Podcast: Interview with Duncan Campbell – ‘The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy’

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Following his first major exhibition in Dublin at IMMA in 2014, IMMA presents a new film work by Irish-born artist Duncan Campbell. Entitled The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy this is the artist’s first film based in the Republic of Ireland and his first new work since winning the Turner Prize in 2014; when he was the first Irish born artist to do so.

Originating from research undertaken in the IFI Irish Film Archive, Campbell’s new film commission takes as a starting point a 1960’s UCLA anthropological film study of rural Kerry to investigate and reframe contemporary Ireland.

Conor Dowling talks to Duncan about the genesis of the project and the  research that underpins the work.

 

 

The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy screens at IMMA until 7th May 2017

About the artist

Duncan Campbell (b.1972 in Dublin, Ireland) lives and works in Glasgow. He is best known for his films which focus on particular moments in history, and the people and objects at the centre of those histories. He uses archive material as a route to research subjects and histories that he feels are important. The process of making the films becomes a means to further understand his subjects and reveal the complexity of how they have been previously represented. Although these histories are located in specific times and geographies they resonate with and inform our present. Extensive research into the subjects through archival material underpins all of the films and the histories Campbell chooses to focus on reflect his interest. Using both archival and filmed material, his films question our reading of the documentary form as a fixed representation of reality, opening up boundaries between the actual and the imagined, record and interpretation.

He completed the MFA at Glasgow School of Art in 1998 and a BA in Fine Art at the University of Ulster in 1996. Campbell was the winner of the 2014 Turner Prize (Duncan Campbell, Ciara Phillips, James Richards, Tris Vonna-Michell) and was one of three artists representing Scotland at the Venice Biennale as part of Scotland + Venice 2013 (Corin Sworn, Campbell, Hayley Tompkins). In 2012 Campbell took part in Manifesta 9 curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina, Katerina Gregos and Dawn Ades, Belgium and in 2010 he took part in Tracing the Invisible, Gwangju Biennale. In 2017, Wiels, Brussels will host a solo exhibition on Duncan Campbell.

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Review: Ben Hur

Toby Kebbell plays Messala Severus and Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures.

DIR: Timur Bekmambetov • WRI: Keith R. Clarke, John Ridley • PRO: Mark Burnett, Sean Daniel ,Joni Levin • DOP: Oliver Wood • ED: Dody Dorn, Richard Francis-Bruce, Bob Murawski • DES: Naomi Shohan• MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Jack Huston, Pilou Asbaek, Morgan Freeman

 

You finally really did it. You maniacs! You remade Ben Hur! Damn You… Wrong Heston reference? Apologies, but the sentiment is the same. That’s right people, one of the most celebrated epics in cinema history has been given the Hollywood reboot treatment. That film of course, is Ben Hur. Even though most people can’t seem to fathom that the iconic film from 1959 has been remade, this is actually the fifth film adaptation of the original novel, the Heston vehicle being the third.

 

Set in Jerusalem during the Jesus era, the story follows two brothers, nobleman Judah Ben Hur and his adopted brother Messala. The brothers are separated when Messala joins the Roman army and leaves Ben Hur behind to live out his days as a prince in their family home. Upon Messala’s return, though the brothers remain amicable, there is tension between the Roman forces and the people of Jerusalem. A misunderstanding leads Messala’s soldiers to believe Ben Hur is against them and Messala is forced to place Ben Hur under arrest. Ben Hur is then stripped of his titles, his family are taken prisoner and he is led to the underbelly of a Roman ship with other slaves and criminals, forced to row for years to the beat of a drum at whip-point.

 

Hur barely survives the shipwreck after a Greek attack and is washed ashore, only to be sheltered and mentored by none other than, Morgan Freeman. After Ben Hur proves his worth by nursing one of Freeman’s sick horses back to health, he begins a Count of Monte Cristo-esque quest for vengeance and redemption. Ben Hur returns to his home land to seek out what is left of his family and to challenge his brother to an epic chariot race. A bite-sized version of the Jesus story, including the crucifixion, runs alongside the main plot of the film and mirrors themes of forgiveness that are dealt with in Ben Hur’s journey.

 

What if I told you, we’ve got the director of Night Watch, the writer of 12 Years a Slave, Morgan Freeman, oscar winning source material and 100 million dollars? I think that sounds like a pretty good recipe to be honest. So what happened here? I’m not saying this was a hurrendous film, pardon the pun, but there were definitely problems that you might notice too if you see the film.

