Irish Film Review: Halal Daddy

DIR: Conor McDermottroe • WRI: Conor McDermottroe, Mark O’Halloran •  PRO: Hermann Florin, Ailish McElmeel • DOP: Mel Griffith • ED: Alexander Dittner, Constantin von Seld • DES: Conor Dennison • MUS: Matthias Weber • CAST: Sarah Bolger, Colm Meaney, Art Malik

Mark O’Halloran is a good thing for the Irish  film industry. The writer of such films as Adam & Paul, Garage and Viva, he is skilled at crafting engaging stories – ones in which the audience wholeheartedly sympathise with people whose lives seem outside the norm. With his tales of heroin addicts, individuals with intellectual disabilities and drag queens, O’Halloran deftly manages to place his viewers in his lead characters’ worlds – all while at the same time addressing socio-political issues.

O’Halloran’s latest screenplay, comedy-drama Halal Daddy (co-written with director Conor McDermottroe), does not reach the heights of his previous work. Yet, traces of his talent in depicting the lives of so-called outsiders remains. Nikesh Patel stars as Raghdan, an Indian Muslim who flees an arranged marriage orchestrated by his father, Amir (Art Malik). He finds his feet in Sligo – staying with his uncle Jamal (Paul Tylak) and his wife Doreen (Deirdre O’Kane) and forming a relationship with local girl, Maeve (Sarah Bolger, very good).

However, Raghdan’s past catches up with him when Amir journeys to Sligo – hoping to open the county’s first Halal butchers. Maeve’s father, Martin (Colm Meaney), becomes embroiled in the father-son feud when he is employed at the meat factory.

On the positive front, the film manages to mine a significant amount of pleasant humour from its culture clash premise. There is a fun comedic juxtaposition between the local Irish population delivering comments that should be offensive but with absolutely no venom or malign intent. Halal Daddy depicts a modern increasingly tolerant Ireland, but one with still some room to improve. Examples include Doreen saying to Raghdan after he’s been absent a while: “We were beginning to think you’d been radicalised” or Maeve’s younger sisters whispering the word “ISIS” loudly in the presence of her boyfriend. Even with these racially loaded comments, it’s nice that the Sligo of the film is filled with people of various ethnicities and sexual preferences – things which threaten to become issues within the drama but ultimately never do.

However, what drags the movie down is a reliance on broad gags and characters and an oddly paced narrative. Jokes about Doreen and Jamal’s Fifty Shades inspired sex-life – despite typically solid work from O’Kane – feel not only feel tired but from a different film entirely. Meanwhile, one moment the story’s focus is on Raghdan gaining his father’s acceptance, the next it’s about him trying to win his girlfriend back (the reason he lost her briefly is another creaky old-fashioned plot-point one can see a mile coming). Plus in regards the film’s denouement, the resolution of the drama has very little to do with the main conceit regarding the titular Halal with the film abandoning the abattoir plot in its final twenty minutes.

Halal Daddy is an amiable, occasionally charming movie. Yet, its not a patch on recent Irish dramas of a similar nature like Sing Street, Mad Mary or Handsome Devil. Despite its timely ethnic slant, the film – on account of some shoe-horned jokes and predictable plot-points – lacks the emotional core of these superior works. One buys into the overly perfect happy ending of Sing Street because the previous ninety or so minutes were so engaging that the viewer is invested. When Halal Daddy literally ends with a spontaneous firework display, it feels a little ridiculous because one isn’t as involved with the characters.

          Stephen Porzio

94 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Halal Daddy is released 28th June 2017

Halal Daddy – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

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Short Film of the Week: ‘A Woman’s Hair’ by Conor McDermottroe

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Based on the Short Story by Bryan McMahon, A Woman’s Hair (2005) is set in Corcoran’s Bar at the end of the 1950s. Eight-year-old Elaine is sent away from home when her mother dies. Returning to the bar several years later she discovers things have changed.

The film’s director Conor McDermottroe told Film Ireland that the idea for the short film came to him via the producer Kate Bowe:

“Kate asked me to read it way back when. She loved the story and thought it would make a great short film. At that stage I was still acting and had no real desires to write and or direct. However, I thought the story was beautiful and I urged Kate to push forward with it, and that I would do anything I could to help.

