was charged with, that he is quite charismatic and has quite a magnetic presence. So I thought, ‘you know what? You put a camera on him, things are going to be interesting.’

 

What approach did you use in telling his story?

My approach was not so much ‘Angel the case’ but ‘Angel the person’. We just followed what happened. The film is called Coming Home and it’s about a man coming back home. Guilty or not, things are going to be difficult for you when you get out of prison after so long. He tries to reconnect with the outside world after thirteen years – things like technology or life in post 9/11 New York. Also, he met and married a woman while in prison, so how would it be living with her under the same roof for the first time as husband and wife. But in the end, it turned out that the real challenge was his daughter. Sarah was three years old when her father was incarcerated. She was the physical manifestation of hope for Angel. She was what he was returning home to, and it turns out that he was coming home to a sixteen year old girl who wanted nothing to do with him and it became very painful to see him try to reconnect with her.

 

The relationship between Angel and his estranged daughter is a driving force in the film.

Absolutely. We had considered a different way of filming it, but the day he was released from prison, it felt like the relationship between him and his daughter was what the film naturally wanted to be about, and if there was ever a plan to make this film a platform for Angel’s case, that was quickly abandoned. His role just became that of a dad who wanted to be a father again to a girl who didn’t want him, and Angel was so articulate and emotionally engaged with the camera that we realised the intention goes out the window and you follow what’s happening in front of the lens.

 

Thematically speaking, the film also seems intent in portraying freedom and the simple things in life.

Freedom for Angel was drinking a cup of coffee in the sunshine. It’s the little things that matter, he says. Another thing was that after years where the fastest he had ever moved was running pace, driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour was like warp speed to him. Those little things that we take for granted would become for him the subtext of the film.

Home, he comes to realise, is not a place. It’s a person. But to this day, he’s not completely free – like he says, he’s still on a leash. He hasn’t been exonerated, so he has five years on parole and numerous stipulation. One of them is curfew, so he has to be home by 9 pm. Another is that he can’t leave New York City. One of the things that happen in the film is that his daughter moved to Florida and he had been looking forward to giving her a birthday present which he had bought himself in person for the very first time, and she left before he had the opportunity to do so. So he made a decision to follow her, breaking parole and risking his freedom just for this one moment with his daughter, which we were able to capture on film.

 

What impact did these thirteen years have on Angel as a person?

In the first days of filming, when he was still in prison, he described prison as a place with no enthusiasm, where a smile can get you stabbed. He says that in prison there’s a feeling that any day you could get killed or be put in a situation where you will have to protect yourself, so in order to survive he had to completely shut down and not be in touch with any emotion at all, just pure instinct. When he came out, his release of emotion was quite extraordinary to watch – he had held it back for so long.

 

What about Dario Rodriguez, the real cluprit in this case?

The first day we started filming, Rodriguez confessed, and we knew we had something on our hands. They had one encounter, which plays out on camera. The innocent and the guilty. But it’s not what you would expect. They both walked away a little bit wiser and a little bit humbled by each other. Rodriguez who committed the crime was serving time for another crime. He had been in prison since he was thirteen. He is a guy that slipped through the cracks, let down by society. When you arrest a kid for selling heroin, whose fault is that? You get a sense of this tragic, dangerous bad guy with a tremendous amount of guilt for this one crime, which he committed but which somebody else did the time for.

 

This is your first feature length documentary. What was your approach to the genre?

I still don’t consider myself a documentarian. I am mainly a screenwriter and a narrative director. I’m involved in The Factory and other projects in Ireland, but most of the films I work on are shot in studios in LA. This made me think I wanted to use a cinematic approach. If Angel had a walk down the street, instead of filming it handheld, myself and Robert Flood the cinematographer would put it on a big camera and a big lens and work around the subject. So as we filmed it, we were constantly covering it, exposing it, composing in a cinematic way. In the edit room, I look at it and ask myself ‘if this was the script and these were the scenes I had, what would I show next?’

 

Did this approach help give the film a modern feel?
I wanted to make a film that the subjects would watch. I didn’t want it to make it artistic or inaccessible. I think the great success of the film is that it doesn’t feel like a documentary; it feels like a film. We even use a hip hop flavour in terms of the music, using a mixture of songs by artists P Diddy and the score by Rori Coleman and Dawn Kenny. And the people speak in that New York inner city confidence – it’s almost poetry. A screenwriter wouldn’t be able to write dialogue like that. And even if a writer were to write it down, an actor wouldn’t be able to act it out.

 

Production-wise, was it a difficult film to make?

Cinema has been around a long time, but it feels like now there are new tools and ways to tell your story and make it look good and big. Even though we didn’t have a big budget, we were able to make it look great with the cameras we used like the Red and the Epic and achieve a cinematic look which was more dynamic than shooting on film. The best thing was that the timing seemed to be great. The technology was right, but even more importantly the subject. If I had met Angel five years earlier or five years later, I wouldn’t have been able to have captured this story.

 

Has working on this film had an impact on you personally?

My kid is the same age as Angel’s daughter was when he was wrongly arrested. It kind of makes you think about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Angel will always be under the shadow until his name is cleared. We’re hoping that the film will raise enough awareness and prove that he didn’t commit this crime.

We were able to get clearance from the department of justice for him to come to the screening. I’m from New York but my wife is Irish and I’m absolutely thrilled about having the premiere here in Ireland, and in Galway for the festival’s 25th anniversary – it’s a big deal! This could be premiering anywhere – I just feel lucky that it’s here and the fact that Angel was able to come over is an added benefit.

 

Coming Home will be premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh on Friday, 12th July at 17.00 in the Town Hall Theatre.

 

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