 

What this film did well were the set pieces, nicely executed battle scenes, costume and set design. There is one fantastic action sequence involving a ship wreck, brilliantly executed with CGI that elevated this moment in the story to an edge of your seat cinematic experience. However, I have to say when I heard this was a 100-million dollar Hollywood movie I was surprised to say the least. The film achieved some spectacular moments through CGI, but at times it felt like that was all the filmmakers cared about and the drama scenes in between were just a vehicle to get us to the more action-packed moments.

 

When you’re dealing with a tried and tested story like Ben Hur, after you get past a certain point in the film, as an audience member, you just want to know how it will all turn out, because it’s a well-crafted story. We want to see the chariot race, brother against brother and so on, but by this stage of the film do we care enough about the characters to see the outcome? This may be controversial, but despite the films shortcomings, as an audience member I did in fact care about the resolution of this sibling rivalry.

 

The film features a mostly white cast with posh British accents in Jerusalem in the first century, could this film be another victim of Hollywood whitewashing? The TV movie-like presentation of the film meant the appearance of a huge star like Morgan Freeman, mid-way through, was not only unexpected but undeserving of his presence. Freeman gave a solid performance as always, but something about an African character in Jerusalem in the first century with an American accent really jars with me. I have to admit I laughed when, out of nowhere, Morgan Freeman suddenly started narrating the end of the film. I suppose though, if you’ve got Morgan Freeman in your film, you’re going to get him to do voiceover at some stage, it might even be in his contract.

 

To talk about this film without comparing and at least mentioning the Heston version is impossible.  The story in this version differs from the 1959 version at points, mostly in the treatment of the relationship between the brothers, but it still pays tribute to the classic moments, from Jesus giving Ben Hur Water to the climactic chariot race. The problem is that this film has some big shoes to fill.

 

Three things in particular guarantee the 1959 Ben Hur a place in cinematic history. Shot on glorious 65mm, Heston’s electrifying performance and the sheer scale of the production. Legions of extras and sprawling sets were one of the main ingredients that gave the 1956 film its massive sense of scale, something that’s sorely missed from the 2016 version. The cold digital look of 2016’s version immediately looses the film points for cinematic quality and though Jack Huston was engaging at times as Ben Hur, he spent the second half of the film with a hoarse Batman type of voice which was difficult to take seriously.

 

Despite the film’s flaws, there will be an audience for this swords and sandals epic. Ben Hur will not be for lovers of the original 4-hour film, but for those looking to fill a Game of Thrones or Vikings shaped hole in their lives, Ben Hur will just about do for now.

 

Conor Dowling

123 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Ben Hur is released 7th September 2016

Ben Hur – Official Website

 

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Cardboard Gangsters

 

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Straight Outta Darndale – Conor Dowling joins the gang and takes a look at Mark O’Connor’s Cardboard Gangsters, which premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

In all the years I’ve been to the Galway Film Fleadh, I have never seen a screening with more buzz about it than this year’s premiere of Mark O’Connor’s latest film Cardboard Gangsters. From the pre-party in the Roisin Dubh to the massive queue outside the town hall, filled with eager viewers anticipating the world premiere of the film, to the palpable atmosphere and buzz of the audience during the film, this screening was clearly the biggest spectacle of the festival this year.

John Connors plays Jay Connolly, a part-time DJ and low-level drug dealer in Darndale, an area victimized by gangs, drugs and social problems. When his welfare is cut off he decides it’s time to enter the big leagues with his gang, in order to help settle his family’s debts. His actions attract the attention of the local drug kingpin Derra Murphy, who rules Darndale with an iron fist and has no problems eliminating any potential rivals.

Jay knows he’s playing a dangerous game and struggles to balance his family’s debts, his pregnant girlfriend and the small drug empire he and his gang of childhood friends begin to build. Events spiral out of control when Jay becomes involved with Derra’s wife, and his gang are thrust in harm’s way. Jay is left with a momentous choice to be made: to exact revenge, or turn the other cheek.

Reminiscent of the beloved hood movies of the ’90s – Boyz in The Hood, Menace II Society and a little bit of Friday – this modern-day cautionary tale of small-time drug dealers flying too close to the sun kept the audience hooked for its duration. John Connors, a working-class hero as it were, has proven himself again as a co-writer and a leading man with moments both intense and tender in his portrayal of the Darndale dealer. However, an awkward sex scene midway through the film may have shown us a side of Connors and his character we could have done without. The main body of the story takes inspiration from Connors’ own experiences growing up, and even some of the film’s more bizarre moments, such as a chainsaw attack, stabbings and someone being tortured with an angle grinder hold some basis in reality. Connors’ engaging performance is a clear result of his personal connection to the material under guidance from an experienced director.