“It was a few years later when I got my skates on with writing and directing; I had two shorts on my CV and was pushing forward with a feature screenplay I had written. I knew that before I would get the go-ahead to make a feature I’d need to prove myself with as much directing work as possible. I was aware of the scheme that Bord Scannan na hEireann/the Irish Film Board and RTÉ was running and remember thinking  that A Woman’s Hair would fit the bill. Immediately I contacted Kate asking if anything had ever happened with the story she loved so much. Thankfully nothing had. I pitched myself for the job, got a yes, and started adapting straight away.

“Soon after we signed off on the screenplay, and put our application into the IFB and RTÉ. We got the funding and early in 2005 we shot the film. Our main location was a shed in a field in Kildare and we used The Gravediggers in Drumcondra for the pub interiors.

“I’m very proud of the film, all the cast are terrific but young Orlaith Donnelly has to be singled out.  One of the happiest evenings of my career thus far, was after winning Best Film at the Venice International Short Film Festival, and with the award for Best Film under my oxter, Kate and I went for a grand tour of the Venice late night establishments.”

 

 

DIRECTOR/ SCRIPT: Conor McDermottroe (Based on the Short Story by Bryan McMahon)
PRODUCERS: Kate Bowe, Marina Hughes
PRODUCTION COMPANY: KT Films
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Podcast interviews with writer/director Conor McDermottroe and the team behind ‘Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne’

Swan Song
In part one of this podcast Conor McDermottroe speaks to Film Ireland’s Scott Townsend about his debut feature as director ‘Swansong:  Story of Occi Byrne’, which was released in cinemas on Friday September 10th 2010

Conor discusses how his original one-man theatre show came to be onscreen over the course of five years, how he cast it, the difficulties and successes of shooting around Sligo, and the schmoozing of Billy Idol’s ‘people’ for some key music use.

This is a podcast of approximately 15 minutes

In part two Conor McDermottroe, producer Hermann Florin and some more of the crew answer questions from the Light House Cinema audience on Friday September 10th 2010.

This is a podcast of approximately 11 minutes

The podcasts can be listened to here.

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‘Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne’ was released in the Light House Cinema, Smithfield and selected cinemas in the Sligo/Leitrim area in September 10th 2010. It will also be showing in towns through the North-West Cinemobile. Conor McDermottroe will be in attendance for Q&A sessions.

Find out where you can catch the film at the official website http://www.swansongthemovie.com

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'Swansong, The Story of Occi Byrne' on release in selected cinemas on Friday 10th September

swansong

The feature film Swansong, Story of Occi Byrne, written and directed by Conor McDermottroe, goes on release in the Light House Cinema, Dublin and in select cinemas in the Sligo/Leitrim area from today Friday 10th September.

Swansong, Story of Occi Byrne portrays the life of Austin ‘Occi’ Byrne who is brought up in Sligo by his alcoholic mother and who suffers traumatic bullying at the hands of a local gang because he has no father. Occi grows up plagued by anger, confusion and pain. In the hopes of unlocking his own identity and overcoming the past that haunts him, he sets out to find his father and discover the secret of his birth. Remaining fiercely loyal to his mother, Occi is consistently tested on his journey, but eventually learns the true power that comes with love, friendship and most of all, a sense of belonging.

This emotional film stars Martin McCann (The Sound of People, Killing Bono) in the lead role as Occi, with Jodie Whittaker (Perrier’s Bounty), Marcella Plunkett (Once), Gerard Mc Sorley (Wide Open Spaces), Brid Brennan (Dancing at Lughnasa) and Owen Roe (Intermission) all included in the cast.

Produced by Edwina Forkin and Tom Maguire for Zanzibar Films in Ireland and Hermann Florin for Florin Films in Germany, it was co-financed by the IFB, RTÉ, Eurimage, Kinowelt and ZDF/Arte and was shot entirely on location in Sligo.  The film premiered at last year’s Galway Film Fleadh where it picked up the runner up prize for Best Irish Feature Film.

Swansong, Story of Occi Byrne will be released in the Light House Cinema, Smithfield and in selected cinemas in the Sligo/Leitrim area and will also be showing in towns through the North-west cinemobile. Conor McDermottroe will be in attendance for Q&A sessions.

Film Ireland will have an exclusive podcast interview with Conor McDermottroe online next week.

Find out where you can catch the film at the official website http://www.swansongthemovie.com

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Issue 130 – Life on the Margins

swansong

Ross Whitaker talks to Conor McDermottroe about his debut feature Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne.

Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne, director Conor McDermottroe’s debut feature, premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh earlier this year to great acclaim and received the runner-up prize in the best feature category.

Screening Swansong in Galway was the satisfying completion of a journey full circle for McDermottroe – he had performed the same narrative himself as a one-man play almost exactly five years before in the same Town Hall venue.

I speak to McDermottroe on the phone from London, where he is based. It was there that the play was originally written as a monologue in just seven weeks back in 2003. Also called Swansong, the one man show was acclaimed from the start and the audience reaction to it prompted McDermottroe to see the possibilities for the story beyond the stage.

‘The lead character, Occi Byrne, was really touching people,’ he tells me. ‘People loved the character. In the play he was an older character, feeding the swans and telling his life story. People told me that the play was very picturesque, very cinematic, so I decided to write a screenplay of the story.’

Around that time, McDermottroe was working as an actor on a TV series and he invited the German producer of the series to come along to see the play.

‘It was an achievement in itself to get a TV producer to come to a play,’ he says with a chuckle. ‘Sometimes those worlds just don’t mix but Hermann Florin came and watched the show and really loved it. He asked me afterwards if I’d considered making a film on the same subject. I reached into my bag and took out the screenplay.’

Before Swansong, McDermottroe had made three successful short films and he appears to have moved smoothly and confidently on to the longer form. The film is atmospheric and very moving with fine performances from the cast and it is easy to imagine the film finding an audience internationally.

German/Irish co-production
The film was made as a German/Irish co-production, funded by the Irish Film Board, Arte, RTÉ, Eurimages and Kinowelt, with The Little Film Company taking care of sales. It was filmed on the unusual format of 16 mm Cinemascope in Sligo for six weeks with a cast of 47 actors and over 50 crew members. The locals were delighted with the economic boost the film brought and how the area was captured on film.

Swansong is the story of Occi Byrne, a boy born to a single mother in an uncompromising garrison town in the 1970s. His fatherless beginning is the worst start possible in this conservative landscape and Byrne travels a road of misfortune from a young age.

In a world where any difference is ruthlessly exploited, Occi is mercilessly bullied by schoolmates, culminating in him being rolled down a sand dune in a barrel and sustaining minor brain damage that makes him prone to violent outbursts when angered.

McDermottroe’s script draws from his memories of growing up in Sligo where he observed how children in his school without both parents were immediately treated differently and ultimately marginalised. Later, when McDermottroe lived in London, he came across one such child, now grown-up.

‘I was working on a Frank McGuinness play in the Royal National Theatre and I was walking to the theatre along Bayswater Road when I saw someone wrapped in a blanket on the side of the street. We both froze for a second and I realised that each of us recognised the other. He used to sit beside me in school. It was he that turned away, I’m sure out of shame. I walked on and I thought about it for the day. Later, I went back to the street and he was gone.’

Vulnerability and violence
Having lived with his lead character for so long, it is no surprise that Occi is so well achieved in the way he is written and directed by McDermottroe. Martin McCann is thoroughly convincing as Occi, truly inhabiting the role and capturing skilfully the vulnerability and violence of the young man.
‘Doing the one-man play first was a luxury as a writer because I got to know the character so well. I had a deep, three-dimensional treatment in my head and I knew how the character would react to each situation. I could ask myself, ‘What would Occi say here? What would his attitude here be?’ All of that information was readily available to me, which was great.’

‘Martin brings his own energy to it, his own performance and persona. It’s miles away from the actors that played Occi on the stage. He brought amazing qualities to it and his instincts are bang on. We went on the journey together and he trusted me and I think that shows in the end result. He and the camera signed some deal with the devil. He’s an instinctual actor. He really feels what Occi feels. It was inspiring for me and I learned from it.’

McDermottroe hopes to use the lessons learned in making Swansong as soon as possible and is moving on to his next film. He is one of a seemingly endless line of burgeoning Irish talents that has directed one or two films and he hopes to direct many more. He is frustrated, however, by the current threats to indigenous film funding.

McDermottroe was forced to leave Ireland for Australia in the early 1980s when funding was cut to the theatre company he was working with. He lived and worked there for over ten years. Considering the benefits of Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne – in terms of culture, economics and the physical depiction of the West of Ireland – one hopes he, and others, won’t be cast adrift again.

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