It wouldn’t be a Mark O’Connor film without some inclusion of celebrated Northside troubadour Damien Dempsey. Dempsey not only appears in a small speaking role in the film, but his song “Serious” provides the soundtrack for a stunning and stylish music sequence during a memorable drug-dealing montage, one of the best musical sequences I have seen in a film in a long time. To add to the authenticity of the film, the entire soundtrack features Irish artists with many of the rap artists from Darndale where the film is set. The sound of modern Irish rap and dance music really nails the tone of the film and stood out as a clear highlight of the film.

Produced by Stalker Films and Five Knight Films in association with Filmbase, Cardboard Gangsters boasts an ensemble cast featuring co-writer John Connors (Love/Hate), Toni O’Rourke (What Richard Did), Kierston Wareing (Eastenders), Fionn Walton (Get Up And Go), Jimmy Smallhorn (Clean Break),  Fionna Hewitt-Twamley (Red Rock), Gemma-Leah Deveraux (Stitches), Graham Earley (Monged), to name but a few. Fionn Walton’s explosive performance as Dano, hot-headed best friend of John Connors, hit all the marks and delighted audiences every time he appeared on screen. Walton’s portrayal of the Northside petty criminal stole the show with an intense performance that kept the audience on the edge of their seats and cracked people up with moments of skilled comedic delivery. Fionn is one to watch.

The energetic pace of the story is maintained by slick cinematography from Michael Lavelle (Patrick’s Day). Many choreographed one-take shots were executed skilfully which complemented the style and energy of the film. This colourful visual portrayal of Dublin crime is a welcome contribution to Irish cinema and brings a strong element of fun to this film.

Though the film shines a light on the crime of the Northside area, at times it is difficult to distinguish whether or not this story glorifies the good life to be had as a drug dealer or sincerely warns of the repercussions of the lifestyle. The accents, hair styles, clothes and music portrayed in the film were spot on and anyone who has grown up in similar areas will attest to the authenticity of the portrayal of this world.

The film is due for cinema release in October and based on the audience reaction in Galway, I highly recommend seeing this exciting film with a crowd. It is sure to appeal to a large audience in Ireland and abroad and I look forward to what all involved will show us next.

 

Cardboard Gangsters screened on Saturday, 9th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.

 

 

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ADIFF Irish Film Review: Staid

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Conor Dowling checks out Paul O’Brien’s debut feature Staid, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Before anything else it should be noted that Staid is remarkable simply for existing at all. Made for the almost ludicrous sum of €300, writer and director Paul O’Brien has helmed what is basically a community production, with cast and crew sourced from his hometown of Wexford. At a moment when there seems to be something of a contest in Irish cinema to test how little finance a good film needs, Staid boldly, and largely successfully, undercuts much of the market.

The story deals with Baby (Adrienne Meyler), a middle-aged bar-owner in small-town Ireland struggling against the dreary prospects life seems to have left to offer. Trapped in depression, Baby finds relief in flirting with barman and small-time musician Finn (Paul Creane). Finn dreams of going out into the world and is only held in place by his own feelings for Baby, who seems resolute in going nowhere. Ineptly trying to tie the pair together is the elderly Lar (Phil Lyons), an old soul whose life revolves around his dog and whose would-be wisdom provides much of the film’s comedy. Set mostly on a single day, as Finn prepares to leave, the trio are challenged to make the decisions that could lift them out of the mire.

Lives weighed down by fear, characters who find it easier to sink into old memories than go out to create new ones, are common enough themes to Irish narratives, and as a story of small town paralysis, Staid risks moving into familiar territory. With this in mind, it is to O’Brien’s credit that he finds ways to make this vital. The kitchen-sink realism the story demands is grubby in its precision. Overcooked eggs are poured into the sink, a bottle, picked up as a weapon, drips onto the floor. O’Brien has a keen sense for the real and his detail moves between grit and comedy – a door marked ‘push’, for example, is always pulled.

Set against this dirt, however, is one of the film’s real distinguishing features: its music. Creane is one of several musicians in the cast and O’Brien is bold enough to just allow them to perform when the moment demands. While not a musical, key moments in the story arrive through song rather than dialogue, with these lighter moments throwing the misery of the kitchen sink into greater relief.

For all the music, however, the film’s ace-in-the-hole is Adrienne Meyler. As Baby, Meyler delivers a genuinely nuanced performance. At the same time as she provides the pillar her male friends lean on in difficult moments, she fights to not break down at the prospect of what has become a joyless life. It is Meyler’s inhabiting this space between two extremes that carries the film.

Staid seems to invite comparisons with Gerard Barrett’s Pilgrim Hill, another micro-budget film dealing with life wasting away unnoticed. Like Barrett, O’Brien makes a virtue of his restraints and turns what assets are available – most notably the musicians at his disposal – into the film’s distinguishing qualities.

Music, indeed, is just one part of the optimistic vision that O’Brien brings to what is often very heavy material. Even if it deals with depressed isolation this is, basically, a comic film. Indeed, its most positive quality may be that it exists at all; at the same time that it worries about the deadening effects of rural life, this small-town film proves that there’s energy in those places yet.

 

Staid screened on 27th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February) 

Irish films at ADIFF

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Conor Dowling, Co-Director of ‘The Light of Day’

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This week Dublin’s premier filmic fright fest, the Horrorthon, returns blood-stained and shambling to the IFI. Demonic possession and dismemberment are to be expected, but between the shocks and screams there are laughs to be had at the screening of the comedy mockumentary, The Light of Day.

Film Ireland picked at the brains of co-director Conor Dowling ahead of the screening this Friday. 

Set and shot in Dublin, The Light of Day follows a group of amateur filmmakers as they struggle with the horrors of low-budget filmmaking on the set of a vampire horror flick. The mockumentary follows Michael, the DOP trying to salvage the production against a horde of incompetence from the egocentric director, a desperate producer and non-existent budget.

The film was made as part of the MSc in Digital Filmmaking at Filmbase, written by Christopher Brennan and directed by students Amy Carroll, Conor Dowling and Eoin O’ Neill.

After it premiered to rave reviews at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, Conor Dowling, who describes the team as “horror fanatics”, told us what it means to have it shown at the IFI Horrorthon. “We’re over the moon to be screening at the IFI. I’ve been going to the Horrorthon for years and it’s a genuine honour to have our film screen at it.”

The feature was the culmination of a course focused on practically preparing filmmakers for all areas of film production. Conor went on describe how this benefited the making of the film. “The course allowed the class to work together on several projects throughout the year before The Light of Day, giving us the opportunity to see what it was like to work together along with giving us top quality experience and guidance.”

This was particularly relevant for the three directors. “Before we got onto set we were all on the same page in terms of the script, the cast, the shooting style, and how all the scenes would be staged. Having three directors on a film is not very common and people often wonder how it can possibly work, but for us it was a particularly smooth process, and working with two other directors was actually a huge benefit.”

Conor explains that working collaboratively they were able to “work on our shotlists together and give feedback on the other director’s interpretations of how scenes should play out, while each bringing our own unique take and sense of humour to certain scenes. By the time it came to shoot, we were happy to divide the three shooting weeks up evenly with a week each. Having three directors also allowed us to cover more ground and sometimes even shoot simultaneously. For example, one director could be setting up for a scene in the warehouse and the other director could grab some crew, and an actor to film some additional scenes outside.”

Another topic discussed before the shoot was their influences. “When it comes to mockumentary style you have to look at the likes of The Office, both the US and UK versions, and the films of Christopher Guest. These would have been the main influences but we also looked elsewhere to get an idea of how it has been done differently. For example, I was a big fan of Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, which was a great comedy horror mockumentary in 2006 and we were all a fan of the Belgian film Man Bites Dog, which was not tonally what we were looking for but in terms of camera movement and naturalistic staging of scenes it was a great example.

“So for the mockumentary style we intended to make it look as close to real life as we could using natural light where possible, using a lot of camera movement and working with our cinematographer to obtain the fly on the wall documentary style we wanted.”

The Light of Day is told through behind-the-scenes styled footage documenting the production of the vampire horror flick, ‘The First Bite is the Deepest’. The story of the shoot develops alongside footage of the film, creating a film-within-a-film that presented both challenges and opportunities for the filmmakers. “To establish a different look and feel for the film within the film, we used a different camera and shooting style. Stepping away from the handheld mockumentary style for these scenes, we were able to use a more traditional cinematic shooting style with more complex lighting setups. The aim was to have a short cinemtic horror film split up and placed throughout the overall film, and this film was a great opportunity for us to try out different cinematic techniques and styles from some of our favourite horror and action films.”

 

The Light of Day screens on Friday, 24th October 2014 at 19.10 as part of the IFI Horrorthon 2014 (23rd – 27th October). The directors will attend the screening.

Tickets for The Light of Day are available here

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